Main The Love Hypothesis
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23 October 2021 (16:34)
Quite an ideal relationship here. And good entertaining during essay writing:)
01 December 2021 (00:09)
Loved it so much i have no words just ahh
15 January 2022 (19:17)
started this book this morning. it was the only reason i got through my 9 hour shift, i seriously couldn’t stop ofc i took breaks in between (still had to provide world class service:/) i finished it in the same day lol. anyway i enjoyed every minute of it
17 January 2022 (04:16)
this is one of my favorite books?
13 February 2022 (10:51)
pure perfection. i needed a book to itch my men standards no
“real” man seem to have even come close to, but this... this book went above and beyond. love love love! def recommend <3
“real” man seem to have even come close to, but this... this book went above and beyond. love love love! def recommend <3
14 February 2022 (00:01)
omgomgomg GUYS READ THIS BOOOOKKK AHHHHHHHH i've told all my friends to read this and I WISH I've READ THIS BOOK EARLIER
26 February 2022 (09:39)
It was a one-day read for sure! definitely had me squealing. DEEEFFINITELLYY GO FOR ITT, IT'S ABSOLUTELY ADORABLEE
02 March 2022 (18:55)
Nicee read...love it
03 March 2022 (15:10)
Love it!!! Definitely worth reading.
11 March 2022 (15:48)
how you guys are I can't even open it I don't know why
17 March 2022 (19:10)
It's a good book. The start was a little boring but towards 15 percent of the book, it started getting cute. I'd give it a 4/5.
28 March 2022 (18:03)
ما صح من آثار الصحابة في
30 March 2022 (04:34)
Soooo cute, highly recommended ??
01 April 2022 (21:52)
My books which I have donword I can not see why
26 April 2022 (10:54)
It was the first book a read here in z.lib and I actually loved it. I loved how it was not written in a exaggerating way and the characters lead me to adore this book more.
19 June 2022 (16:04)
Praise for The Love Hypothesis “Contemporary romance’s unicorn: the elusive marriage of deeply brainy and delightfully escapist. . . . The Love Hypothesis has wild commercial appeal, but the quieter secret is that there is a specific audience, made up of all of the Olives in the world, who have deeply, ardently waited for this exact book.” —New York Times bestselling author Christina Lauren “Funny, sexy, and smart. Ali Hazelwood did a terrific job with The Love Hypothesis.” —New York Times bestselling author Mariana Zapata “This tackles one of my favorite tropes—Grumpy meets Sunshine—in a fun and utterly endearing way. . . . I loved the nods toward fandom and romance novels, and I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended!” —New York Times bestselling author Jessica Clare “A beautifully written romantic comedy with a heroine you will instantly fall in love with, The Love Hypothesis is destined to earn a place on your keeper shelf.” —Elizabeth Everett, author of A Lady’s Formula for Love A JOVE BOOK Published by Berkley An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC penguinrandomhouse.com Copyright © 2021 by Ali Hazelwood Excerpt from Love on the Brain copyright © 2021 by Ali Hazelwood Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader. A JOVE BOOK, BERKLEY, and the BERKLEY & B colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Hazelwood, Ali, author. Title: The love hypothesis / Ali Hazelwood. Description: First edition. | New York: Jove, 2021. Identifiers: LCCN; 2020057346 (print) | LCCN 2020057347 (ebook) | ISBN 9780593336823 (trade paperback) | ISBN 9780593336830 (ebook) Subjects: GSAFD: Love stories. Classification: LCC PS3608.A98845 L68 2021 (print) | LCC PS3608.A98845 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020057346 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020057347 First Edition: September 2021 Cover illustration by lilithsaur Book design by Tiffany Estreicher, adapted for ebook by Estelle Malmed This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. pid_prh_5.8.0_c0_r0 To my women in STEM: Kate, Caitie, Hatun, and Mar. Per aspera ad aspera. Contents Cover Praise for The Love Hypothesis Title Page Copyright Dedication Epigraph Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Epilogue Author’s Note Acknowledgments Excerpt from LOVE ON THE BRAIN About the Author hy·poth·e·sis (noun) A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence, as a starting point for further investigation. Example: “Based on the available information and the data hitherto collected, my hypothesis is that the farther away I stay from love, the better off I will be.” Prologue Frankly, Olive was a bit on the fence about this whole grad school thing. Not because she didn’t like science. (She did. She loved science. Science was her thing.) And not because of the truckload of obvious red flags. She was well aware that committing to years of unappreciated, underpaid eighty-hour workweeks might not be good for her mental health. That nights spent toiling away in front of a Bunsen burner to uncover a trivial slice of knowledge might not be the key to happiness. That devoting her mind and body to academic pursuits with only infrequent breaks to steal unattended bagels might not be a wise choice. She was well aware, and yet none of it worried her. Or maybe it did, a tiny bit, but she could deal. It was something else that held her back from surrendering herself to the most notorious and soul-sucking circle of hell (i.e., a Ph.D. program). Held her back, that is, until she was invited to interview for a spot in Stanford’s biology department, and came across The Guy. The Guy whose name she never really got. The Guy she met after stumbling blindly into the first bathroom she could find. The Guy who asked her, “Out of curiosity, is there a specific reason you’re crying in my restroom?” Olive squeaked. She tried to open her eyes through the tears and only barely managed to. Her entire field of view was blurry. All she could see was a watery outline—someone tall, dark haired, dressed in black, and . . . yeah. That was it. “I . . . is this the ladies’ restroom?” she stammered. A pause. Silence. And then: “Nope.” His voice was deep. So deep. Really deep. Dreamy deep. “Are you sure?” “Yes.” “Really?” “Fairly, since this is my lab’s bathroom.” Well. He had her there. “I’m so sorry. Do you need to . . .” She gestured toward the stall, or where she thought the stalls were. Her eyes stung, even closed, and she had to scrunch them shut to dull the burn. She tried to dry her cheeks with her sleeve, but the material of her wrap dress was cheap and flimsy, not half as absorbent as real cotton. Ah, the joys of being impoverished. “I just need to pour this reagent down the drain,” he said, but she didn’t hear him move. Maybe because she was blocking the sink. Or maybe because he thought Olive was a weirdo and was contemplating siccing the campus police on her. That would put a brutally quick end to her Ph.D. dreams, wouldn’t it? “We don’t use this as a restroom, just to dispose of waste and wash equipment.” “Oh, sorry. I thought . . .” Poorly. She’d thought poorly, as was her habit and curse. “Are you okay?” He must be really tall. His voice sounded like it came from ten feet above her. “Sure. Why do you ask?” “Because you are crying. In my bathroom.” “Oh, I’m not crying. Well, I sort of am, but it’s just tears, you know?” “I do not.” She sighed, slumping against the tiled wall. “It’s my contacts. They expired some time ago, and they were never that great to begin with. They messed up my eyes. I’ve taken them off, but . . .” She shrugged. Hopefully in his direction. “It takes a while, before they get better.” “You put in expired contacts?” He sounded personally offended. “Just a little expired.” “What’s ‘a little’?” “I don’t know. A few years?” “What?” His consonants were sharp and precise. Crisp. Pleasant. “Only just a couple, I think.” “Just a couple of years?” “It’s okay. Expiration dates are for the weak.” A sharp sound—some kind of snort. “Expiration dates are so I don’t find you weeping in the corner of my bathroom.” Unless this dude was Mr. Stanford himself, he really needed to stop calling this his bathroom. “It’s fine.” She waved a hand. She’d have rolled her eyes, if they hadn’t been on fire. “The burning usually lasts only a few minutes.” “You mean you’ve done this before?” She frowned. “Done what?” “Put in expired contacts.” “Of course. Contacts are not cheap.” “Neither are eyes.” Humph. Good point. “Hey, have we met? Maybe last night, at the recruitment dinner with prospective Ph.D. students?” “No.” “You weren’t there?” “Not really my scene.” “But the free food?” “Not worth the small talk.” Maybe he was on a diet, because what kind of Ph.D. student said that? And Olive was sure that he was a Ph.D. student—the haughty, condescending tone was a dead giveaway. All Ph.D. students were like that: thinking they were better than everyone else just because they had the dubious privilege of slaughtering fruit flies in the name of science for ninety cents an hour. In the grim, dark hellscape of academia, graduate students were the lowliest of creatures and therefore had to convince themselves that they were the best. Olive was no clinical psychologist, but it seemed like a pretty textbook defense mechanism. “Are you interviewing for a spot in the program?” he asked. “Yup. For next year’s biology cohort.” God, her eyes were burning. “What about you?” she asked, pressing her palms into them. “Me?” “How long have you been here?” “Here?” A pause. “Six years. Give or take.” “Oh. Are you graduating soon, then?” “I . . .” She picked up on his hesitation and instantly felt guilty. “Wait, you don’t have to tell me. First rule of grad school—don’t ask about other grads’ dissertation timeline.” A beat. And then another. “Right.” “Sorry.” She wished she could see him. Social interactions were hard enough to begin with; the last thing she needed was fewer cues to go by. “I didn’t mean to channel your parents at Thanksgiving.” He laughed softly. “You could never.” “Oh.” She smiled. “Annoying parents?” “And even worse Thanksgivings.” “That’s what you Americans get for leaving the Commonwealth.” She held out her hand in what she hoped was his general direction. “I’m Olive, by