Chapter 3:

There’s no PPE When It Comes to Emotions

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

"Okay! I'm perfectly prepared!"Bookmark here

I checked myself in the mirror. My hair was plainly pulled back into a neat ponytail. A plain, white labcoat had covered my clothing and barely touched the floor due to my short stature. Thin, purple nitrile gloves covered my hands, and oversized googles decorated my face.Bookmark here

There was nothing more unattractive than safety gear meant for a lab setting!Bookmark here

These articles were not often worn in this part of the lab, since chemicals were not approved to be used in this space. The synthesis of any related chemical compounds was typically done in a separate, enclosed room far from where I was. Since I was merely planning to show my experimental setup for characterization, it was totally unnecessary for me to have all of this on besides the goggles.Bookmark here

However, I deemed it necessary for me to appear as uninteresting and unappealing as possible. It wouldn't do to have the new lab member taint my data collection with whatever hidden objectives he might have.Bookmark here

And so, after the proper introductions, I started guiding Diedrich though the lab, showing him everything he needed.Bookmark here

"Um…one question. Do you normally dress like that?" Diedrich eyed me inquisitively.Bookmark here

"Y-Yes, of course! It's always proper to have the appropriate PPE!"Bookmark here

Diedrich rubbed his chin in thought.Bookmark here

"I see. Then, if you don't mind, I'd like to start understanding what I'll be doing right away."Bookmark here

With well-practiced motions, I ran through the operation procedures of the laser setup that my workbench had. Having practiced it over and over in the past few days, I could recite each of the steps in my sleep.Bookmark here

As long as I was reciting things robotically, I could look at him in the eye. My efforts to segregate my feelings were going smoothly so far. Not a trace of anxiety nor excitement could be felt as I went through my normal routine. At this rate, I could confidently say that the experience before had somehow been a fluke.Bookmark here

However, being a scientist, I should have expected that theorized steps hardly ever went according to plan.Bookmark here

"Oh, then I'm guessing you adjust the beam this way…" Diedrich reached out at the same time as my hand.Bookmark here

Our hands overlapped over the lever that I had grasped first. This single action threw a wrench into my thoughts. As his hand continued to grasp mine, I felt the pressure and heat from it through the smooth nitrile material coating my hand.Bookmark here

"Oh, my bad. I didn't mean to." Diedrich retracted his hand. "Then, what's the next step?"Bookmark here

"It's a…well…then…"Bookmark here

I started stammering like an idiot. The warmth of his hand had clearly thrown me off pace. Seeing me suddenly acting strange, Diedrich placed a hand on my forehead.Bookmark here

"You feeling okay? You suddenly got all red." His face approached mine as he tried to peer into my eyes.Bookmark here

A sweet smell emitted from him, which was causing me to get a bit dizzy. I could feel my heart starting to roar once again.Bookmark here

Wait, could it be? Was it pheromones that was causing me to feel this way? I had heard that animals emitted pheromones to attract potential mates, but why was it happening now? Was he some kind of chick magnet? Did his body give off some kind of mysterious scent that drove women wild?Bookmark here

With my head spinning from all the thoughts, I realized that I had to do something quickly. I moved my head away from his hand.Bookmark here

Hold my breath! I had to stop breathing in the pheromones right away!Bookmark here

However, instead of feeling better, I was starting to get light-headed once again.Bookmark here

"Hey, now you're looking a bit pale. I really think you should sit down and rest for a bit." Diedrich continued to hold onto my hand as I moved to pull it away.Bookmark here

Realizing that he had been holding onto it tightly, he opened his hand. The sudden release of his grip caused me to spin off-balance and collide into the side of the workbench. With a sharp pain against the side of my head, the next thing I knew, darkness had enveloped my vision.Bookmark here

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For as long as I have known, I was a very cold person. Saddened by the loss of my father, my mother worked endlessly to provide for the family. It was not that we really needed the money, as the royalties from my father's inventions were sufficient for our wellbeing.Bookmark here

It was as if she wanted to avoid being home – the place where my father's memories would cause her to stare off into space and break out into tears. Perhaps, she was looking for something to fill in the hole in her heart. But rather than embracing my father's research, my mother quit her original work and found something different altogether.Bookmark here

The quiet, cold home of mine had become something that I was accustomed to. That was fine for me, as that meant that I could focus on my studies without any interruption. I had always known. She never 'needed' to work. It was just her excuse – her excuse to stay away from the me who had embraced my father's work.Bookmark here

