Elements of Chemistry (Part 2) HEAT (2015)

Part 2. HEAT

Chapter 13. Vapor Pressure and Boiling Point

AFTER MY MOTHER left, leaving the crushing weight of this decision in my hands, I spent the next hour fretting and chasing circular logic in my head. I had no right answer, but I recognized I had two options.

I could hide in the closet and wait for everything to resolve itself.

Or I could talk to Martin, lay it all out there, and insist we work together to solve this conundrum.

In the end, I realized I couldn’t go back to being the closet girl. Over the past week something within me had fundamentally shifted. I would never be content as a closet-dweller again. I was out of the closet…in a manner of speaking.

So, really, I had one option.

Once I decided Martin and I would work through this together, I absolutely could not wait to discuss the matter with him. Therefore I grabbed my jacket, ran down the three flights of dorm stairs, and jogged to Martin’s fraternity house.

I was still very much in my own head when I spotted Griffin on the front porch, carrying a ladder to where three other guys waited with nails and a sign. Paying the other three no notice, I jogged straight to Griffin.

“Hey, Griffin.”

“Kaitlyn, hey. Are you here to see Martin?” He handed the ladder off to one of the three and gave me a warm smile.

“Yes. That’s why I’m here. Can you take me to him?”

“Yeah, yeah. Sure.” He didn’t hesitate. He turned for the door to the house and assumed I’d follow. I did.

We climbed two sets of stairs and navigated through a tangle of hallways, all with dark wood floors and beige paint. No art donned the walls; I tried to make a mental topographic map just in case I arrived to visit Martin in the future but encountered no friendly tour guide.

At last Griffin stopped at one of the doors—much like any of the others—and knocked three times.

“Hey, it’s Griffin—”

“Go away.”

“—and I’ve got Kaitlyn with me.”

Griffin gave me a small grin and a quick wink when the last part of his announcement was met with silence followed by approaching footsteps.

The door swung open, revealing a shirtless, sweaty Martin Sandeke. He was dressed only in shorts, socks, and shoes, and he’d obviously just returned from a run. Martin’s eyes landed on mine immediately and he appeared very pleased to see me. I was very happy to see him, sweat and all.

Actually, his chest was so perfect it glistened.

I had a boyfriend that glistened, and not in a weird shimmering kind of way. In a manly, super sexy, flawless kind of way.

Oh…sigh.

I smiled at him, because that’s what one does when faced with a glistening, shirtless Martin. You just do it. It’s a law of nature, like gravity or eating cookies when they’re hot out of the oven. No. Choice.

I was about to say hi, but he cut me off by reaching forward, grabbing my hand, pulling me into his room, and shutting the door.

I was about to say hi again, but I was cut off by the sound of Griffin’s muffled voice from the hallway. “Okay then, you’re welcome. I guess I’ll just get back to what I was doing.”

“You do that,” Martin responded absentmindedly, his gaze moving over my face like he hadn’t seen me in days instead of hours.

Finally, hearing Griffin’s retreating steps, I laughed lightly and was just about to say hi again, when Martin kissed me. He braced his hands on the door at my back and devoured my mouth. I lifted on my tiptoes and tilted my chin to provide better access, but when I reached for his body he pulled away.

“Don’t.” He stopped the progress of my hands by holding them between us. “I need a shower. I just got back from a run.”

“I don’t care.” I shrugged, knowing my traveling stare was somewhat hazy and a lot greedy as I scanned his torso; and then, because I finally could, I said, “By the way, hi.”

At my good-natured greeting, I saw his shoulders visibly relax and he returned my smile. “Hi.”

“It’s good to see you.” I exhaled, feeling better about…everything now we were face to face. My back was to the door and he was standing in front of me, holding my hands in both of his.

“It’s good to see you, too.” His tone was relieved, sincere; but I noted he appeared to be somewhat cagey, bracing. “How was the visit with your mother?”

I closed my eyes briefly and shook my head, opening them again before responding. “It was…troubling.”