the way. Like the tree.” She was starting to wonder whether she’d just introduced herself to the drain disposal when she heard him step closer. The hand that closed around hers was dry, and warm, and so large it could have enveloped her whole fist. Everything about him must be huge. Height, fingers, voice. It was not entirely unpleasant. “You’re not American?” he asked. “Canadian. Listen, if you happen to talk with anyone who’s on the admissions committee, would you mind not mentioning my contacts mishap? It might make me seem like a less-than-stellar applicant.” “You think so?” he deadpanned. She would have glared at him if she could. Though maybe she was doing a decent job of it anyway, because he laughed—just a huff, but Olive could tell. And she kind of liked it. He let go of her, and she realized that she’d been gripping his hand. Oops. “Are you planning to enroll?” he asked. She shrugged. “I might not get an offer.” But she and the professor she’d interviewed with, Dr. Aslan, had really hit it off. Olive had stuttered and mumbled much less than usual. Plus, her GRE scores and GPA were almost perfect. Not having a life came in handy, sometimes. “Are you planning to enroll if you get an offer, then?” She’d be stupid not to. This was Stanford, after all—one of the best biology programs. Or at least, that was what Olive had been telling herself to cover the petrifying truth. Which was that, frankly, she was a bit on the fence about this whole grad school thing. “I . . . maybe. I must say, the line between excellent career choice and critical life screwup is getting a bit blurry.” “Seems like you’re leaning toward screwup.” He sounded like he was smiling. “No. Well . . . I just . . .” “You just?” She bit her lip. “What if I’m not good enough?” she blurted out, and why, God, why was she baring the deepest fears of her secret little heart to this random bathroom guy? And what was the point, anyway? Every time she aired out her doubts to friends and acquaintances, they all automatically offered the same trite, meaningless encouragements. You’ll be fine. You can do it. I believe in you. This guy was surely going to do the same. Coming up. Any moment now. Any second— “Why do you want to do it?” Uh? “Do . . . what?” “Get a Ph.D. What’s your reason?” Olive cleared her throat. “I’ve always had an inquisitive mind, and graduate school is the ideal environment to foster that. It’ll give me important transferable skills—” He snorted. She frowned. “What?” “Not the line you found in an interview prep book. Why do you want a Ph.D.?” “It’s true,” she insisted, a bit weakly. “I want to sharpen my research abilities—” “Is it because you don’t know what else to do?” “No.” “Because you didn’t get an industry position?” “No—I didn’t even apply for industry.” “Ah.” He moved, a large, blurry figure stepping next to her to pour something down the sink. Olive could smell a whiff of eugenol, and laundry detergent, and clean, male skin. An oddly nice combination. “I need more freedom than industry can offer.” “You won’t have much freedom in academia.” His voice was closer, like he hadn’t stepped back yet. “You’ll have to fund your work through ludicrously competitive research grants. You’d make better money in a nine-to-five job that actually allows you to entertain the concept of weekends.” Olive scowled. “Are you trying to get me to decline my offer? Is this some kind of anti–expired-contacts-wearers campaign?” “Nah.” She could hear his smile. “I’ll go ahead and trust that it was just a misstep.” “I wear them all the time, and they almost never—” “In a long line of missteps, clearly.” He sighed. “Here’s the deal: I have no idea if you’re good enough, but that’s not what you should be asking yourself. Academia’s a lot of bucks for very little bang. What matters is whether your reason to be in academia is good enough. So, why the Ph.D., Olive?” She thought about it, and thought, and thought even more. And then she spoke carefully. “I have a question. A specific research question. Something that I want to find out.” There. Done. This was the answer. “Something I’m afraid no one else will discover if I don’t.” “A question?” She felt the air shift and realized that he was now leaning against the sink. “Yes.” Her mouth felt dry. “Something that’s important to me. And—I don’t trust anyone else to do it. Because they haven’t so far. Because . . .” Because something bad happened. Because I want to do my part so that it won’t happen again. Heavy thoughts to have in the presence of a stranger, in the darkness of her closed eyelids. So she cracked them open; her vision was still blurry, but the burning was mostly gone. The Guy was looking at her. Fuzzy around the edges, perhaps, but so very there, waiting patiently for her to continue. “It’s important to me,” she repeated. “The research that I want to do.” Olive was twenty-three and alone in the world. She didn’t want weekends, or a decent salary. She wanted to go back in time. She wanted to be less lonely. But since that was impossible, she’d settle for fixing what she could. He nodded but said nothing as he straightened and took a few steps toward the door. Clearly leaving. “Is mine a good enough reason to go to grad school?” she called after him, hating how eager for approval she sounded. It was possible that she was in the midst of some sort of existential crisis. He paused and looked back at her. “It’s the best one.” He was smiling, she thought. Or something like it. “Good luck on your interview, Olive.” “Thanks.” He was almost out the door already. “Maybe I’ll see you next year,” she babbled, flushing a little. “If I get in. And if you haven’t graduated.” “Maybe,” she heard him say. With that, The Guy was gone. And Olive never got his name. But a few weeks later, when the Stanford biology department extended her an offer, she accepted it. Without hesitating. Chapter One HYPOTHESIS: When given a choice between A (a slightly inconveniencing situation) and B (a colossal shitshow with devastating consequences), I will inevitably end up selecting B. Two years, eleven months later In Olive’s defense, the man didn’t seem to mind the kiss too much. It did take him a moment to adjust—perfectly understandable, given the sudden circumstances. It was an awkward, uncomfortable, somewhat painful minute, in which Olive was simultaneously smashing her lips against his and pushing herself as high as her toes would extend to keep her mouth at the same level as his face. Did he have to be so tall? The kiss must have looked like some clumsy headbutt, and she grew anxious that she was not going to be able to pull the whole thing off. Her friend Anh, whom Olive had spotted coming her way a few seconds ago, was going to take one look at this and know at once that Olive and Kiss Dude couldn’t possibly be two people in the middle of a date. Then that agonizingly slow moment went by, and the kiss became . . . different. The man inhaled sharply and inclined his head a tiny bit, making Olive feel less like a squirrel monkey climbing a baobab tree, and his hands—which were large and pleasantly warm in the AC of the hallway—closed around her waist. They slid up a few inches, coming to wrap around Olive’s rib cage and holding her to himself. Not too close, and not too far. Just so. It was more of a prolonged peck than anything, but it was quite nice, and for the life span of a few seconds Olive forgot a large number of things, including the fact that she was pressed against a random, unknown dude. That she’d barely had the time to whisper “Can I please kiss you?” before locking lips with him. That what had originally driven her to put on this entire show was the hope of fooling Anh, her best friend in the whole world. But a good kiss will do that: make a girl forget herself for a while. Olive found herself melting into a broad, solid chest that showed absolutely no give. Her hands traveled from a defined jaw into surprisingly thick and soft hair, and then—then she heard herself sigh, as if already out of breath, and that’s when it hit her like a brick on the head, the realization that— No. No. Nope, nope, no. She should not be enjoying this. Random dude, and all that. Olive gasped and pushed herself away from him, frantically looking for Anh. In the 11:00 p.m. bluish glow of the biology labs’ hallway, her friend was nowhere to be seen. Weird. Olive was sure she had spotted her a few seconds earlier. Kiss Dude, on the other hand, was standing right in front of her, lips parted, chest rising and a weird light flickering in his eyes, which was exactly when it dawned on her, the enormity of what she had just done. Of who she had just— Fuck her life. Fuck. Her. Life. Because Dr. Adam Carlsen was a known ass. This fact was not remarkable in and of itself, as in academia every position above the graduate student level (Olive’s level, sadly) required some degree of assness in order to be held for any length of time, with tenured faculty at the very peak of the ass pyramid. Dr. Carlsen, though—he was exceptional. At least if the rumors were anything to go by. He was the reason Olive’s roommate, Malcolm, had to completely scrap two research projects and would likely end up graduating a year late; the one who had made Jeremy throw up from anxiety before his qualifying exams; the sole culprit for half the students in the department being forced to postpone their thesis defenses. Joe, who used to be in Olive’s cohort and would take her to watch out-of-focus European movies with microscopic subtitles every Thursday night, had been a research assistant in Carlsen’s lab, but he’d decided to drop out six months into it for “reasons.” It was probably for the best, since most of Carlsen’s remaining graduate assistants had perennially shaky hands and often looked like they hadn’t slept in a year. Dr. Carlsen might have been a young academic rock star and biology’s wunderkind, but he was also mean and hypercritical, and it was obvious in the way he spoke, in the way he carried himself, that he thought himself the only person doing decent science within the Stanford biology department. Within the entire world, probably. He was a notoriously moody, obnoxious, terrifying dick. And Olive had just kissed