Chapter 4:

Nothing to Fear…

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

Being somewhat convinced that Diedrich wasn't emitting female attracting signals, I had to admit that there was likely something on my end that attributed to my exaggerated responses. However, what else could elicit a response so strongly?Bookmark here

As I was lost in thought on the couch, staring ahead at the TV program that I had long since been ignoring, a pair of arms suddenly grabbed my head from behind.Bookmark here

I nearly jumped out of my seat from this unexpected interruption. I looked up to see my roommate, Martha, had made a surprise attack while I was staring off into the distance. But then it hit me – the jolt of surprise running down my back, the rapid heartbeat, the disorientation – the sense of fear and surprise from that action had created a similar response as I had before.Bookmark here

If it hadn't been someone I was familiar with, it was certain that these feelings would take a while to die down. This was an innate defense mechanism that the body created to ward off the unknown.Bookmark here

Had my strange behavior culminated from panic when facing the unknown? Certainly, I had little experience dealing with peers of my own age. Both the professor and Johann, who I interacted with regularly, were quite a bit older. Had I simply gotten used to being the smart one of my class, such that I started panicking when another like-minded person had shown up?Bookmark here

That was no good. Having a superiority complex would negatively impact my experiments, especially if Diedrich were tasked to help me. I had to treat him equally and fairly.Bookmark here

First things first, I had to get rid of the mindset of treating him as an unfamiliar being. By taking charge of the situation, which I should be doing due to seniority, I would minimize unexpected outcomes. As long as my mind honed onto the standard operating procedures and deep analytical thinking, then I could overcome this hurdle!Bookmark here

With this plan in mind, I continued working with Diedrich on the research project. Fortunately, he was surprisingly easy to talk to, once things started going.Bookmark here

Far from the peers that I would soon get frustrated with and leave behind, Diedrich was a fast learner. As the instructions spilled from my mouth, each step appeared to catch hold in his mind. He was able to easily repeat the same motions that I showed.Bookmark here

With a material sample lodged into place, I asked him to activate the setup.Bookmark here

"Interesting that you're using diamonds to simulate the pressures needed for deformation. I guess this is another reason that diamonds are a girl's best friend," he said cheekily.Bookmark here

With a final flip of the switch, a laser beam bounced off each of the mirrors and was focused into the space where the sample was currently being pressurized by the diamond anvil cell.Bookmark here

His sense of intellectual humor was a nice change of pace as I adjusted the pressure settings. Responding to the changes, the points on the graph drifted up and down accordingly.Bookmark here

As we plotted and examined the large amount of data on the screens, my eyes searched around the myriad of points dotted across the graphs, hoping to look for correlations among the various conditions that the material was subjected to.Bookmark here

"Look, I see a transition point where the material morphs from an amorphous state to a crystalline state." Diedrich pointed to one particular chart.Bookmark here

He had a sharp eye and a keen understanding of what to look for.Bookmark here

Writing summary reports after coming up with data-driven conclusions was a big portion of a researchers work. Possibly, it was the most important part, regardless of how mundane it seemed.Bookmark here

"I've got the key details highlighted with the proper references to back them up. Furthermore, there are these other references that we can allude to for follow-up work." Diedrich handed me a USB stick containing the report. He had finished it promptly.Bookmark here

With hearty enthusiasm, he complimented the work with meticulous analysis and insightful observations.Bookmark here

Together, we seemed to mesh well, doing more than one person could achieve alone.Bookmark here

During this time, I couldn't help but wonder. Even though the feeling of fear had soon died down, another feeling started welling up in the pit of my stomach. Far from the feeling of disgust that I'd feel at dealing with people, this was a warm, gentle feeling that permeated through my body. I could sense none of the crude intentions that men typically laced their words with. As a fellow researcher, there was nothing more fruitful than a trustworthy assistant.Bookmark here

I found myself moving one step faster. I found myself checking into more ideas. I found myself taking extra steps to be thorough.Bookmark here

"You seem to be smiling a lot these days," Martha said to me randomly one day. "Things moving smoothly?"Bookmark here