He released my hands and crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t think she likes me.”

“When she gets to know you, she will like you.”

Martin’s smile was crooked and my allusion to the future seemed to comfort him. He nodded, like he believed me. “Yeah, eventually she’ll come around.”

“Yes. Eventually. I’ll just have to bring you home with me over summer vacation. You and my dad can talk nerd stuff.”

“You talk nerd stuff, too.” Martin turned and crossed to his dresser.

“Well, then all three of us will talk nerd stuff at the same time. It’ll be a nerdy conversation trifecta.” I took three steps into his room and surveyed the space. It reminded me a lot of the room back at the island where he slept: small, cluttered with personal things, small twin bed, comfy comforter and pillows. I liked the absence of sterile and fancy appurtenances.

He was rummaging through his drawers, obviously looking for something in particular, when he called over his shoulder, “So, you said her visit was troubling? What happened?”

“Oh, ugh!” I rolled my eyes, remembering the purpose of my visit was unfortunately not to ogle Martin’s glistening chest of perfection. Flopping on his bed I didn’t try to disguise my aggravation with the subject. “That’s actually why I’m here now instead of waiting for you tonight. I need your help.”

He stopped his search and turned toward me, his forehead marred with obvious concern. “What can I do?”

“Well, it’s…the whole thing is completely bizarre. But I think we can figure this out together.”

“Parker, what’s going on?”

I heaved a big sigh, gave him a small smile, then proceeded to detail the gist of the conversation I had with my mother. When I got to the Ben part, his eyes narrowed and he ground his teeth. He looked irritated, but not exactly surprised.

“He’s always been a fuckwad,” Martin ground out, slamming his dresser drawer shut.

“Yes, well…rapists tend to be unsavory in most facets of their life, but—forget Ben for a moment—the real issue is what we’re going to do about my mother and the Washington Post reporter.”

Cagey Martin was back and he glared at me from across the room with his hands on his hips. “What do you want me to do?”

I heaved another big sigh and admitted, “I don’t know. This is why I need your help. I need you to help me figure out how to make this right.”

He shrugged, his tone growing distant. “Make what right? I don’t see the problem.”

This gave me pause because I felt like the problem was obvious. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I decided to spell it out for him. “The problem, Martin, is that your father is using our involvement with each other—”

“We’re not involved. You’re my girlfriend.”

“He is using our relationship to discredit my mother. He’s already given two interviews where he alluded that she is softening on the Net Neutrality bill because of me, because we’re dating.”

“So?”

My eyes widened at his flippant response and I was struck slightly speechless; I parroted, “So…? So? So, this is very bad. We need to make him stop.”

“It’s none of our business.” Martin scratched his chin, sounding aloof, and shrugged again.

I was really beginning to dislike his shrugs.

I was also starting to lose my temper.

What the hell?

I stood from the bed and paced, ranting to all four walls. “Of course it’s our business. It’s everybody’s business. Net neutrality is everyone’s business! Just because you’ve never had to work for anything in your life doesn’t mean it’s not your business.”

Martin’s expression grew stony and fierce, his jaw set. I regretted the words as soon as I’d said them.

“Okay, sorry.” I reached my hands out between us then let them fall to my sides when he continued to glare at me. “I didn’t mean that how it sounded. But you don’t get to ignore important issues that affect everyone but the top one percent just because you’re in the top one percent. It’s irresponsible.”

“What do you suggest that I do?” The question was clearly meant to be equal parts rhetorical and sarcastic. “You’ve met my father. He’s not going to listen to me. He won’t listen to anyone. And if I go against him, he’ll cut me off.”

“Martin, what’s left then? Hmm? I can’t let my mother step down because of bogus charges. If you can’t get him to listen to you then the only other option is…is…” For us to break up.

I didn’t say it, but I might as well have said it because it was obviously the only remaining option.

Martin immediately grasped my unspoken meaning because his entire body went rigid and his eyes grew thunderous. His menacing denial was softly spoken.