him. She wasn’t sure how long the silence lasted—only that he was the one to break it. He stood in front of Olive, ridiculously intimidating with dark eyes and even darker hair, staring down from who knows how many inches above six feet—he must have been over half a foot taller than she was. He scowled, an expression that she recognized from seeing him attend the departmental seminar, a look that usually preceded him raising his hand to point out some perceived fatal flaw in the speaker’s work. Adam Carlsen. Destroyer of research careers, Olive had once overheard her adviser say. It’s okay. It’s fine. Totally fine. She was just going to pretend nothing had happened, nod at him politely, and tiptoe her way out of here. Yes, solid plan. “Did you . . . Did you just kiss me?” He sounded puzzled, and maybe a little out of breath. His lips were full and plump and . . . God. Kissed. There was simply no way Olive could get away with denying what she had just done. Still, it was worth a try. “Nope.” Surprisingly, it seemed to work. “Ah. Okay, then.” Carlsen nodded and turned around, looking vaguely disoriented. He took a couple of steps down the hallway, reached the water fountain—maybe where he’d been headed in the first place. Olive was starting to believe that she might actually be off the hook when he halted and turned back with a skeptical expression. “Are you sure?” Dammit. “I—” She buried her face in her hands. “It’s not the way it looks.” “Okay. I . . . Okay,” he repeated slowly. His voice was deep and low and sounded a lot like he was on his way to getting mad. Like maybe he was already mad. “What’s going on here?” There was simply no way to explain this. Any normal person would have found Olive’s situation odd, but Adam Carlsen, who obviously considered empathy a bug and not a feature of humanity, could never understand. She let her hands fall to her sides and took a deep breath. “I . . . listen, I don’t mean to be rude, but this is really none of your business.” He stared at her for a moment, and then he nodded. “Yes. Of course.” He must be getting back into his usual groove, because his tone had lost some of its surprise and was back to normal—dry. Laconic. “I’ll just go back to my office and begin to work on my Title IX complaint.” Olive exhaled in relief. “Yeah. That would be great, since— Wait. Your what?” He cocked his head. “Title IX is a federal law that protects against sexual misconduct within academic settings—” “I know what Title IX is.” “I see. So you willfully chose to disregard it.” “I— What? No. No, I didn’t!” He shrugged. “I must be mistaken, then. Someone else must have assaulted me.” “Assault—I didn’t ‘assault’ you.” “You did kiss me.” “But not really.” “Without first securing my consent.” “I asked if I could kiss you!” “And then did so without waiting for my response.” “What? You said yes.” “Excuse me?” She frowned. “I asked if I could kiss you, and you said yes.” “Incorrect. You asked if you could kiss me and I snorted.” “I’m pretty sure I heard you said yes.” He lifted one eyebrow, and for a minute Olive let herself daydream of drowning someone. Dr. Carlsen. Herself. Both sounded like great options. “Listen, I’m really sorry. It was a weird situation. Can we just forget that this happened?” He studied her for a long moment, his angular face serious and something else, something that she couldn’t quite decipher because she was too busy noticing all over again how damn towering and broad he was. Just massive. Olive had always been slight, just this side of too slender, but girls who are five eight rarely felt diminutive. At least until they found themselves standing next to Adam Carlsen. She’d known that he was tall, of course, from seeing him around the department or walking across campus, from sharing the elevator with him, but they’d never interacted. Never been this close. Except for a second ago, Olive. When you almost put your tongue in his— “Is there something wrong?” He sounded almost concerned. “What? No. No, there isn’t.” “Because,” he continued calmly, “kissing a stranger at midnight in a science lab might be a sign that there is.” “There isn’t.” Carlsen nodded, thoughtful. “Very well. Expect mail in the next few days, then.” He began to walk past her, and she turned to yell after him. “You didn’t even ask my name!” “I’m sure anyone could figure it out, since you must have swiped your badge to get in the labs area after hours. Have a good night.” “Wait!” She leaned forward and stopped him with a hand on his wrist. He paused immediately, even though it was obvious that it would take him no effort to free himself, and stared pointedly at the spot where her fingers had wrapped around his skin—right below a wristwatch that probably cost half her yearly graduate salary. Or all of it. She let go of him at once and took one step back. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to—” “The kiss. Explain.” Olive bit into her lower lip. She had truly screwed herself over. She had to tell him, now. “Anh Pham.” She looked around to make sure Anh was really gone. “The girl who was passing by. She’s a graduate student in the biology department.” Carlsen gave no indication of knowing who Anh was. “Anh has . . .” Olive pushed a strand of brown hair behind her ear. This was where the story became embarrassing. Complicated, and a little juvenile sounding. “I was seeing this guy in the department. Jeremy Langley, he has red hair and works with Dr. . . . Anyway, we went out just a couple of times, and then I brought him to Anh’s birthday party, and they just sort of hit it off and—” Olive shut her eyes. Which was probably a bad idea, because now she could see it painted on her lids, how her best friend and her date had bantered in that bowling alley, as if they’d known each other their whole lives; the never-exhausted topics of conversation, the laughter, and then, at the end of the night, Jeremy following Anh’s every move with his gaze. It had been painfully clear who he was interested in. Olive waved a hand and tried for a smile. “Long story short, after Jeremy and I ended things he asked Anh out. She said no because of . . . girl code and all that, but I can tell that she really likes him. She’s afraid to hurt my feelings, and no matter how many times I told her it was fine she wouldn’t believe me.” Not to mention that the other day I overheard her confess to our friend Malcolm that she thought Jeremy was awesome, but she could never betray me by going out with him, and she sounded so dejected. Disappointed and insecure, not at all like the spunky, larger-than-life Anh I am used to. “So I just lied and told her that I was already dating someone else. Because she’s one of my closest friends and I’d never seen her like a guy this much and I want her to have the good things she deserves and I’m positive that she would do the same for me and—” Olive realized that she was rambling and that Carlsen couldn’t have cared less. She stopped and swallowed, even though her mouth felt dry. “Tonight. I told her I’d be on a date tonight.” “Ah.” His expression was unreadable. “But I’m not. So I decided to come in to work on an experiment, but Anh showed up, too. She wasn’t supposed to be here. But she was. Coming this way. And I panicked—well.” Olive wiped a hand down her face. “I didn’t really think.” Carlsen didn’t say anything, but it was there in his eyes that he was thinking, Obviously. “I just needed her to believe that I was on a date.” He nodded. “So you kissed the first person you saw in the hallway. Perfectly logical.” Olive winced. “When you put it like that, perhaps it wasn’t my best moment.” “Perhaps.” “But it wasn’t my worst, either! I’m pretty sure Anh saw us. Now she’ll think that I was on a date with you and she’ll hopefully feel free to go out with Jeremy and—” She shook her head. “Listen. I’m so, so sorry about the kiss.” “Are you?” “Please, don’t report me. I really thought I heard you say yes. I promise I didn’t mean to . . .” Suddenly, the enormity of what she had just done fully dawned on her. She had just kissed a random guy, a guy who happened to be the most notoriously unpleasant faculty member in the biology department. She’d misunderstood a snort for consent, she’d basically attacked him in the hallway, and now he was staring at her in that odd, pensive way, so large and focused and close to her, and . . . Shit. Maybe it was the late night. Maybe it was that her last coffee had been sixteen hours ago. Maybe it was Adam Carlsen looking down at her, like that. All of a sudden, this entire situation was just too much. “Actually, you’re absolutely right. And I am so sorry. If you felt in any way harassed by me, you really should report me, because it’s only fair. It was a horrible thing to do, though I really didn’t want to . . . Not that my intentions matter; it’s more like your perception of . . .” Crap, crap, crap. “I’m going to leave now, okay? Thank you, and . . . I am so, so, so sorry.” Olive spun around on her heels and ran away down the hallway. “Olive,” she heard him call after her. “Olive, wait—” She didn’t stop. She sprinted down the stairs to the first floor and then out the building and across the pathways of the sparsely lit Stanford campus, running past a girl walking her dog and a group of students laughing in front of the library. She continued until she was standing in front of her apartment’s door, stopping only to unlock it, making a beeline for her room in the hope of avoiding her roommate and whoever he might have brought home tonight. It wasn’t until she slumped on her bed, staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars glued to her ceiling, that she realized she had neglected to check on her lab mice. She had also left her laptop on her bench and her sweatshirt somewhere in the lab, and she had completely forgotten to stop at the store and buy the coffee she’d promised Malcolm she’d get for tomorrow morning. Shit. What a disaster of a day. It never occurred to Olive that Dr. Adam Carlsen—known ass—had called her by her name. Chapter Two HYPOTHESIS: Any rumor regarding my love life will spread with a speed that is directly proportional to my desire to keep said rumor a secret. Olive Smith was a rising