It was her weird habit every time she was enrolled into a new course. She needed to familiarize herself with the course coordinators and the students were in the same tutorial as her. She wanted to see if there were any familiar names that were on the attendance list and if so, she had to mentally prepare herself to face them again. Her face adopted a paler shade when she saw his name on the list and didn't like what she saw at all.
A part of her craved to believe that it was a case of mistaken identity, but the rational side of her knew that it was impossible. The prospect of two people sharing the same christened name was next to zero. While she was aware that they may cross paths at the lectures for the core courses, she never expected him to be taking the third course, what more choosing the same seminar. Although they were acquainted with each other through the group project in the previous semester, it was on a strictly professional ground.
Sure, it'd have been awesome to work with him again, but his current treatment of her wasn't what she expected. She originally hoped for a friendly recognition since they were acquainted. She instead had to deal with an invisible barrier between them whenever they crossed paths and their conversations were forever clipped. If they were forced to be in the same team for the class presentation, it'd create more awkwardness and tension for both of them. It wasn't their working ethics that would send them wringing each other's necks; it was more of their personalities.
Her first impression of Ryan was not perfect. When he introduced himself in the previous semester's class, she felt that he was proud and had an aura of egoism. Not knowing what to expect, she remained professional with him and focused on what was ahead of them: the group completion of the project.
When they crossed paths again outside the lecture theatre, there was a whiff of unexpected surprise in his eyes as he approached his friend, who stood next to her and leaned against the table. She was prepared to ignore him, but it was rude to do so when there was eye contact. She didn't expect him to address her by her given name because never once did he do so, having half the heart to believe that he forgot she even came with one.
"Oh. Hey, Ryan."
"How've you been?"
"Not too bad. How about yourself?"
It caught her off guard when he called her name that her eyes furrowed with surprise behind his back. She couldn't help but eavesdrop on the conversation that Ryan had with his friend.
"You're not supposed to be here until next year."
"Well," Ryan acknowledged. "I want to pursue some electives that are only available in the first semester before the study tour to Auckland."
After having a small chat with her lecturer from the previous semester's course before the morning seminar, looking at the vacant room, Crystal thought that she was the earliest. Although the furniture had been rearranged to form an enclosed circle with the lights completely switched on, she thought that her tutor swung by when she arrived in the building to adjust the chairs. Bobbing her head to the obstreperous melody on her headphones, she almost jumped out of her skin when she heard someone greeting her. Unless her biorhythm was exceptionally low - which didn't make any sense at eight-thirty in the morning - it was impossible for her to be hearing voices. She turned to the direction of the voice and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a seated Ryan with his Mac switched on.
"Hello there," came her reply.
The moment Ryan watched her half-dancing into the room in her attire, he was speechless beyond belief. He toyed with the notion of feigning ignorance, but he couldn't help but do a double take with an eyebrow flash. In the previous semester, she was always in casual attire and could've blended with the crowd with her simple do. She wore a muted red Uniqlo fleece turtleneck with a pair of Levi's and beige boots. She ditched her spectacles, which allowed him to admire her cute, almond-shaped brown eyes, and her hair was let loose down to her shoulders. He wanted to compliment on her attire, but considering the situation that they were in, it would make the atmosphere weirder and peculiar. The last thing he wanted for her to suspect is that he was admiring her change of clothes.
He saw the rare confidence in her as she threw her bag next to the red swivel chair and began to fiddle with the keyboard, hoping to wake the screen from its hibernation mode. He observed that she panicked when the screen refused to come to life. She scanned the area around the computer and the CPU, hoping to find the elusive instruction manual. There was only a moment's worth of uncertainty before he figured that she needed help and approached her.
"Do you need help?"
Crystal turned to face him. It was at this moment that he noticed hesitation in her eyes and realized that she was someone who preferred to settle things herself before asking for assistance as a last resort. "Yes. How do I wake the screen?"
As he watched Crystal communicating with her teammate, possibly over the final details of their presentation, Ryan didn't know why, but he felt a wave of jealousy overcoming him. He had to bite his lip hard to prevent his temper from rising, but he couldn't avoid shooting daggers at their backs. He reminded himself that she was not his and was instead being held on trust for someone else. Someone whom she was bound to meet the future and who would treat her like a princess with spine.
For all he knew, he was nobody special to her.
Yet, he was still intrigued by her personality and couldn't take his eyes off her.