“No. No fucking way.”

“Then give me another solution.”

“No, that’s bullshit.” He charged toward me, but I held my ground as he quietly raged at me. “This has nothing to do with us. You’re looking for an excuse. This is just an excuse to shit all over everything we’ve built. You’ve been looking for a reason to run away, and this is it.”

I reached forward to touch him but he twisted away, stalking back to his dresser and slamming another drawer.

I didn’t like the pleading edge that entered my voice, as I said, “No. This is me standing up for what I believe in. Your father is discrediting my mother, damaging her reputation and people are buying into it. She has worked her whole life against corruption. She has fought for good and justice and peace and prosperity.”

Martin scoffed, his words mocking. “She’s not superwoman, Parker.”

“She is to me. And I’m not going to do nothing while your dad uses me to make her look like a corrupt flake.”

He shook his head, clearly frustrated. “Listen to me. What could you possibly do to make Denver Sandeke change his mind? He never changes his mind. Talking to him is useless. Arguing with him just makes him happy. He gets off on other people’s misery.”

“We have to stop him.”

“We can’t.”

“So…what? Am I supposed to just let him say these terrible things?”

“What choice do you have?” He turned completely around, finally facing me again and giving nothing away with his expression.

“I’ll give an interview. I’ll call the reporter from the Washington Post.”

“It won’t make a difference. We are dating. We are together. Our families aren’t close, but that doesn’t matter because perception is all that matters. Why would anyone believe you over my father? They wouldn’t.” I saw that he was trying to talk me down from getting my hopes up, and he was trying to be gentle and break the reality of the situation to me, the fruitlessness of it.

But he was wrong, because there was one person that could discredit Denver Sandeke…

“But you could.”

Martin stared at me, his gaze becoming increasingly calculating and guarded. When he responded his words were measured and slow. “No. I couldn’t. Like I said, he’ll cut me off, and I am so close. I’ll be twenty-one in less than four months. I will not do anything to risk losing access to that money.”

“Martin, I could…I could help you. We could move in together, share expenses. You don’t need your father’s money. You’re a freaking genius, and you have all those patents. You don’t need his money.”

His eyes were now slits and he was shaking his head slowly. “No. You don’t understand. My father has forgotten about the trust, and I need that trust. I need those houses. I have plans, I can’t just abandon them.”

“What plans?” I reached for him but he pulled his hand from my grasp and turned away, so I spoke to his back. “Tell me the plan. What are you talking about?”

He walked to his desk chair; his big, powerful hands gripping the back of it, and gave me his profile. “The venture capitalist deal in New York. The houses all over the world. The sixty million dollars. The satellites. The plan, everything I’ve been working for to completely screw him over. If I discredit him now then he’ll look for ways to make me miserable, and he’ll remember the trust. Then I’m cut off and it all goes away.”

I stared at the side of his face, my mouth open but no sound emerging, because I was mostly confused. After a moment I found some words. I wasn’t sure they were the right ones, but they were the only words I had.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re talking about. What do houses all over the world have to do with sixty million dollars? And how are satellites going to screw over Denver Sandeke?”

Martin exhaled but it sounded like an impatient growl. “The houses, Parker. His houses are all in my name and I am four months away from accessing the trust when I turn twenty-one.” Martin faced me, his stance inflexible. “I have buyers for six of them, and I’m confident I’ll have buyers for the other eleven soon. That’s how I’m getting the sixty million.”

I blinked furiously. “You can’t do that, those aren’t your houses.”

“They’re in my name.”

“But—”

“And, all together, they’re worth well over sixty million. And I’m selling them and he doesn’t know a goddamn thing about it. And when I’ve sold them, I’m investing the money into launching telecom satellites that will replace traditional landlines, DSLs, and—in some cases—fiber optic cable. I’m going to break the telecom monopolies that Sandeke Telecom holds. I’m going to give the people in his service areas an alternative source for their Internet and phone. I’m going to drive my father out of business and make billions in the process. But I can’t do that if he cuts me off now.”

