Chapter 5:

Cooking is Just Chemistry, Right?

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

Currently, I was in the middle of a disaster area. The smell of burnt tomato sauce filled the air, the result of a pan that had exploded from being overfilled and bubbling all over the stovetop. A block of solid spaghetti, which had been overcooked and congealed into a block of starch, had promptly dislodged itself from a pot and crashed to the ground with solid thump. The meatballs in the oven had disintegrated into little piles of meat, unable to hold itself together for some reason.Bookmark here

This was a total and complete failure.Bookmark here

Having told Diedrich that I would bring lunch for him Monday, I thought that it would've been a simple task. But what resulted was a train wreck that had spiraled out of control faster than a cyclotron could accelerate ions around its circumference.Bookmark here

Just what had gone wrong? Granted, I usually crumbled the meat into the sauce and then microwaved it, in an effort to save time. Cooking it properly shouldn't have been so different. I even followed the recipe line by line!Bookmark here

Yet, I started to question some of the procedures in the recipe and pondered about supposed missing steps. Lost in thought, little mistakes started happening, which caused me to become even more distracted and forget all about the pot of noodles. And then the sauce started splashing everywhere as I fought the solid block of noodles. Everything somehow conflicted with each other, resulting in this sorry state.Bookmark here

Why was it so hard to try something new even when the steps were outlined for me? When it was for myself, I didn't really care about the outcome as long as it was edible. Knowing that my cooking wasn't in any sort of presentable state, I had looked up various recipes to bring out something more than just edible.Bookmark here

Yet, I had done far worse than if I hadn't tried at all!Bookmark here

"Holy crap! What the hell is that smell?!" Martha commented as she returned to the apartment, just in time to see the end result.Bookmark here

"I tried to cook…"Bookmark here

"You TRIED to cook?" Martha eyed the pan on the stove. "Girl, you know your way around a million-dollar LAB, but you can't even operate a STOVE?!"Bookmark here

Seeing me slumped on the ground, Martha looked over to my phone which was displaying a recipe.Bookmark here

"Wait…you never try hard enough to follow a recipe. What motivated you to experiment on cooking, which you'd always referred to as 'bothersome' in the past?"Bookmark here

At that point, I walked Martha through the events of my promise with Diedrich. Martha promptly placed a hand over her forehead, shaking it side to side. The fact that I had tried to be meticulous in steps had been my major flaw. When I tended to focus on something, I lost track of the other steps, forgetting about timing or leaving an ingredient out.Bookmark here

As Martha helped me re-do my meal, she helped me watch the other things cooking while I worked on the meatballs.Bookmark here

"Ah! I forgot to add the egg! No wonder it fell apart last time!"Bookmark here

This time, the spaghetti and meatballs went smoothly. Having a taste, it was still rather plain, but better than what I normally made. I could have some for dinner and package the rest for lunches tomorrow.Bookmark here

"Why do you think it's plain?" Martha asked me, while eating some for herself.Bookmark here

"Well, I had a bite of Deidrich's lunch, and it was much tastier than this. I wonder how long he's been cooking for…"Bookmark here

"You had a bite of his lunch? I feel like I'm missing some details here…"Bookmark here

I told Martha how Diedrich had offered me a bite of what he was eating.Bookmark here

"Then, you had an indirect kiss, huh? Sounds like you're well on your way to being a couple."Bookmark here

"It's not like that! He was just being nice! Why does it matter that I consumed some traces of his saliva? That doesn't mean anything!"Bookmark here

"Then, if I had tasty food, then you would eat from my spoon?"Bookmark here

"Of course."Bookmark here

"Then, if you replaced that spoon with a tongue, would that still be okay?"Bookmark here

I shrunk back in surprise at the question. "Um…no…not really."Bookmark here

"Now, picture his tongue swirling in your mouth like you have the fork there-"Bookmark here

I reached over to the couch and threw a pillow at Martha to shut her up. It was one thing to shrug off a trace amount of something, but anything in a strong enough concentration could be a lethal dose. Although, I had to admit that trying to quantify an LD50 of saliva was a pointless endeavor.Bookmark here

We decided to drop the subject for the moment. I had to finish up a bit of work, before going to sleep.Bookmark here

When I finally made my way to bed, my thoughts were filled with how I could finally fulfill my promise tomorrow.Bookmark here

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In the past, I vaguely recalled moments where my mother and father were very affectionate to each other. They took turns cooking each of their favorite meals, watching them trying to get better with each iteration. As a young child, my palate had not been refined enough to detect these nuances, but I knew. From the expressions that they made, I could tell how the dishes changed each time. Occasionally, there were failures. Occasionally, there was a breakthrough. Each one was appreciated regardless of the outcome. That was because they loved each other.Bookmark here

Thinking that I was too young to understand, I peeked over at them kissing from time to time. My immature mind had yet to grasp what it all meant. If it were a kiss, anywhere would work – the cheek, the forehead, a kiss on the hand – I had yet to catch the dancing and intertwining of tongues that were a sign of the deepest affection.Bookmark here

Only later did I understand that this was what people who loved each other did.Bookmark here

However, I felt revolted.Bookmark here

Why would one willingly trade spit in an effort to know each other? What purpose did an appendage used for the movement of food in one's mouth have in the name of affection? That was something that I couldn't fathom.Bookmark here

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The sharp cry of an alarm clock cut through my consciousness.Bookmark here