third-year Ph.D. student in one of the best biology departments in the country, one that housed more than one hundred grads and what often felt like several million majoring undergrads. She had no idea what the exact number of faculty was, but judging from the mailboxes in the copy room she’d say that a safe guess was: too many. Therefore, she reasoned that if she’d never had the misfortune of interacting with Adam Carlsen in the two years before The Night (it had been only a handful of days since the kissing incident, but Olive already knew that she’d think of last Friday as The Night for the rest of her life), it was entirely possible that she might be able to finish grad school without crossing paths with him ever again. In fact, she was fairly sure that not only did Adam Carlsen have no idea who she was, but he also had no desire to learn—and had probably already forgotten all about what happened. Unless, of course, she was catastrophically wrong and he did end up filing a Title IX lawsuit. In which case she supposed that she would see him again, when she pleaded guilty in federal court. Olive figured that she could waste her time fretting about legal fees, or she could focus on what were more pressing issues. Like the approximately five hundred slides she had to prepare for the neurobiology class that she was slated to TA in the fall semester, which was starting in less than two weeks. Or the note Malcolm had left this morning, telling her he’d seen a cockroach scurry under the credenza even though their apartment was already full of traps. Or the most crucial one: the fact that her research project had reached a critical point and she desperately needed to find a bigger, significantly richer lab to carry out her experiment. Otherwise, what could very well become a groundbreaking, clinically relevant study might end up languishing on a handful of petri dishes stacked in the crisper drawer of her fridge. Olive opened her laptop with half a mind to google “Organs one can live without” and “How much cash for them” but got sidetracked by the twenty new emails she’d received while busy with her lab animals. They were almost exclusively from predatory journals, Nigerian prince wannabes, and one glitter company whose newsletter she’d signed up for six years ago to get a free tube of lipstick. Olive quickly marked them as read, eager to go back to her experiments, and then noticed that one message was actually a reply to something she had sent. A reply from . . . Holy crap. Holy crap. She clicked on it so hard she almost sprained her pointer finger. Today, 3:15 p.m. FROM: Tom-Benton@harvard.edu TO: Olive-Smith@stanford.edu SUBJECT: Re: Pancreatic Cancer Screening Project Olive, Your project sounds good. I’ll be visiting Stanford in about two weeks. Why don’t we chat then? Cheers, TB Tom Benton, Ph.D. Associate Professor Department of Biological Sciences, Harvard University Her heart skipped a beat. Then it started galloping. Then it slowed down to a crawl. And then she felt her blood pulsate in her eyelids, which couldn’t be healthy, but— Yes. Yes! She had a taker. Almost. Probably? Maybe. Definitely maybe. Tom Benton had said “good.” He had said that it sounded “good.” It had to be a “good” sign, right? She frowned, scrolling down to reread the email she’d sent him several weeks earlier. July 7, 8:19 a.m. FROM: Olive-Smith@stanford.edu TO: Tom-Benton@harvard.edu SUBJECT: Pancreatic Cancer Screening Project Dr. Benton, My name is Olive Smith, and I am a Ph.D. student in the biology department of Stanford University. My research focuses on pancreatic cancer, in particular on finding noninvasive, affordable detection tools that could lead to early treatment and increase survival rates. I have been working on blood biomarkers, with promising results. (You can read about my preliminary work in the peer-reviewed paper I have attached. I have also submitted more recent, unpublished findings to this year’s Society for Biological Discovery conference; acceptance is pending but see the attached abstract.) The next step would be to carry out additional studies to determine the feasibility of my test kit. Unfortunately my current lab (Dr. Aysegul Aslan’s, who is retiring in two years) does not have the funding or the equipment to allow me to proceed. She is encouraging me to find a larger cancer research lab where I could spend the next academic year to collect the data I need. Then I would return to Stanford to analyze and write up the data. I am a huge fan of the work you have published on pancreatic cancer, and I was wondering whether there might be a possibility to carry out my work in your lab at Harvard. I am happy to talk more in detail about my project if you are interested. Sincerely, Olive Olive Smith Ph.D. Candidate Biology Department, Stanford University If Tom Benton, cancer researcher extraordinaire, came to Stanford and gave Olive ten minutes of his time, she could convince him to help her out with her research predicament! Well . . . maybe. Olive was much better at actually doing research than at selling its importance to others. Science communication and public speaking of any sort were definitely her big weaknesses. But she had a chance to show Benton how promising her results were. She could list the clinical benefits of her work, and she could explain how little she required to turn her project into a huge success. All she needed was a quiet bench in a corner of his lab, a couple hundred of his lab mice, and unlimited access to his twenty-million-dollar electron microscope. Benton wouldn’t even notice her. Olive headed for the break room, mentally writing an impassioned speech on how she was willing to use his facilities only at night and limit her oxygen consumption to less than five breaths per minute. She poured herself a cup of stale coffee and turned around to find someone scowling right behind her. She startled so hard that she almost burned herself. “Jesus!” She clutched her chest, took a deep breath, and held tighter onto her Scooby-Doo mug. “Anh. You scared the shit out of me.” “Olive.” It was a bad sign. Anh never called her Olive—never, unless she was reprimanding her for biting her nails to the quick or for having vitamin gummies for dinner. “Hey! How was your—” “The other night.” Dammit. “—weekend?” “Dr. Carlsen.” Dammit, dammit, dammit. “What about him?” “I saw the two of you together.” “Oh. Really?” Olive’s surprise sounded painfully playacted, even to her own ears. Maybe she should have signed up for drama club in high school instead of playing every single sport available. “Yes. Here, in the department.” “Oh. Cool. Um, I didn’t see you, or I’d have said hi.” Anh frowned. “Ol. I saw you. I saw you with Carlsen. You know that I saw you, and I know that you know that I saw you, because you’ve been avoiding me.” “I have not.” Anh gave her one of her formidable no-bullshit looks. It was probably the one she used as president of the student senate, as head of the Stanford Women in Science Association, as director of outreach for the Organization of BIPOC Scientists. There was no fight Anh couldn’t win. She was fearsome and indomitable, and Olive loved this about her—but not right now. “You haven’t answered any of my messages for the past two days. We usually text every hour.” They did. Multiple times. Olive switched the mug to her left hand, for no reason other than to buy some time. “I’ve been . . . busy?” “Busy?” Anh’s eyebrow shot up. “Busy kissing Carlsen?” “Oh. Oh, that. That was just . . .” Anh nodded, as if to encourage her to finish the sentence. When it became obvious that Olive couldn’t, Anh continued for her. “That was—no offense, Ol—but that was the most bizarre kiss I have ever seen.” Calm. Stay calm. She doesn’t know. She cannot know. “I doubt that,” Olive retorted weakly. “Take that upside-down Spider-Man kiss. That was way more bizarre than—” “Ol, you said you were on a date that night. You’re not dating Carlsen, are you?” She twisted her face in a grimace. It would have been so easy to confess the truth. Since starting grad school Anh and Olive had done heaps of moronic things, together and separately; the time Olive panicked and kissed none other than Adam Carlsen could become one of them, one they laughed about during their weekly beer-and-s’mores nights. Or not. There was a chance that if Olive admitted to lying now, Anh might never trust her again. Or that she’d never go out with Jeremy. And as much as the idea of her best friend dating her ex had Olive wanting to puke just a bit, the thought of said best friend being anything but happy had her wanting to puke a lot more. The situation was depressingly simple: Olive was alone in the world. She had been for a long time, ever since high school. She had trained herself not to make a big deal out of it—she was sure many people were alone in the world and found themselves having to write down made-up names and phone numbers on their emergency contact forms. During college and her master’s, focusing on science and research had been her way of coping, and she had been perfectly ready to spend the rest of her life holed up in a lab with little more than a beaker and a handful of pipettes as her faithful companions—until . . . Anh. In a way, it had been love at first sight. First day of grad school. Biology cohort orientation. Olive entered the conference room, looked around, and sat in the first free seat she could find, petrified. She was the only woman in the room, virtually alone in a sea of white men who were already talking about boats, and whatever sportsball was on TV the night before, and the best routes to drive places. I have made a terrible mistake, she thought. The Guy in the bathroom was wrong. I should never have come here. I am never going to fit in. And then a girl with curly dark hair and a pretty, round face plopped in the chair next to hers and muttered, “So much for the STEM programs’ commitment to inclusivity, am I right?” That was the moment everything changed. They could have just been allies. As the only two non-cis-white-male students in their year, they could have found solace together when some bitching was needed and ignored each other otherwise. Olive had lots of