My face scrunched and twisted. This was…this was unbelievable. This was global scale corporate warfare and so beyond my frame of reference.

“It can’t, I mean, it can’t be as simple as that. If satellites are the answer to the great telecom monopoly debate, then it seems to be that someone else would have solved it by now.”

Martin’s frown was severe, his eyes cutting, almost mocking. “Have you ever heard of Elon Musk?”

“Yes. Everyone knows who he is.”

“Not everyone.”

“He’s the CEO of Tesla and a genius philanthropist,” I supplied blandly.

“Yeah, well look up his work on alternate sources of Internet delivery. It is as simple as satellites, but there is nothing simple about these satellites.”

I huffed then growled, punching my hands through the air as I fought to control my temper. “Well…so…fine! You have your ‘fancy satellite plan’! It’s going to work. You’ll screw your father and break up his monopoly. Where does that leave us?”

“Right where we are. Nothing between us changes!” He was yelling again.

“What does that even mean?” I was also yelling and appealing to the ceiling, throwing my hands in the air.

“Us. Together. And we ignore my father.”

“But we can’t. We can’t ignore him. If we do nothing, then my mother steps down and her life’s work is over.”

Martin shrugged, scratched the back of his neck, and said with infuriating ambivalence and granite resolve in his eyes, “Not. My. Problem.”

In that moment I wanted to punch him in the face, because I felt like he’d punched me in the stomach. Resentment filled my mouth, choked me as we glared at each other, our rapid-fire argument over and nothing resolved. I was twisting in the wind and he didn’t seem to care. To my infinite irritation I felt the first signs of tears—stinging eyes, wobbly chin—and was powerless to fight it.

I couldn’t control the shakiness in my voice as I whispered, “I trusted you.”

“You can trust me.” His voice was steady, yet clearly laced with frustration. “I would do anything for you…except this. You can’t ask me to do this, to go against him publically, when I’m so close to seeing this through.”

Again we stared at each other and neither of us gave an inch. I swallowed the building thickness in my throat, creeping despair twisting its fingers around my chest and making each breath painful. Yet I had to give us one more shot. I was trying my best to fight for him, fight for us. I gathered a deep breath and tried once more to appeal to him.

I was careful to keep the volume of my voice low, though I struggled to keep it steady. “If you love me…” He closed his eyes with a slow blink and he turned slightly away. Martin shook his head, stared at the floor, with his jaw set, and his powerful arms once more crossed over his chest. “If you love me then it is your problem, because I can’t let my mother do that. I can’t let her step down because of me and my choices.”

“There is nothing you can do, Kaitlyn.” His tone was flat and entirely patronizing.

And he was wrong.

There was one thing I could do, one finite solution that would solve the problem, but that was also going to break my heart. I felt a new, more powerful wave of tears build behind my eyes as I stared at his outward expression of indifference.

A single thought bubbled to the surface of my mind: he’s betrayed me.

I’d flung myself off a cliff, trusting that he’d be there to catch me, but he let me fall. I hadn’t realized until that moment how completely I’d trusted him. I was so stupid.

I felt my heart slow and sputter, thump and crack. The dam broke and gave way to a flood of bitter tears.

I mimicked his stance, crossed my arms over my chest and lifted my chin, hoping the posturing would give me the bravery I needed even as fat drops of saltwater spilled from my eyes.

“You’re wrong, Martin. There is something I can do.”

Martin became very still, quiet. His eyes cut to mine and they were sharp, focused.

“I’m breaking up with you.” I made no move to wipe away the wet tracks because…what was the point?

“Kaitlyn.” My name sounded like a plea and an accusation. I firmed my jaw. He shook his head. “Don’t say that.”

“What other choice do I have?” I was screaming at him, my anger reaching a boiling point. “If we break up then this goes away, there is no bias because we’re not together.”

“But we’d…what?” He searched my face. “We’d see each other in secret?”