"-mium! Manganese! Iron! Cobalt! Nickel! Cop-"Bookmark here

SMACK!Bookmark here

My hand fell on top of the button that stopped the reciting of the Periodic Table.Bookmark here

Wearily rubbing my eyes, I headed to the bathroom to get ready for a brand-new week of lab work.Bookmark here

In a daze, my thoughts drifted back to the previous night's conversation as I was brushing my teeth.Bookmark here

"Then, if you replaced that fork with a tongue, would that still be okay?"Bookmark here

The thought of Diedrich's face floated in front of me.Bookmark here

What would happen if he invaded my space? The toothbrush in my hand stopped, its bristles hovering just over my tongue. In my state of drowsiness, my mind decided to play out the scene.Bookmark here

The imaginary face of Diedrich moved closer. His mouth parted. The thin pair of lips came into contact with my own. What I imagined to be his tongue crept into my mouth, a hallucination brought on by the romance movies that I sometimes saw Martha watching.Bookmark here

As if mimicking the motions of his tongue, the toothbrush in my hand moved in sync, tracing the tip of my own before swirling around its base. The tickling stimulus of this motion only served to immerse me deeper in my hallucination as my eyes clouded over.Bookmark here

It played around my inner cheeks. It danced across my teeth. My lips opened and closed, lost in the feeling that I was submerged in. Though my mind knew that this was nothing like a real kiss, why did the perception of another invading your space feel so strange and comforting?Bookmark here

"Um…Kaylen? What in blazes are you doing?..."Bookmark here

Like a bubble, the vision before me popped as I heard the voice of my roommate. For the first time, I noticed something dribbling down the side of my cheek and landing over my chest. Taking a look at myself in the mirror, I appeared as if I was foaming at the mouth, used toothpaste splattered around the collar of my shirt.Bookmark here

"You looked like you were lost in thought, thinking about something blissful. Don't tell me you were thinking about what I said yesterday, but with a toothbrush…" Martha giggled jokingly.Bookmark here

Realizing my sorry state far too late, my face went red before I slammed the toothbrush into the sink and spit out the remainder of the toothpaste before bolting from the bathroom.Bookmark here

Watching me leave in panic, Martha stared in disbelief.Bookmark here

"No way! Seriously?! You're messing with me, aren't you?!"Bookmark here

Barely hearing the words that she said, I quickly got myself changed and headed out the door with the lunch in hand before she could tease me any further.Bookmark here

At lunchtime, I approached Diedrich at his desk. Up until this moment, I had no reservations about giving it to him. However, seeing his face suddenly made me feel self-conscious. Was it due to the hallucinations I had this morning? Had my feelings really morphed into something like that? I thought nothing of it when it involved other people that I had no connections to, but once the distance between us became closer, everything seemed to change.Bookmark here

It was like the theory of relativity applied to one's hearts, creating an unknown force that perturbed my normal will and actions.Bookmark here

"Oh? Is that for me?" Diedrich said as he finally noticed me standing there in a daze.Bookmark here

All I could do was nod and present it forward to him.Bookmark here

"Here, I made you a lunch in return, since it seemed like you enjoyed that sample."Bookmark here

Diedrich opened his Tupperware bowl, revealing a stew-like dish. It was different than what he had before.Bookmark here

"This one is called Bigos. My mother was part Polish in descent, so this was one of the dishes passed down in the family."Bookmark here

Blankly taking the dish he passed to me and sitting down, I took a spoonful and tasted it. Immediately, I was hit with a foreign flavor that whisked me to another land. The flavor of it was so delicious that it sent chills down my spine. However, those initial chills were soon followed by a sense of dread. A dread that came from the inadequacy of my own cooking.Bookmark here

All of a sudden, I wanted to stop him from eating it. Why did I think for a moment that what I could make would be equal in exchange? I should have considered my own lack of ability more and purchased something more suitable for him.Bookmark here

Before I could stop him from eating the food I considered to be trash now, he had popped a meatball into his mouth. Seconds felt like minutes, as I feared the negative response that I was expecting.Bookmark here

Yet…he simply continued to eat casually. There was no sign of disgust nor disapproval. He had eaten the whole thing without a single hint of complaint.Bookmark here

What was this? Why did he look so pleased about such a tasteless, basic dish? How was this fair? I had wanted to treat him, but he had ended up making me feel more indebted to him.Bookmark here

But the smile that he gave me as he passed me the empty bowl said otherwise. "Thank you."Bookmark here

Those simple words accompanying that smile had blown me away. A single tear rolled down my cheek. Was this what it was like to share a meal? Was this the reason for the warm glow that surrounded my family all those years ago? Even though I only had old data to back it up, I couldn't help but conclude so.Bookmark here

"Wait, why are you crying?! Did I do something wrong?!" Diedrich panicked at the sight of my tears.Bookmark here

"No…" I wiped my eyes with my sleeve. "You're just too kind."Bookmark here

Wrapped in the feeling of bliss, my face beamed with glee. It was an expression that I had long forgotten how to do. A genuine smile that had erupted from the childhood that I once had and kept locked away for so long.Bookmark here

On that day, I could no longer delude myself. I could no longer hide behind the hypotheses that I had constructed to reason out my behavior.Bookmark here

No matter how I tried to force the data to conclude otherwise, one point refused to budge.Bookmark here

I had fallen in love.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.