Is this Love?...Or are the Chemical Impulses Driving my Every Whim?
Although I had admitted to myself that I had feelings for Diedrich, I had no idea what to do about them.
On one hand, I didn't want to jeopardize the current relationship I had. There was too much work to be done, so I couldn't let these feelings distract me from achieving my goals. My research hadn't even reached the halfway mark, so somehow, I had to keep myself focused.
To begin with, I had no idea how Diedrich felt about me. Looking at myself objectively, the results didn't look promising. If I were to put myself forward like sponsors contributing funds to a research project, there would be nothing that they would find 'innovative' or 'groundbreaking'.
What else did I have but my brain for science and my drive to succeed? Certainly, he saw me as a competent, fellow researcher, but I had the womanly charm of a background signal of an FTIR measurement.
Lamenting my lack of appreciable features, the only choice I had was to continue about my work and interact with Diedrich as normal.
Two weeks later, I received an email notifying me that our journal article had been accepted for publication. With a cry of success, I jumped out of my chair. This would be the first major paper of my career where I was the lead contributor!
"First author! First author!" I danced around the small area around my desk.
Johann and Diedrich came by to see what the commotion was. With a smile, Johann congratulated us.
"Congrats to you for your first paper in Science! That's quite the achievement. And to you also, Diedrich. Quite good after only being in the lab for just over a month, eh?"
This was certainly a big deal for us. Having our names in a well-renown journal would boost our prospects in the future.
"Why don't you guys take tomorrow off. I'm sure the professor won't mind. I'll cover for you, haha." Johann placed a hand on our shoulders. "Go have fun while you're young. Go on a date."
"D-Date?" Diedrich and I said simultaneously.
"Of course. Anyone can see that you two have a thing for each other. You can't fool this old man."
"Old man? You're only in your 30s, aren't you?" I asked.
"Old enough to see when there's chemistry afoot. Just don't get out of hand and let it distract from your studies." Johann walked away, leaving us to ponder.
There was a moment of awkward silence between us. Johann had said that we liked each other, but was that really the case? I couldn't see that happening. Not so simply. Had I overlooked something during my objective viewing?
"So…uh…where do you want to go tomorrow?"
I was drawing some blanks. Having never gone out with a guy before, the only answers that I could come up with were standard examples from a romance novel. Shopping, movies, the park – none of these sounded particularly appealing to me. I had none of the interests of a normal girl.
Seeing my hesitation, Diedrich was the first to speak up.
"How about we just go grab a bite to eat? There's no need to force ourselves to do anything."
I blankly nodded in response. We decided to meet up for lunch tomorrow at a café that I often went to. After that, we quickly wrapped up the work for the day and headed home.
The next morning, I found myself parked in front of Martha's room, my hand reaching up but hesitating to knock. Suddenly, the door opened, and the girl in question jumped back in surprise at me blocking the way.
"What made you think it was a good idea to stand right there?" Martha grabbed me by the head and started coarsely rubbing the top of it.
"I-I was trying to f-figure out how to ask you…" I fought to get the words out as my head was moved side to side.
"Ask me what?" She stopped to question me.
"I don't know what to wear…"
Minutes later, my closet and dressers had been raided through, and a downcast Martha was sighing with a facepalm.
"What is with your wardrobe? Jeans and science t-shirts? Don't you care at all about how you look? Wait, scratch that. I should know better than to ask."
"But I like these…," I said, holding up a t-shirt of a wanted poster saying 'Schrodinger's Cat – Wanted Dead and Alive'.
"Fine! I'll just let you borrow some of my clothes! Get over here!" Martha literally dragged me to her room before shuffling through her clothes.
As if I were some barbie doll, she spent the next hour picking out the proper outfit and fixing up my looks. It was no wonder that I never bothered with such things. An hour of my time would normally be better spent doing more constructive work.
However, today was supposed to be a day off. I told myself that as an excuse.
Finally satisfied with her handiwork, Martha sent me off with a wave. I had wanted something simple, but somehow, I ended up with the full package. Dressed in a green blouse and long floral skirt, a light sweater with an open front covered my bare arms from the cold. My hair had been curled at the ends and flowed along my shoulders. A light dashing of makeup had covered the lines of weariness my face normally had.
Seeing Diedrich wave towards me as I arrived at the front of the café, he looked at me with a glint of approval.
"That's a refreshing change. It really suits you."