I stubbornly shook my head, feeling the physical effects of misery. Yet grim, soothing resolve crept its way up my spine, wrapping my heart and mind in a blanket of numb certainty. He must’ve seen something shift, some change in my expression, because he rushed forward and gripped my arms.

“No…no, no, no. That’s not going to happen. You are not doing this.”

I released a pained breath that sounded more like a sob and looked at the wall over his shoulder, sniffling. Tears fell freely and I barely felt the cold trails they left on my cheeks. This desolation was like bee stings on every surface of my skin, my stomach rolling and clenching. I felt like I was being torn apart.

When I responded, it was without emotion, because I already knew what his answer would be. “I don’t think I really have a choice here, unless you can think of another solution.”

“You’re just going to give up? Just like that?”

I twisted out of his grip, walking backward several steps, and spat at him, “You make it sound like this is easy for me. This isn’t easy. You won’t give up your fancy satellite plans and I can’t let my mother suffer because of your father’s lies. You’re asking me to choose between right and wrong. I have to choose right.”

“That’s bullshit!” I winced because his voice was loud and severe, his eyes flashing, his expression livid as he closed the distance between us and jabbed his finger in my face. “If you don’t want to be with me then own it. Don’t blame it on some higher cause. You own it!”

“I do want to be with you! I lo—” I turned, covered my face before he could see it crumple, and walked three steps away, biting my tongue.

This was madness. I thought we loved each other, and yet…

Reason reared its affable head and politely suggested to me that one does not fall in love with a person over the course of a week. What I was feeling was the infatuation of newness; it was his smile and the way he touched me and the way he looked at me.

Love was lasting. Love finds a way. Love endures.

But we’d had a week. One week. Only a week.

“A beautiful week,” I said through my tears, not immediately realizing I’d spoken out loud.

“What?”

“We had a beautiful week,” I whispered, as I finally wiped the wetness from my face and dropped my hands, reason reminding me that just because I didn’t feel calm, didn’t mean I couldn’t be calm.

I would be calm.

I would not be hysterical.

I would walk out of this room, walk away from him, and never second-guess the decision, because it was the right thing to do.

Therefore, I lifted my chin, mentally preparing myself for what came next, and dug deep for courage. “I’ll always remember it. I’ll always…think of you.”

My vision blurred again. I needed to leave before more tears fell, because once I really started, it was going to be an epic sob fest. Multiple boxes of tissues were going to be used.

He spoke through clenched teeth; I knew he was furious, but he also sounded desperate. “I swear to God, Parker, if you leave, if you do this then that’s it. I swear, I’m done. I can’t forever be trying to prove to you that what I feel for you, what I want from you is real.”

“I believe you,” I said without turning around. I couldn’t look at him. I needed to leave. I wrapped my arms around my middle and after a short pause, walked to the door.

“Don’t,” he said quietly, his voice roughened with an edge of desperation. “Now I am begging, please don’t do this. I love you.” He exhaled this last part, the last word ending abruptly like he’d swallowed it, like it’d cost him.

A shock passed though me, his words were physical, possessed the ability to electrify the air, reach out to me, into my chest and squeeze my numbed heart. My steps faltered, my shoulders curved forward, and my arms held me tighter. I felt as though I was holding myself together. If I moved my hands I might shatter to pieces.

I turned, tried to gather a deep breath but found I couldn’t, the pain was too sharp, too acute. I met his gaze directly; the force of it, the pleading and prideful ferocity nearly knocked me over.

“Then help me,” I begged in return. “Please help me find another way. I don’t want to do this. Help me fight your father.”

His eyes were despairing, tortured as they moved over my face. He pleaded, “We can see each other in secret.”

“No. Someone would find out, and then it would make my mother look even worse.”

“He will cut me off, Parker.” Martin shook his head, pain and frustration and helplessness casting a contorting shadow over his features. “I can’t go against him, not yet.”

I released the breath I’d been holding. My voice was watery but firm. I shrugged, then said, “Then…I guess this is goodbye.”