Chapter 1:

Mixed Feelings

Is this Love?...Or are the Chemical Impulses Driving my Every Whim?

One might be wondering why a girl like me was holding onto a set of mirrors, carefully positioning them so that I could get a good glance at the guy across the room.

I hid behind a large table, housing a very expensive setup that was part of my research project. My cheeks were flushed, and my thoughts were flustered, trying to understand why the hell I was feeling this way.

As the mirrors lined up correctly to reveal a sharp looking guy who was busy chatting away with my colleague, my cheeks grew redder as I traced the features that made up his face – the gentle, curious eyes that seemed to bore into your every thoughts, the thin lips that curled into a smile at the talk of physical chemistry, the slight tilt of the head as he pondered about various hypotheses. His dark black hair was neatly combed back, with a few stray strands brushing against his eyebrows. His voice was smooth like a gentle breeze passing through my eardrums, and the way he conducted himself brought little tremors down my back.

In all of the 24 years of my life, I had never felt this way. Being the smart kid in my class, I spent my time largely ignored by most of the 'popular' kids. But they were stupid anyways. A bunch of children floundering their way through school, aimlessly following the lessons without any real goal.

I was different. I wanted to be a scientist. I kept my head in the books and ignored my immature classmates, realizing that I would never see them again after I graduated. There was no place for any of them to get close. I simply had other things that I would rather do.

The same could have been said for college. Choosing a major that was fairly unpopular with the female population, there were some guys in my classes that made half-hearted passes at me. These shallow attempts were promptly swatted away. I knew better than to let these momentary showers of praise distract me from my true goal.

And so, I expected that most of them would be weeded out anyways by the harsh curriculum. Being a scientist was no cakewalk. Without the proper motivation to learn, how else would one grind through the endless amount of knowledge and failures that one would face in search for the solution. Just like how they easily gave up on me, they didn't have the determination to face the same path that my eyes had focused on, the path of science.

However, for the first time in my life, I, Kaylen Donnelly, had been struck by an unknown feeling that I could not understand.

How could it be? Just the other moment, I was happily aligning the lasers needed for my latest imaging experiment – detecting phase shifts in pressurized chemical compounds. It was important research that would determine new materials that reacted favorably under highly stressed environments, forcing itself to become stronger under those situations.

I couldn't help but feel excited by the prospect of enabling amazing new technology for aerial and space craft. Just like the materials that I fabricated, my will and determination to succeed was being forged alongside them. This kind of result was exactly what would be needed to open the doors to a life firmly planted at the heart of technological advancement.

And then, he showed up.

A fresh face poking around in the lab, likely another half-baked attempt at searching for a research advisor to spend the next five years with. I could ignore him and continue with my aligning.

10 minutes passed. Then 20. Then 30. He was still there chatting with one of the senior researchers.

Momentarily distracted, I casually walked by to get a glimpse of what was so interesting.

"So you see, I'm interested in the simulation of impact-proof materials that harden under distress. The crystal structure under rapid stress…"

After only a brief statement, I felt my heart tighten suddenly. The sound of intelligence drifted into my ears like a ballad being played. As I listened to the volleys of high-level inquisition occurring between the two of them, I couldn't help but notice the genuine interest that plastered across his smiling face. The way he dynamically interacted as he was quizzed on difficult subjects sent shivers down my spine.

Nearly forgetting what I was doing, I grabbed a random wrench from the nearby table before hastily making my retreat, in a makeshift attempt to hide my eavesdropping. Before my face grew hot from the moment, I had rushed back behind the safety of my workbench.

Why was I feeling like this?

How could a mere statement cause my body to react in such a way?

Was I feeling ill? My forehead certainly felt hot at the moment. Walking over to the first aid kit, I pulled out a thermometer and took my temperature. The reading said 98.7 Fahrenheit, a perfectly normal temperature.

If it wasn't that, did something he say irk me so? Had he happened to touch upon something that resonated with me? I replayed the scene in my mind, hoping that my normal ability to examine the events as a bystander would help me solve the issue.

The words that the unnamed man had said seemed pretty typical of one that had a healthy interest in sciences, particularly in material science and chemistry. Though he appeared to be younger than Johann, our visiting research scientist from Switzerland, there was no doubt that he was keeping up with the conversation. Incredibly, they appeared to be talking as equals. Just how much knowledge in the subject did he have?

A thin trail of drool ran down my cheek. Feeling rather embarrassed by it, I quickly wiped it with my sleeve. Was I just impressed with his knowledge? No, that couldn't be. The professor was much more knowledgeable, and I felt nowhere near this way when talking to him. It had to be something else.