Diedrich had been dressed as normal, typically wearing a neat, collared-shirt and slacks in the lab. Was I the only one that had been thinking too much about my own appearance? Maybe he didn't consider this as a date? Had I gotten my hopes up fruitlessly?
The two of us sat down and ordered. During the meal, we made little small talk, mainly about the scientific topics that ran through our minds. It seemed like both of us were a bit hesitant to talk about anything more personal.
The meal flew by, and soon, we were wandering aimlessly down the street, a strange distance seemingly having developed between us.
Outside of our comfort zone, why was it so hard to come up with anything else to say? My heart lamented that we struggled to find common ground elsewhere.
As I looked off to the side, I spotted a large model of an aircraft displayed outside.
"Oh right, the science museum was here."
I had subconsciously wandered in this direction, towards a building that I sometimes visited when I felt the urge for some amusement. Strange that it may sound, the feeling of seeing others come to appreciate science was one of the reasons that I found myself here.
"Oh, looks like there's a new aerospace exhibit. Shall we take a look?" Reaching for my hand, he gave me a gentle tug. My feet followed along; my eyes fixated on his back as he guided me forward.
Somehow, Diedrich had been tipped off by my interest. Maybe because he held similar likings. Despite only knowing him for a month, this person had firmly rooted himself into my thoughts and actions.
How could this be? With how minimal of a fraction of the entire population that one encountered in a lifetime, how could I happen to meet someone like Diedrich? The chances of him returning the favor were even more unlikely.
As we both enjoyed the attractions in the museum, this point seemed to become more and more trivial. Why did it matter how small of a chance it was? If I could continue to hold onto this feeling, then I would settle being the sole outlier in an endless sea of datapoints.
"The development of titanium alloys for commercial aircraft…," Diedrich read off as we approached another exhibit.
As my eyes scanned through the article, my heart suddenly froze, and my face became pale.
"Ti-5Al-5Mo-5V-3Cr…," I muttered under my breath.
Diedrich, noticing the sudden change in my mood, looked over at what I had been reading.
"A standardized form of titanium alloy, now commercially used in major aircraft, was initially developed by Rupert Briggs and Vince Donnelly…wait, Vince? Isn't that the name of-"
"Yes, my father." I interrupted him.
The thought of seeing that other name sickened my stomach. He had been the reason for my father's passing. It had been all his fault!
"From what I remember, before that alloy came into play, there was an incident in which a pilot test went horribly wrong. That was…"
"Yes…" I shook my head. "Confident in the design and testing of this new material, my father was in the middle of demonstrating its benefit to a prominent aircraft company. Through the construction of an engine that was more lightweight, but more durable and resistant to heat and drag, he had hoped to revolutionize the industry. However, the engine exploded and took him from me."
Tears started streaming from my eyes at the memories of that time – how shocked my mother and I was when we heard the news, how much the media had hounded us afterwards about the 'failed experiment', and lastly, the face of Rupert Briggs as he gave fake condolences at my father's passing.
Diedrich went over to console me but froze at my next words.
"Rupert Briggs had no qualms taking the helm and re-doing the pilot experiment, convincing others that there had been impurities in the previous material that had made it fail. The re-test was a success, and he would go on to be a major proponent of that alloy. Impurities, my ass! My father would never make such a critical mistake! No one could prove it, but I'm certain that the first test had been sabotaged!"
My fingernails dug into my palms, but my anger ignored the pain from them drawing blood. Seeing me in such a state, Diedrich hugged me. The feeling of his body against mine caused me to release the death grip on myself.
"It's okay. That's why you are continuing his work, are you not? I can tell from the path we're heading. You are trying to invent a new material that surpasses that. To overcome where your father had stopped short. We'll do it! The two of us! We've already found something almost as promising, and we're still students!"
Diedrich's words resounded in my mind. He had hit every nail that had been forced loose by my doubts.
"Will you…will you stay by me until then?" I weakly said.
"Of course. Every step of the way."
I collapsed in the safety of his arms. If it was him, we could do it, surely. The voice of reason that he always had would not steer me wrong. I only had to believe in it.
But could I really? In the corner of my heart, there was black mark. An ugly stain, filled with distrust and hate, that was born from the deceit that happened to my father.
Little did I know, I had placed a wall around my heart to keep it locked in. And Diedrich had unknowingly cracked it.