As she began to present her fair share, his mind started to wander away. It wasn't because he was bored out of his wits, but it was his opportunity to observe her without being caught by any one of their peers. He admired the way she carried herself with assurance in the seminars that they shared. While she struck some as quiet, he considered it as humility. He knew that she restrained herself from speaking unless she was sure on her answers or when the tutor called on her for ideas. Unlike her good friend, Crystal was someone who was not afraid to dig deep into the mud to achieve her goals. This was an attribute of hers that stood out when they worked together for the previous semester's project.
He smiled with a soft sigh. If only she would gaze in his direction and acknowledge him, like what he did to her when he presented a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't until the seminar fell into a brief silence that he realized that he lost his concentration and awkwardly answered the question that was posed to him by the tutor.
He didn't expect that the tutor misinterpreted his contribution and broke into a laughter, which set the class in a train of muffled giggles. The tutor had to remove her spectacles to wipe away the tears that swam in her eyes, but Ryan's focus remained dead straight on Crystal. Her eyes crinkled with happiness and radiance when she laughed that she covered half her face with her notebook, presumably to prevent her from flushing as red as a cherry tomato. She lost all traces of laughter when their gaze met and she adopted a stoic expression instead.
It was if she knew that he was watching her like a hawk.
Crystal's heart almost fell out of her mouth when she saw Ryan waiting with the other students at the 3rd floor hallway for the afternoon seminar. She huffed out a breath, silently cursing at the eerie coincidence. It was already testing her patience and adaptability to be in the same morning seminar as him, but to deal with him twice a day? She wasn't sure how she could survive until the end of semester without the urge of bashing the wall or banging her head on the pillow.
There was exhaustion written in his face and painting a sincere smile on her face, she exchanged a quick hello as she walked past him to join her group of friends who stood at the opposite end. As her friends engaged in a conversation about something that wasn't of her interest, she watched as he slithered towards another lecturer's office to read the piece of paper glued to the door. She shook her head and smirked, recollecting the content on that paper and the memories of her time in torts: one does not simply avoid discussing causation.
She was shocked when she heard Ryan and his female friend laughing in their conversation. It didn't specifically irk her, but there was a faint suspicion that he did it to annoy her and to gauge if she was jealous. Why Ryan thought that she should be jealous when they were not even a couple, Crystal didn't have an answer, but he was succeeding, even if slightly. Her breath quickened and she could feel her temper flaring brighter than the campfire. It was just a matter of time before it would spill on her face and spell more trouble.
She saw her opportunity to escape when her tutor walked into the now-empty room and followed behind him.
Conversations flowed into the room as the rest of her peers began to take their seats and make themselves comfortable in their chosen seats. She didn't pay much attention to where Ryan and his female friend sat as she thought that they wouldn't be seated close to her. It wasn't until she heard his whispers that her peripheral vision took in the scene. Of all the places that they could have chosen, they sat at the place that was diagonally closest to her.
It could've been the female friend's choice, but it didn't matter. Having them at such a close proximity was making her uncomfortable, but she tried her best not to let it creep into her facial expression. It was when Ryan shot her a glance while she was in mid-conversation with her good friend that her heart raced. It wasn't because he knew that they exchanged comments about his conduct, but it was more of a reminder of someone's secretive grins. It was as if that person knew something that she didn't and wanted to raise her attention to it.
Crystal didn't have much time to ponder on it because the next thing she knew, the headache that sat behind the fence began to pound repeatedly in her head. She immediately knew that it was because Ryan was loudly contributing the voluminous ideas to the class discussion and it was affecting her because she was the closest to him. It was a possibility that he wanted those two students, who always took the floor in the discussion without allowing the peers a chance to speak, that he meant business.
She supported the weight of her head with her hands and used the inside of her wrists to massage her temples, trying but failing to relieve the headache.
"You okay?" Her good friend placed a hand on Crystal's left shoulder. "Do you need an ointment or Panadol?"
"I'm alright." She nodded her head. "It's just that I'm in need for sleep and listening to him in an earsplitting tone isn't helping at all."
"I know. The tutor's wearing a puzzled expression too. Just tune him out and internally focus on something that allows you to focus on the tutor instead of Ryan's words."
"I'm trying to..."
"Either Ryan's trying to impress you with his vast knowledge, or it's his favorite topic. I can't help but think that it's the first."
"We'll talk about this afterwards." Crystal closed her eyes. "My brain is congested."