Unmasked Dreams - L.J. Evans Page 0,1

were silent in my protective gear, adding a smooth, Michael Jackson-ish glide to my motions that brought a much-needed smile to my lips. Lab work always cheered me up. It was the very best kind of scientific activity. Theories trying to be proven. So much hope.

The tinge of heartache plaguing me since receiving the latest rejection from the nanoparticle committee was easing away. If I couldn’t work on my own experiment, helping one of my best friends with hers was the next best thing.

I pushed the button for the exit doors, walking through the first set of them into the gowning room. I waited for the hiss of the seal behind me before removing the white Gore-Tex suit. I threw it in the laundry hamper before pulling off the initial layer of disposable masks and shoe coverings. Then, I walked out the final set of doors to the office area, tossing the last layer of gear away.

The explosion of color and personality in the office area was a stark contrast to the metal and tile sterility of the lab itself. Proof of life. The desks were littered with coffee mugs containing nerdy science puns, and the walls were plastered with vibrant posters. It had become a joke to see how many stickers the lockers could fit even as the Stanford administration continued sending notes about it being against the rules.

Raisa walked in as I moved to the computer I’d claimed as mine. My beautiful friend could easily be on a runway. Blonde hair with dark undertones that hairstylists everywhere killed to replicate, flawless white skin, and beautiful brown eyes surrounded in the darkest lashes I’d ever seen—even when she didn’t have makeup on.

“Have you already checked the numbers?” she asked. Her excitement allowed her Russian accent to pop up when her English was usually more perfect than mine.

“I did! You’re going to be happy with them. Come see,” I responded, pulling up the stats I’d just keyed in.

Her smile grew wide, her face lighting up as she reviewed them.

Raisa was two semesters into her bioengineering doctorate, and her photovoltaic nano cells were a hair away from being viable. Changing the world one cell at a time.

My heart twisted with longing and anticipation. I wanted to be in her shoes―close to finishing my project. She was a year ahead of me, but at the pace I was going, it was likely she’d be done before I even got the okay to start.

“The committee rejected my thesis submission,” I breathed out, playing with the ends of my braid.

“Oh, Vi, I’m so sorry,” she said, meaning it.

“I knew it was a stretch,” I said with a shrug. Hadn’t Silas told me that enough times?

“Creating an organic antimicrobial should not be a stretch,” she defended my concept, and I loved her for it.

“Right?” I said, twirling the stool around. “I mean, the applications are almost limitless. Skincare. Makeup. Food. Shelf life is the real showstopper in the natural market.”

“Exactly!” she said. She didn’t even complain that we’d had this same conversation a dozen times at least.

The formulas for my antimicrobial floated through my head. Once upon a time, I’d thought I’d be able to cure cancer with insects. Then, I’d read an article on the benefits of clove and sage, and it was like a giant light bulb had gone off in my head. If we kept the crap out of the products people used, we might just be able to prevent some cancers altogether. We wouldn’t discover—like we were now—people getting cancer from formaldehyde or asbestos-filled talc.

“Doesn’t matter, they said no,” I said. “Sometimes, I wonder if getting my Ph.D. is even what I want.”

The words were out before I thought about it. I stopped the stool and met her concerned eyes with my own surprised ones. While it was a thought that had been dancing around in my brain lately, it wasn’t something I’d said out loud to anyone.

“Have you thought about sending the idea to Grâce Charmante yourself?” she asked.

The organic skincare and makeup company had been my intended target if I could get my antimicrobial to work. I’d discovered the company while falling down a rabbit hole, reading about Watery Reflection’s musical journey. The owner, Trista Colt, was the wife of the band’s original drummer. She’d started her company from the ground up. A little seedling that had grown into a giant redwood. She understood entrepreneurship, chemistry, and skincare. Her company even sponsored scholarships for females in the STEM fields