friends like that—all of them, actually, circumstantial acquaintances whom she thought of fondly but not very often. Anh, though, had been different from the start. Maybe because they’d soon found out that they loved spending their Saturday nights eating junk food and falling asleep to rom-coms. Maybe it was the way she’d insisted on dragging Olive to every single “women in STEM” support group on campus and had wowed everyone with her bull’s-eye comments. Maybe it was that she’d opened up to Olive and explained how hard it had been for her to get where she was today. The way her older brothers had made fun of her and called her a nerd for loving math so much growing up—at an age when being a nerd was not quite considered cool. That time a physics professor asked her if she was in the wrong class on the first day of the semester. The fact that despite her grades and research experience, even her academic adviser had seemed skeptical when she’d decided to pursue STEM higher education. Olive, whose path to grad school had been rough but not nearly as rough, was befuddled. Then enraged. And then in absolute awe when she understood the self-doubt that Anh had been able to harness into sheer fierceness. And for some unimaginable reason, Anh seemed to like Olive just as much. When Olive’s stipend hadn’t quite stretched to the end of the month, Anh had shared her instant ramen. When Olive’s computer had crashed without backups, Anh had stayed up all night to help her rewrite her crystallography paper. When Olive had nowhere to go over the holidays, Anh would bring her friend home to Michigan and let her large family ply Olive with delicious food while rapid Vietnamese flowed around her. When Olive had felt too stupid for the program and had considered dropping out, Anh had talked her out of it. The day Olive met Anh’s rolling eyes, a life-changing friendship was born. Slowly, they’d begun to include Malcolm and become a bit of a trio, but Anh . . . Anh was her person. Family. Olive hadn’t even thought that was possible for someone like her. Anh rarely asked anything for herself, and even though they’d been friends for more than two years, Olive had never seen her show interest in dating anyone—until Jeremy. Pretending that she’d been on a date with Carlsen was the least Olive could do to ensure her friend’s happiness. So she bucked up, smiled, and tried to keep her tone reasonably even while asking, “What do you mean?” “I mean that we talk every minute of every day, and you never mentioned Carlsen before. My closest friend is supposedly seeing the superstar professor of the department, and somehow I’ve never heard of it? You know his reputation, right? Is it some kind of joke? Do you have a brain tumor? Do I have a brain tumor?” This was what happened whenever Olive lied: she ended up having to tell even more lies to cover her first, and she was horrible at it, which meant that each lie got worse and less convincing than the previous. There was no way she could fool Anh. There was no way she could fool anybody. Anh was going to get mad, then Jeremy was going to get mad, then Malcolm, too, and then Olive was going to find herself utterly alone. The heartbreak was going to make her flunk out of grad school. She was going to lose her visa and her only source of income and move back to Canada, where it snowed all the time and people ate moose heart and— “Hey.” The voice, deep and even, came from somewhere behind Olive, but she didn’t need to turn to know that it was Carlsen’s. Just like she didn’t need to turn to know that the large, warm weight suddenly steadying her, a firm but barely there pressure applied to the center of her lower back, was Carlsen’s hand. About two inches above her ass. Holy crap. Olive twisted her neck and looked up. And up. And up. And a bit more up. She was not a short woman, but he was just big. “Oh. Um, hey.” “Is everything okay?” He said it looking into her eyes, in a low, intimate tone. Like they were alone. Like Anh was not there. He said it in a way that should have made Olive uncomfortable but didn’t. For some inexplicable reason his presence in the room soothed her, even though until a second ago she had been freaking out. Perhaps two different types of unease neutralized each other? It sounded like a fascinating research topic. Worth pursuing. Maybe Olive should abandon biology and switch to psychology. Maybe she should excuse herself and go run a literature search. Maybe she should expire on the spot to avoid facing this crapfest of a situation she’d put herself in. “Yes. Yes. Everything is great. Anh and I were just . . . chatting. About our weekends.” Carlsen looked at Anh, as though realizing for the first time that she was in the room. He acknowledged her existence with one of those brief nods dudes used to greet others. His hand slid lower on Olive’s spine just as Anh’s eyes widened. “Nice to meet you, Anh. I’ve heard a lot about you,” Carlsen said, and he was good at this, Olive had to admit. Because she was sure that from Anh’s angle it looked like he was groping her, but in fact he was . . . not. Olive could barely feel his hand on her. Just a little, maybe. The warmth, and the slight pressure, and— “Nice to meet you, too.” Anh looked thunderstruck. Like she might pass out. “Um, I was just about to leave. Ol, I’m going to text you when . . . yeah.” She was out of the room before Olive could answer. Which was good, because Olive didn’t need to come up with more lies. But also slightly less good, because now it was just her and Carlsen. Standing way too close. Olive would have paid good money to say that she was the one to put some distance between them, but the embarrassing truth was that it was Carlsen who stepped away first. Enough to give her the space she needed, and then some. “Is everything okay?” he asked again. His tone was still soft. Not something she would have expected from him. “Yes. Yes, I just . . .” Olive waved her hand. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” “Did you hear what she said? About Friday and . . .” “I did. That’s why I . . .” He looked at her, and then at his hand—the one that had been warming her back a few seconds ago—and Olive immediately understood. “Thank you,” she repeated. Because Adam Carlsen might have been a known ass, but Olive was feeling pretty damn grateful right at the moment. “Also, uh, I couldn’t help noticing that no agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have knocked on my door to arrest me in the past seventy-two hours.” The corner of his mouth twitched. Minimally. “Is that so?” Olive nodded. “Which makes me think that maybe you haven’t filed that complaint. Even though it would have been totally within your rights. So, thank you. For that. And . . . and for stepping in, right now. You saved me a lot of trouble.” Carlsen stared at her for a long moment, looking suddenly like he did during seminar, when people mixed up theory and hypothesis or admitted to using listwise deletion instead of imputation. “You shouldn’t need someone to step in.” Olive stiffened. Right. Known ass. “Well, it’s not as if I asked you to do anything. I was going to handle it by myse—” “And you shouldn’t have to lie about your relationship status,” he continued. “Especially not so that your friend and your boyfriend can get together guilt-free. That’s not how friendship works, last I checked.” Oh. So he’d actually been listening when Olive vomited her life story at him. “It’s not like that.” He lifted an eyebrow, and Olive raised a hand in defense. “Jeremy wasn’t really my boyfriend. And Anh didn’t ask me for anything. I’m not some sort of victim, I just . . . want my friend to be happy.” “By lying to her,” he added drily. “Well, yeah, but . . . She thinks we’re dating, you and I,” Olive blurted out. God, the implications were too ridiculous to bear. “Wasn’t that the point?” “Yeah.” She nodded and then remembered the coffee in her hand and took a sip from her mug. It was still warm. The conversation with Anh couldn’t have lasted more than five minutes. “Yeah. I guess it was. By the way—I’m Olive Smith. In case you’re still interested in filing that complaint. I’m a Ph.D. student in Dr. Aslan’s lab—” “I know who you are.” “Oh.” Maybe he had looked her up, then. Olive tried to imagine him combing through the Current Ph.D. Students’ section on the department website. Olive’s picture had been taken by the program secretary on her third day of grad school, well before she had become fully aware of what she was in for. She had made an effort to look good: tamed her wavy brown hair, put on mascara to pop the green of her eyes, even attempted to hide her freckles with some borrowed foundation. It had been before she’d realized how ruthless, how cutthroat academia could be. Before the sense of inadequacy, before the constant fear that even if she was good at research, she might never be able to truly make it as an academic. She had been smiling. A real, actual smile. “Okay.” “I’m Adam. Carlsen. I’m faculty in—” She burst out laughing in his face. And then regretted it immediately as she noticed his confused expression, as though he’d seriously thought Olive might not know who he was. As though he was unaware of being one of the most prominent scholars in the field. The modesty was not at all like Adam Carlsen. Olive cleared her throat. “Right. Um, I know who you are, too, Dr. Carlsen.” “You should probably call me Adam.” “Oh. Oh, no.” That would be way too . . . No. The department was not like that. Grads didn’t call faculty by their first names. “I could never—” “If Anh happens to be around.” “Oh. Yeah.” It made sense. “Thank you. I hadn’t thought of that.” Or of anything else, really. Clearly, her brain had stopped working three days ago, when she’d decided that kissing him to save her own ass was a good idea. “If that’s o-okay with you. I’m going to go home, because this whole thing was kind of stressful and . . .” I was going to run an experiment, but I really need to sit on the couch and watch American Ninja Warrior for forty-five minutes while eating Cool Ranch Doritos, which taste surprisingly better than you’d give them credit for. He nodded. “I’ll walk you to your car.” “I’m not that distraught.” “In