"Quite. I'm about the wrap up this set of experiments. And with good results too! It will result in a great publication that should attract some attention. That guy has really been a big help." I glided around the room, dreaming about the positive responses I would receive.Bookmark here

"Oh, I guess that means that you are clicking quite well with Mr. Handsome Scientist?" Martha snickered.Bookmark here

I paused in mid-glide. Somehow, I had gotten completely used to him being around in such a short time. Looking at our interactions objectively, it could be said that it was rather impressive that someone could hit the ground running and keep up with my pace. Certainly, I had floundered two years ago when I was in the same position, working with Johann.Bookmark here

"I should treat him to something. After all, every action should deserve an equal and opposite reaction." I glided off to bed, thinking about what to do when I next saw him.Bookmark here

"It's already come to that, huh." Martha looked over, only to see that she had been talking to empty space. She brought her hand to her mouth and talked into it like a walkie-talkie. "Ground control to love station. There's a science ditz heading your way."Bookmark here

Within the next two days, we had jointly written the results of our experiment into a paper for publication in a scientific journal. An email popped up the following morning from our professor, showing only minor changes needed. We were done with the corrections by noontime and had submitted it for public evaluation.Bookmark here

As per my typical routine, I was about to head out for a bite to eat when a thought crossed my mind. I should invite Diedrich out and treat him for his hard work so far. That would be a good way to show my appreciation.Bookmark here

Walking through the lab to his desk, I found him there already in the middle of eating, much to my disappointment.Bookmark here

"Aww. I was hoping to treat you to lunch for being such a helpful assistant. I guess I was too late."Bookmark here

"Oh? If I had known earlier, then I could've joined you. I usually make my lunch, so it would be a nice change."Bookmark here

Eyeing the dish beside him, it didn't look like anything that I was familiar with. It looked a bit like a beef stew that had been sitting on a bed of macaroni. A savory scent drifted from the dish that made my stomach unintentionally rumble.Bookmark here

Clutching my stomach in embarrassment, Diedrich simply chuckled.Bookmark here

"Interested in my food, are you? Well, it's a Germanic dish called goulash, a recipe taught to me by my late mother. I eat it sometimes so that I can recall the affection she gave me when I was young."Bookmark here

He cooked his own meals. That was an interesting thing to note. I had typically been too busy to cook for myself, and my mother never bothered to teach me anything. My childhood was filled with take-out and simple meals using basic ingredients.Bookmark here

"I see. How dependable of a person you are. My opinion of you continues to grow."Bookmark here

"Haha, it's really nothing special. Just a simple meal that any bachelor such as myself can manage. Hardly worth any praise for…"Bookmark here

"And why do you say that? After all, you cannot judge the importance of one's own work alone. That's why we have peers to review it, just like the paper we submitted."Bookmark here

Scratching his head with a smile, he took a spoonful and jokingly brought it towards me.Bookmark here

"True. Then would you like to grace me with a peer review?"Bookmark here

I briefly stared at the spoonful of food that was in front of me. The spoon had been in his mouth just recently, as he had already eaten half of his meal. My childhood memories of young girls around me screaming about 'cooties' played in my head.Bookmark here

However, I never understood the reason for it. Sure, a person's saliva was a hot bed of germs, but it was nothing to be concerned about unless said individual was ill. It was made of the same enzymes and proteins that everyone secreted, so why would there be any worry if it was mine or his?Bookmark here

With that in mind, I leaned forward to take the initiative.Bookmark here

My mouth parted, wrapping my lips around the metal spoon. The savory taste of rich, beef stock hit my tongue. As my lips retracted, the soft carrots and potatoes from a lengthy stewing melted in my mouth, contributing to a complex layering of tastes. The chewiness of the macaroni added to the texture as it became gnashed between my teeth. Overall, it was a tasty dish.Bookmark here

"Thanks, it was quite good. Maybe I should make you something on Monday in return? I should have some time during the weekend to whip up something."Bookmark here

With a wave, I walked away from his desk to continue my search for today's lunch.Bookmark here

Even after the door clicked close, Diedrich remained in the same position, his spoon still frozen in the air. Slowly, he brought it back down and stared at it. With his other hand, he rubbed his cheeks, in which a blush slowly crept upon them.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.