What use was the warmth of another person? I could generate heat from my own body. I could pile on the layers or wrap myself in a blanket if I felt cold. I was perfectly fine on my own.Bookmark here

Perfectly fine.Bookmark here

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I felt a warmth wrapping against me. One that I was unfamiliar with. I dug my cheek into that warmth. Conversely, a cold tickle brushed against my other cheek. It felt like the air of a normal October breeze.Bookmark here

If that were the case, why did one side feel warm? As my brain activity started ramping up again, I noticed that I was currently in motion. My body was bobbing slightly with movement from an external force. I felt like I was laying against something, something that had a sweet scent.Bookmark here

My eyes widened as I recognized it. Looking up, my face was nestled against someone's neck as I could barely make out a chin that was right next to me. It was so close that I could see the individual stubbles. Realizing that I was being carried, my face reddened.Bookmark here

I pushed off his chest with my right arm, which caused the arms supporting me to shift awkwardly to compensate. He stopped walking right away to correct his balance.Bookmark here

"Woah! It's not good for you to move so suddenly! I might drop you, you know?" Diedrich's voice gently tried to calm me down.Bookmark here

At this point, I didn't care at all if he dropped me. I had to get away from the deadly pheromones now! If I didn't, surely my head was going to go crazy again!Bookmark here

"You know. You remind me of someone. This weird girl back home, who didn't like to be touched. Who would put on airs just to avoid talking to people. You remind me a bit of her."Bookmark here

All of a sudden, my focus came back. I was a bit peeved that he had referred to me as weird.Bookmark here

"If that's so, then what are doing now? Why are you touching me? Why are you carrying me?"Bookmark here

"Hmm…maybe because I found her interesting. Being weird is not always a bad thing. Despite her cold attitude, I could tell that she had a lot on her mind. She was always looking ahead, past everyone, like there was something way beyond the town we were in."Bookmark here

Indeed, I could draw many parallels to her. Perhaps my presence overlapped the image of the young girl in his mind. But did that mean he found me interesting as well? No, it couldn't be. We had barely met at this point. Surely, his nice treatment was only a gesture towards a shadow of the girl that he knew once before.Bookmark here

"And where is that girl now?" I wondered aloud.Bookmark here

"Who knows? I never did get the chance to ask her what it was that she was chasing." Diedrich looked at me and smiled. "But why does the past matter? I decided to look forward as well. Oh, looks like this is the address for your place."Bookmark here

Sure enough, Diedrich had carried me to my apartment building.Bookmark here

"Are you okay to walk?"Bookmark here

I seemed fine now. At some point, my mind had seemingly calmed down a bit. However, my heart was still pounding as fiercely as it could be.Bookmark here

"Would it be okay if you took me up?"Bookmark here

There was something I wanted to check.Bookmark here

"Eh?...Uh…I suppose I could, but are you okay with a random guy bringing you home?Bookmark here

"It's fine. My roommate should be there."Bookmark here

"Okay then."Bookmark here

As he continued to carry me up the elevator, I bit my lip to endure the barrage of emotions I was having. I could tolerate it for just a little longer. If I was going to get the answer to my question, then now was the time for it! I wouldn't let pheromones win over me!Bookmark here

After ringing the doorbell, Martha opened the door, looking shocked that I was in the arms of a guy.Bookmark here

Quickly, Deidrich had explained the situation to her, making sure that she understood that we were purely 'lab acquittances' and that I had fell unconscious due to an accident.Bookmark here

After he set me down and Martha grabbed ahold of one side, I reached out with my other arm and pulled the two people together. Martha fell into Diedrich's arms, confusing the both of them. She looked over at me.Bookmark here

"What did you do that for, Kaylen? Are you trying to set us up or something?"Bookmark here

Scanning her words, I detected no trace of being flustered or anything of the sort. In fact, it seemed like there was no effect whatsoever.Bookmark here

"You don't feel strange?" I asked her. "Nothing catch your nose?"Bookmark here

"Of course, I feel strange! I don't understand why you suddenly had me hug this guy!" Martha turned towards Diedrich. "Not that I have any problem with you. By the way, is that Irish Spring I smell?"Bookmark here

No, Martha sounded perfectly normal to me. Was she unaffected by this tank of pheromones? Was I just imagining it all? Did his deodorant cause a placebo effect on me? I couldn't wrap my head around any conclusion. Subconsciously, I walked away to ponder some more.Bookmark here

"Hey! Where are you going?! Explain yourself!" Martha yelled as she parted ways and followed after me.Bookmark here

With a bang, the door closed, leaving Diedrich scratching his head at the strange scene.Bookmark here

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