case Anh’s still around.” “Oh.” It was, Olive had to admit, a kind offer. Surprisingly so. Especially because it came from Adam “I’m Too Good for This Department” Carlsen. Olive knew that he was a dick, so she couldn’t quite understand why today he . . . didn’t seem to be one. Maybe she should just blame her own appalling behavior, which would make anyone look good by comparison. “Thanks. But no need.” She could tell that he didn’t want to insist but couldn’t help himself. “I’d feel better if you let me walk you to your car.” “I don’t have a car.” I’m a grad student living in Stanford, California. I make less than thirty thousand dollars a year. My rent takes up two-thirds of my salary. I’ve been wearing the same pair of contacts since May, and I go to every seminar that provides refreshments to save on meals, she didn’t bother adding. She had no idea how old Carlsen was, but it couldn’t have been that long ago that he was a grad student. “Do you take the bus?” “I bike. And my bike is right at the entrance of the building.” He opened his mouth, and then closed it. And then opened it again. You kissed that mouth, Olive. And it was a good kiss. “There are no bike lanes around here.” She shrugged. “I like to live dangerously.” Cheaply, she meant. “And I have a helmet.” She turned to set her mug on the first surface she could find. She’d retrieve it later. Or not, if someone stole it. Who cared? She’d gotten it from a postdoc who’d left academia to become a DJ, anyway. For the second time in less than a week, Carlsen had saved her ass. For the second time, she couldn’t stand being with him a minute longer. “I’ll see you around, okay?” His chest rose as he inhaled deeply. “Yeah. Okay.” Olive got out of the room as fast as she could. * * * — “IS IT A prank? It must be a prank. Am I on national TV? Where are the hidden cameras? How do I look?” “It’s not a prank. There are no cameras.” Olive adjusted the strap of her backpack on her shoulder and stepped to the side to avoid being run over by an undergrad on an electric scooter. “But now that you mention it—you look great. Especially for seven thirty in the morning.” Anh didn’t blush, but it was a close thing. “Last night I did one of those face masks that you and Malcolm got me for my birthday. The one that looks like a panda? And I got a new sunscreen that’s supposed to give you a bit of a glow. And I put on mascara,” she added hastily under her breath. Olive could ask her why she’d gone the extra mile to look nice on a run-of-the-mill Tuesday morning, but she already knew the answer: Jeremy’s and Anh’s labs were on the same floor, and while the biology department was large, chance encounters were very much a possibility. She hid a smile. As weird as the idea of a best friend dating an ex might sound, she was glad that Anh was starting to allow herself to consider Jeremy romantically. Mostly, it was nice to know that the indignity Olive had put herself through with Carlsen on The Night was paying off. That, together with Tom Benton’s very promising email about her research project, had Olive thinking that things might be finally looking up. “Okay.” Anh chewed on her lower lip, deep in concentration. “So it’s not a prank. Which means that there must be another explanation. Let me find it.” “There is no explanation to be found. We just—” “Oh my God, are you trying to get citizenship? Are they deporting you back to Canada because we’ve been sharing Malcolm’s Netflix password? Tell them we didn’t know it was a federal crime. No, wait, don’t tell them anything until we get you a lawyer. And, Ol, I will marry you. I’ll get you a green card and you won’t have to—” “Anh.” Olive squeezed her friend’s hand tighter to get her to shut up for a second. “I promise you, I’m not getting deported. I just went on a single date with Carlsen.” Anh scrunched her face and dragged Olive to a bench on the side of the path, forcing her to sit down. Olive complied, telling herself that were their positions inverted, had she caught Anh kissing Adam Carlsen, she’d probably have the same reaction. Hell, she’d probably be busy booking a full-blown psychiatric evaluation for Anh. “Listen,” Anh started, “do you remember last spring, when I held your hair back while you projectile vomited the five pounds of spoiled shrimp cocktail you ate at Dr. Park’s retirement party?” “Oh, yes. I do.” Olive cocked her head, pensive. “You ate more than me and never got sick.” “Because I’m made of sterner stuff, but never mind that. The point is: I am here for you, and always will be, no matter what. No matter how many pounds of spoiled shrimp cocktail you projectile vomit, you can trust me. We’re a team, you and I. And Malcolm, when he’s not busy screwing his way through the Stanford population. So if Carlsen is secretly an extraterrestrial life-form planning a takeover of Earth that will ultimately result in humanity being enslaved by evil overlords who look like cicadas, and the only way to stop him is dating him, you can tell me and I’ll inform NASA—” “For God’s sake”—Olive had to laugh—“it was just a date!” Anh looked pained. “I just don’t understand.” Because it doesn’t make sense. “I know, but there is nothing to understand. It’s just . . . We went on a date.” “But . . . why? Ol, you’re beautiful and smart and funny and have excellent taste in knee socks, why would you go out with Adam Carlsen?” Olive scratched her nose. “Because he is . . .” It cost her, to say the word. Oh, it cost her. But she had to. “Nice.” “Nice?” Anh’s eyebrows shot up so high they almost merged with her hairline. She does look extra cute today, Olive reflected, pleased. “Adam ‘Ass’ Carlsen?” “Well, yeah. He is . . .” Olive looked around, as if help could come from the oak trees, or the undergrads rushing to their summer classes. When it didn’t seem forthcoming, she just finished, lamely, “He is a nice asshole, I guess.” Anh’s expression went straight up disbelieving. “Okay, so you went from dating someone as cool as Jeremy to going out with Adam Carlsen.” Perfect. This was exactly the opening Olive had wanted. “I did. And happily, because I never cared that much about Jeremy.” Finally some truth in this conversation. “It wasn’t that hard to move on, honestly. Which is why— Please, Anh, put that boy out of his misery. He deserves it, and above all, you deserve it. I bet he’s on campus today. You should ask him to accompany you to that horror movie festival so I don’t have to come with you and sleep with the lights on for the next six months.” This time Anh blushed outright. She looked down at her hands, picked at her fingernails, and then she began to fiddle with the hem of her shorts before saying, “I don’t know. Maybe. I mean, if you really think that—” The sound of an alarm went off from Anh’s pocket, and she straightened to pull out her phone. “Crap, I’ve got a Diversity in STEM mentoring meeting and then I have to run two assays.” She stood, picking up her backpack. “Want to get together for lunch?” “Can’t. Have a TA meeting.” Olive smiled. “Maybe Jeremy’s free, though.” Anh rolled her eyes, but the corners of her mouth were curving up. It made Olive more than a little happy. So happy that she didn’t even flip her off when Anh turned around from the path and asked, “Is he blackmailing you?” “Huh?” “Carlsen. Is he blackmailing you? Did he find out that you’re an aberration and pee in the shower?” “First of all, it’s time efficient.” Olive glared. “Second, I find it oddly flattering that you’d think Carlsen would go to these ridiculous lengths to get me to date him.” “Anyone would, Ol. Because you’re awesome.” Anh grimaced before adding, “Except when you’re peeing in the shower.” * * * — JEREMY WAS ACTING weird. Which didn’t mean much, since Jeremy had always been a bit awkward, and having recently split from Olive to date her best friend was not going to make him any less so—but today he seemed even weirder than usual. He came into the campus coffee shop, a few hours after Olive’s conversation with Anh, and proceeded to stare at her for two good minutes. Then three. Then five. It was more attention than he’d ever paid to Olive—yes, including their dates. When it got borderline ridiculous, she lifted her eyes from her laptop and waved at him. Jeremy flushed, grabbed his latte from the counter, and found a table for himself. Olive went back to rereading her two-line email for the seventieth time. Today, 10:12 a.m. FROM: Olive-Smith@stanford.edu TO: Tom-Benton@harvard.edu SUBJECT: Re: Pancreatic Cancer Screening Project Dr. Benton, Thank you for your response. Chatting in person would be fantastic. What day will you be at Stanford? Let me know when it’s most convenient for you to meet. Sincerely, Olive Not twenty minutes later, a fourth-year who worked with Dr. Holden Rodrigues over in pharmacology came in and took a seat next to Jeremy. They immediately started whispering to each other and pointing at Olive. Any other day she would have been concerned and a little upset, but Dr. Benton had already answered her email, which took priority over . . . anything else, really. Today, 10:26 a.m. FROM: Tom-Benton@harvard.edu TO: Olive-Smith@stanford.edu SUBJECT: Re: Pancreatic Cancer Screening Project Olive, I’m on sabbatical from Harvard this semester, so I’ll be staying for several days. A Stanford collaborator and I were just awarded a large grant, and we’ll be meeting to talk about setup, etc. Okay if we play it by ear once I’m there? Cheers, TB Sent from my iPhone Yes! She had several days to convince him to take on her project, which was much better than the ten minutes she’d originally anticipated. Olive fist-pumped—which led to Jeremy and his friend staring at her even more weirdly. What was up with them, anyway? Did she have toothpaste on her face or something? Who cared? She was going to meet Tom Benton and convince him to take her on. Pancreatic cancer, I’m coming for you. She was in an excellent mood until two hours later, when she entered the biology TA meeting and a sudden silence dropped in the room. About fifteen pairs of eyes fixed on her—not a reaction she was accustomed to receiving. “Uh—hi?” A couple of people said hi back. Most averted their gazes. Olive told herself that she was just imagining things. Must be low blood sugar. Or high. One of the two. “Hey, Olive.” A seventh-year who had never before acknowledged her existence moved his backpack and freed the seat next to his. “How are you?” “Good.” She sat down gingerly, trying to keep the suspicion from her tone. “Um, you?” “Great.” There was something about his smile. Something salacious and fake. Olive was considering asking about it when the head TA managed to get the projector to work and called everyone’s attention to the meeting. After that, things became even weirder. Dr. Aslan stopped by the lab just to ask Olive if there was anything she’d like to talk about; Chase, a grad in her lab, let her use the PCR machine first, even though he usually hoarded it like a third grader with his last piece of Halloween candy; the lab manager winked at Olive as he handed her a stack of blank paper for the printer. And then she met Malcolm in the all-gender restroom, completely by chance, and suddenly everything made sense. “You sneaky monster,” he hissed. His black eyes were almost comically narrow. “I’ve been texting you all day.” “Oh.” Olive patted the back pocket of her jeans, and then the front one, trying to remember the last time she had seen her phone. “I think I might have left my phone at home.” “I cannot believe it.” “Believe what?” “I cannot believe you.