Continuing my analysis, my thoughts came to his looks. While he had features that I suppose normal girls would fawn over, I was no simple girl. The likes of debonair movie stars weren't even enough to cause my heart to stir. If anything, I knew that I had no chance with such pretty people, given that my looks were as normal as could be.

What point was it to look pretty when there wasn't anyone to attract? The likes of makeup and fancy clothes were wasted when I could use the money for reference materials and good, healthy food instead.

If it wasn't that, then what?

I couldn't come up with a solid hypothesis in my head. When it came to those situations, the only thing left to do was to gather more data.

For that exact reason, others would certainly call me an idiot as I awkwardly held up the laser alignment mirrors in the air. I couldn't get close without caution, lest I fall into a similar state of confusion. That would disrupt my ability to properly collect data.

However, it didn't seem like I was getting anywhere. Seeing the image of the man reflected in the small mirror was not doing anything for me. It had been no different than how the previous scene played out in my head.

Did I have no choice but to approach them again?

In that case, I needed protection.

Ten minutes later, I was fully prepared!

With a large mask over my face and a heavy apron wrapped around my body, I was hardly recognizable underneath the protective gear. Even if I started acting strangely, the excessive clothing would hide it all!

Picking up an empty dewar with my gloved hand, I made my way towards the liquid nitrogen dispenser that was conveniently located close to them. Somehow, they were still talking.

As I robotically made the motions to fill up the dewar, for no apparent reason, my ears locked onto the mystery man's voice.

"And what do you propose would be the best course of action in pursuing a project of that magnitude? I'm sure there's likely a grant that could be obtained through NASA or DOD in which they would be quite intrigued by it…"

As I continued to listen to that sweet voice, the feelings in my stomach started raging again. I could feel sweat starting to cling to me, despite the coolness of the lab air.

Just what was wrong with me? What was it about him that bothered me so?

"Um, miss? I think it's overflowing."

All of a sudden, I felt a sharp coldness around my toes. In a panic, my hand pulled away from the lever, stopping the gush of frigid liquid from doing any further damage to my shoes. Instantly freezing anything it touched, the puddle of liquid wrapped around the base of my shoe, the numbing cold stinging my feet through the fabric.

"Miss? Did any of it contact your feet? We should take a look quickly to treat any burns!"

With a swift motion, I felt the mystery man sweep me into a princess carry. My body froze as he carried me off to the next room. Luckily, I still had my protective gear on, which was hiding whatever hideous reaction that I must've been making underneath it.

After setting me in a chair, he knelt down and touched my shoes before looking up.

"May I?" He asked.

I could only nod.

With my permission, he gently slid off my shoes and touched the tip of my toes. Stroking the underside and then the balls of my feet gently, I felt a slight tickle jolt up my legs. This feeling piled onto the already overwhelming sensations that coursed through me.

By now, I was trembling visibly, mainly due to holding my breath. I didn't want him to know that I squeaked when tickled.

"That doesn't hurt, does it?"

I shook my head side to side. I started feeling light-headed.

"Good, I don't see any burns. You were lucky that I moved you away quickly. I'm glad that you are okay," he said with a smile.

The words were caught in my throat. I had no idea what to say. Pretty often, I was quick to chide others for making simple mistakes, but now, I was on the receiving end of genuine concern for my blunder.

"I must be going now. There's still other labs that I must visit."

As he started walking away, I finally released the breath I was holding. Just before he exited the room, I was able to mumble two words.

"Y-Your name?"

He turned around.

"It's Diedrich. Diedrich Wendell."

With a short wave, he turned the corner.

As I sat there mumbling his name over and over, Johann unknowingly walked up to me.

"You seemed quite smitten with one of the prospective lab members, weren't you?"

"Me? Smitten? What do you mean?"

"It looked pretty obvious that you were quite into that guy that came by. Don't think I didn't see how suspicious you were acting."

"Into that guy? I-I was merely curious as to what the two of you were speaking about…"

"Oh sure, the Kaylen that never has any interest in anything but science papers and textbooks has decided to come out of her shell and listen to a random guy for no reason. It's got to be something like that."

"Like what?"

"Love at first sight, maybe?" With a laugh, Johann grabbed his keys and headed out the door, likely for a drink before heading home.

With his last words constantly ringing in my head, I fervently rejected that notion. There were likely a number of things that were causing the disruption of my thoughts. Likely, a multitude of reasons that my heart was pounding and my head was a mess. How else could one explain something so strange to a person that had never known love before?

Clenching my fist, I decided. I would take measures to convince myself that was the case.

This was not love at first sight.