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “I thought we were friends.” “We are.” “Good friends.” “We are. You and Anh are my best friends. What—” “Clearly not, if I had to hear it from Stella, who heard it from Jess, who heard it from Jeremy, who heard it from Anh—” “Hear what?” “—who heard it from I don’t even know who. And I thought we were friends.” Something icy crawled its way up Olive’s back. Could it be . . . No. No, it couldn’t be. “Hear what?” “I’m done. I’m letting the cockroaches eat you. And I’m changing my Netflix password.” Oh no. “Malcolm. Hear what?” “That you are dating Adam Carlsen.” * * * — OLIVE HAD NEVER been in Carlsen’s lab, but she knew where to find it. It was the biggest, most functional research space in the whole department, coveted by all and a never-ending source of resentment toward Carlsen. She had to swipe her badge once and then once more to access it (she rolled her eyes both times). The second door opened directly onto the lab space, and maybe it was because he was as tall as Mount Everest and his shoulders were just as large, but Carlsen was the very first thing she noticed. He was peering at a Southern blot next to Alex, a grad who was one year ahead of Olive, but he turned toward the entrance the moment she came in. Olive smiled weakly at him—mainly out of relief at having found him. It was going to be all right. She was going to explain to him what Malcolm had told her, and without a doubt he was going to find the situation categorically unacceptable and fix it for the both of them, because Olive could not spend her next three years surrounded by people who thought that she was dating Adam freaking Carlsen. The problem was, Carlsen wasn’t the only one to notice Olive. There were over a dozen benches in the lab, and at least ten people working at them. Most of them—all of them—were staring at Olive. Probably because most of them—all of them—had heard that Olive was dating their boss. Fuck her life. “Can I talk to you for a minute, Dr. Carlsen?” Rationally, Olive knew that the lab was not furnished in a way that made echoing possible. Still, she felt as though her words bounced off the walls and repeated about four times. Carlsen nodded, nonplussed, and handed the Southern blot to Alex before heading in her direction. He appeared either unaware or uncaring that approximately two-thirds of his lab members were gaping at him. The remaining ones seemed to be on the verge of a hemorrhagic stroke. He led Olive to a meeting room just outside the main lab space, and she followed him silently, trying not to dwell on the fact that a lab full of people who thought that she and Carlsen were dating had just seen them enter a private room. Alone. This was the worst. The absolute worst. “Everyone knows,” she blurted out as soon as the door closed behind her. He studied her for a moment, looking puzzled. “Are you okay?” “Everyone knows. About us.” He cocked his head, crossing his arms over his chest. It had been barely a day since they’d last talked, but apparently long enough for Olive to have forgotten his . . . his presence. Or whatever it was that made her feel like she was small and delicate whenever he was around. “Us?” “Us.” He seemed confused, so Olive elaborated. “Us, dating—not that we’re dating, but Anh clearly thought so, and she told . . .” She realized that the words were tumbling out and forced herself to slow down. “Jeremy. And he told everyone, and now everyone knows. Or they think they know, even though there’s absolutely nothing to know. As you and I know.” He took it in for a moment and then nodded slowly. “And when you say everyone . . . ?” “I mean everyone.” She pointed in the direction of his lab. “Those people? They know. The other grads? They know. Cherie, the department secretary? She totally knows. Gossip in this department is the worst. And they all think that I am dating a professor.” “I see,” he said, seeming strangely unbothered by this clusterfuck. It should have calmed Olive down, but it only had the effect of driving her panic up a notch. “I am sorry this happened. So sorry. This is all my fault.” She wiped a hand down her face. “But I didn’t think that . . . I understand why Anh would tell Jeremy—I mean, getting those two together was the whole point of this charade—but . . . Why would Jeremy tell anyone?” Carlsen shrugged. “Why wouldn’t he?” She looked up. “What do you mean?” “A grad student dating a faculty member seems like an interesting piece of information to share.” Olive shook her head. “It’s not that interesting. Why would people be interested?” He lifted one eyebrow. “Someone once told me that ‘Gossip in this department is the wor—’ ” “Okay, okay. Point taken.” She took a deep breath and started pacing, trying to ignore the way Carlsen was studying her, how relaxed he looked, arms across his chest while leaning against the conference table. He was not supposed to be calm. He was supposed to be incensed. He was a known dick with a reputation for arrogance—the idea of people thinking that he was dating a nobody should be mortifying to him. The burden of freaking out should not be falling on Olive alone. “This is— We need to do something, of course. We need to tell people that this is not true and that we made it all up. Except that they’ll think that I’m crazy, and maybe that you are, too, so we have to come up with some other story. Yes, okay, we need to tell people we’re not together anymore—” “And what will Anh and what’s-his-face do?” Olive stopped pacing. “Uh?” “Won’t your friends feel bad about dating if they think we’re not together? Or that you lied to them?” She hadn’t thought of that. “I— Maybe. Maybe, but—” It was true that Anh had seemed happy. Maybe she had already invited Jeremy to accompany her to that movie festival—possibly right after telling him about Olive and Carlsen, damn her. But this was exactly what Olive had wanted. “Are you going to tell her the truth?” She let out a panicked sound. “I can’t. Not now.” God, why did Olive ever agree to date Jeremy? She wasn’t even into him. Yes, the Irish accent and the ginger hair were cute, but not worth any of this. “Maybe we can tell people that I broke up with you?” “That’s very flattering,” Dr. Carlsen deadpanned. She couldn’t quite figure out if he was joking. “Fine. We can say that you broke up with me.” “Because that sounds credible,” he said drily, almost below his breath. She was not sure she’d heard him correctly and had no idea what he might mean, but she was starting to feel very upset. Fine, she had been the one to kiss him first—God, she’d kissed Adam Carlsen; this was her life; these were her choices—but his actions in the break room the day before surely hadn’t helped matters. He could at least display some concern. There was no way he was okay with everyone believing that he was attracted to some random girl with one point five publications—yes, that paper she had revised and resubmitted three weeks ago counted as half. “What if we tell people that it was a mutual breakup?” He nodded. “Sounds good.” Olive perked up. “Really? Great, then! We’ll—” “We could ask Cherie to add it to the departmental newsletter.” “What?” “Or do you think a public announcement before seminar would be better?” “No. No, it’s—” “Maybe we should ask IT to put it on the Stanford home page. That way people would know—” “Okay, okay, fine! I get it.” He looked at her evenly for a moment, and when he spoke, his tone was reasonable in a way she would never have expected of Adam “Ass” Carlsen. “If what bothers you is that people are talking about you dating a professor, the damage is done, I’m afraid. Telling everyone that we broke up is not going to undo the fact that they think we dated.” Olive’s shoulders slumped. She hated that he was right. “Okay, then. If you have any ideas on how to fix this mess, by all means I am open to—” “You could let them go on thinking it.” For a moment, she thought she hadn’t heard him correctly. “W-What?” “You can let people go on thinking that we’re dating. It solves your problem with your friend and what’s-his-face, and you don’t have much to lose, since it sounds like from a . . . reputation standpoint”—he said the word “reputation” rolling his eyes a little, as if the concept of caring about what others thought were the dumbest thing since homeopathic antibiotics—“things cannot get any worse for you.” This was . . . Out of everything . . . In her life, Olive had never, she had never . . . “What?” she asked again, feebly. He shrugged. “Seems like a win-win to me.” It so did not, to Olive. It seemed like a lose-lose, and then lose again, and then lose some more, type of situation. It seemed insane. “You mean . . . forever?” She thought her voice came out whiny, but it was possible that it was just an effect of the blood pounding in her head. “That sounds excessive. Maybe until your friends are not dating anymore? Or until they’re more settled? I don’t know. Whatever works best, I guess.” He was serious about this. He was not joking. “Are you not . . .” Olive had no idea how to even ask it. “Married, or something?” He must have been in his early thirties. He had a fantastic job; he was tall with thick, wavy black hair, clearly smart, even attractive looking; he was built. Yeah, he was a moody dick, but some women wouldn’t mind it. Some women might even like it. He shrugged. “My wife and the twins won’t mind.” Oh, shit. Olive felt a wave of heat wash over her. She blushed crimson and then almost died of shame, because— God, she had forced a married man, a father, to kiss her. Now people thought that he was having an affair. His wife was probably crying into her pillow. His kids would grow up with horrible daddy issues and become serial killers. “I . . . Oh my God, I didn’t— I am so sorry—” “Just kidding.” “I really had no idea that you—” “Olive. I was joking. I’m not married. No kids.” A wave of relief crashed into her. Followed by just as much anger. “Dr. Carlsen, this is not something you should joke—” “You really need to start calling me Adam. Since we’ve reportedly been dating for a while.” Olive exhaled slowly, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Why would you even— What would you even get out of this?” “Out of what?” “Pretending to date me. Why do you care? What’s in it for you?” Dr. Carlsen—Adam—opened his mouth, and for a moment Olive had the impression that he was going to say something important. But then he averted his gaze, and all that came out was “It would help you out.” He hesitated for a moment. “And I have my own reasons.” She narrowed her eyes. “What reasons?” “Reasons.” “If it’s criminal, I’d rather not be involved.” He smiled a bit. “It’s not.” “If you don’t tell me, I have no choice but to assume that it entails kidnapping. Or arson. Or embezzlement.” He seemed preoccupied for a moment, fingertips drumming against a large biceps. It considerably strained his shirt. “If I tell you, it cannot leave this room.” “I think we can both agree that nothing that has happened in this room should ever leave it.” “Good point,” he conceded. He paused. Sighed. Chewed on the inside of his cheek for a second. Sighed again. “Okay,” he finally said, sounding like a man who knew that he was going to regret speaking the second he opened his mouth. “I’m considered a flight risk.” “Flight risk?” God, he was a felon on parole. A jury of his peers had convicted him for crimes against grad students. He’d probably whacked someone on the head with a microscope for mislabeling peptide samples. “So it is something criminal.” “What? No. The department suspects that I’m making plans to leave Stanford and move to another institution. Normally it wouldn’t bother me, but Stanford has decided to freeze my research funds.” “Oh.” Not what she’d thought. Not at all. “Can they?” “Yes. Well, up to one-third of them. The reasoning is that they don’t want to fund the research and further the career of someone who—they believe—is going to leave anyway.” “But if it’s only one-third—” “It’s millions of dollars,” he said levelly. “That I had earmarked for projects that I planned to finish within the next year. Here, at Stanford. Which means that I need those funds soon.” “Oh.” Come to think of it, Olive had been hearing scuttlebutt about Carlsen being recruited by other universities since her first year. A few months earlier there had even been a rumor that he might go work for NASA. “Why do they think that? And why now?” “A number of reasons. The most relevant is that a few weeks ago I was awarded a grant—a very large grant—with a scientist at another institution. That institution had tried to recruit me in the past, and Stanford sees the collaboration as an indication that I am planning to accept.” He hesitated before continuing. “More generally, I have been made aware that the . . . optics are that I have not put down roots because I want to be able to flee Stanford at the drop of a hat.” “Roots?” “Most of my grads will be done within the year. I have no extended family in the area. No wife, no children. I’m currently renting—I’d have to buy a house just to convince the department that I’m committed to staying,” he said, clearly irritated. “If I was in a relationship . . . that would really help.” Okay. That made sense. But. “Have you considered getting a real girlfriend?” His eyebrow lifted. “Have you considered getting a real date?” “Touché.” Olive fell silent and studied him for a few moments, letting him study her in return. Funny how she used to be scared of him. Now he was the only person in the world who knew about her worst fuckup ever, and it was hard to feel intimidated—even harder, after discovering that he was the kind of person who’d be desperate enough to pretend to date someone to get his research funds back. Olive was sure that she would do the exact same for the opportunity to finish her study on pancreatic cancer, which made Adam seem oddly . . . relatable. And if he was relatable, then she could go ahead and fake-date him, right? No. Yes. No. What? She was crazy for even considering this. She was certifiably mental. And yet she found herself saying, “It would be complicated.” “What would be?” “To pretend that we’re dating.” “Really? It would be complicated to make people think that we’re dating?” Oh, he was impossible. “Okay, I see your point. But it would be hard to do so convincingly for a prolonged period.” He shrugged. “We’ll be fine, as long as we say hi to each other in the hallways and you don’t call me Dr. Carlsen.” “I don’t think people who are dating just . . . say hi to each other.” “What do people who are dating do?” It beat Olive. She had gone on maybe five dates in her life, including the ones with Jeremy, and they had ranged from moderately boring to anxiety inducing to horrifying (mostly when a guy had monologued about his grandmother’s hip replacement in frightening detail). She would have loved to have someone in her life, but she doubted it was in store for her. Maybe she was unlovable. Maybe spending so many years alone had warped her in some fundamental way and that was why she seemed to be unable to develop a true romantic connection, or even the type of attraction she often heard others talk about. In the end, it didn’t really matter. Grad school and dating went poorly together, anyway, which was probably why Dr. Adam Carlsen, MacArthur Fellow and genius extraordinaire, was standing here at thirtysomething years old, asking Olive what people did on dates. Academics, ladies and gentlemen. “Um . . . things. Stuff.” Olive racked her brain. “People go out and do activities together. Like apple picking, or those Paint and Sip things.” Which are idiotic, Olive thought. “Which are idiotic,” Adam said, gesturing dismissively with those huge hands of his. “You could just go to Anh and tell her that we went out and painted a Monet. Sounds like she’d take care of letting everyone else know.” “Okay, first of all, it was Jeremy. Let’s agree to blame Jeremy. And it’s more than that,” Olive insisted. “People who date, they—they talk. A lot. More than just greetings in the hallway. They know each other’s favorite colors, and where they were born, and they . . . they hold hands. They kiss.” Adam pressed his lips together as if to suppress a smile. “We could never do that.” A fresh wave of mortification crashed into Olive. “I am sorry about the kiss. I really didn’t think, and—” He shook his head. “It’s fine.” He did seem uncharacteristically indifferent to the situation, especially for a guy who was known to freak out when people got the atomic number of selenium wrong. No, he wasn’t indifferent. He was amused. Olive cocked her head. “Are you enjoying this?” “ ‘Enjoying’ is probably not the right word, but you have to admit that it’s quite entertaining.” She had no idea what he was talking about. There was nothing entertaining about the fact that she had randomly kissed a faculty member because he was the only person in the hallway and that, as a consequence of that spectacularly idiotic action, everyone thought she was dating someone she’d met exactly twice before today— She burst into laughter and folded into herself before her train of thought was even over, overwhelmed by the sheer improbability of the situation. This was her life. These were the results of her actions. When she could finally breathe again, her abs hurt and she had to wipe her eyes. “This is the worst.” He was smiling, staring at her with a strange light in his eyes. And would you look at that: Adam Carlsen had dimples. Cute ones. “Yep.” “And it’s all my fault.” “Pretty much. I kind of yanked Anh’s chain yesterday, but yeah, I’d say that it’s mostly your fault.” Fake dating. Adam Carlsen. Olive would have to be a lunatic. “Wouldn’t it be a problem that you’re faculty and I’m a graduate student?” He tilted his head, going serious. “It wouldn’t look great, but I don’t think so, no. Since I have no authority whatsoever over you and am not involved in your supervision. But I can ask around.” It was an epically bad idea. The worst idea ever entertained in the epically bad history of bad ideas. Except that it really would solve this current problem of hers, as well as some of Adam’s, in exchange for saying hi to him once a week and making an effort not to call him Dr. Carlsen. It seemed like a pretty good deal. “Can I think about it?” “Of course,” he said calmly. Reassuringly. She hadn’t thought he’d be like this. After hearing all the stories, and seeing him walk around with that perpetual frown of his, she really hadn’t thought he’d be like this. Even if she didn’t quite know what this even meant. “And thank you, I guess. For offering. Adam.” She added the last word like an afterthought. Trying it out on her lips. It felt weird, but not too weird. After a long pause, he nodded. “No problem. Olive.” Chapter Three 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 on-campus 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 twenty-ninth.” 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 twenty-ninth 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 ho