Author's Note: My sincere apologies if today's story doesn't flow smoothly. I'm juggling two assignments that are due on Monday.
Crystal smelt the fresh morning air and curled her lips upwards as she disembarked from her bus stop and made the short walk to campus. Her shoulders were less burdened, knowing that the last twelve weeks of learning would come to an end after her last class. She was additionally relieved that she wouldn't need to face Ryan twice a day after this. Having to deal with his capricious demeanor towards her on top of her stress-inducing courses was draining her energy. Her head was hammered with such force by the knowledge thrown at her that she swore a headache was waiting to pounce on her around the corner.
It was a different thought a couple of days ago, especially during one of her morning lectures. There she was, seated by herself in the half-empty lecture theatre, attempting hard to stay awake to the lecturer's tips and advice no thanks to her housemate. He, who she suspected was under the influence of alcohol to the point of criminal irresponsibility, was obstreperous, repeatedly shouting another occupant's name and laughing out loud at their late-night rendezvous until the wee hours of the morning. It wrecked her rest with such impact that she was a walking and snappy zombie, who desired to wring her hands on anyone who - inadvertently or intentionally - stepped on her tail. Inasmuch as she desired to skip that day's worth of lectures due to unexpected exhaustion, it was not worth the risk as it was now the dangerous race to the finish line. If she faltered in this last week of lectures, her chances of sitting the supplementary exams or retaking the entire course was significant. Fully aware of the blow of her temper whenever it exploded, she decided to hide in the basement area of the library after the lecture to regain her composure and stew in the annoyance. Her intuition guided her to the other end of the area, but not wanting to walk any further, she decided to go for the nearest available spot.
She couldn't believe her luck when she heard Ryan arriving five minutes later. She had to stop herself from rolling her eyes and instead took a deep breath to mask her dismay. No matter how she longed to feed him a taste of his own medicine, she wasn't going to leave the moment he arrived. It was a risky move not worth playing when she was unsure whether he hated her with a vengeance or merely frightened of his impression of her and it was rather rude to do so.
Although she sensed that he hoped for an acknowledgment from her, she didn't have the extra energy to deal with him when her focus was on maintaining her composure. The relaxed atmosphere tensed to the point where his face was coated with discomfiture and his body language fidgety, obviously uneasy by Crystal's behavior.
After a fruitful rest, she was much more emotionally stable and less likely to bite. She nodded a smile to her postgraduate course mate, Tracy, who was waiting in the silent room and caught up with her.
"Ready for the presentation?" Crystal asked, sitting next to her.
"I'm anxious." Tracy sighed. "But I'm confident that I can nail this. Just don't ask me any questions because I'd be too nervous to answer."
"I don't intend on asking any either."
"Because the article's too close to home, most of my questions would've been answered by interpreting the document itself." She looked around the room. "Eh, I'm surprised that Ryan hasn't arrived yet."
And at the mention of his name, she caught him walking up the stairs from the library, clutching a paper in his hand. He barely noticed Crystal and Tracy's presence until a moment later when he walked in to them rearranging the furniture for the umpteenth time.
"Good morning." He wished them, slightly wary of Crystal.
"Morning," Crystal and Tracy replied in unison before returning to their duty.
Crystal almost raised an eyebrow at Ryan when he assisted them with perfecting the arrangement of the chairs. She thought that she saw the slight trace of perfectionism from him, not realizing that it was already evident when they collaborated in the previous group project. She smirked as she thought to herself: it's good that you're prudent of me, man. I'm just as capable of being temperamental as you are, Ryan. Don't let this pair of angelic face fool you into thinking that I don't come with a temper.
An incident that occurred shortly before the commencement of the previous week's class irked her when she pondered on it during the short break. What made it tough for her to comprehend was Ryan's reaction when he saw her engaged in a hearty discussion with a mutual course mate, who happened to be from the same hometown as Crystal. She noticed that Ryan's eyes bulged with horror and a vocal tone that left chills at her spine and immediately suspected that there was more to his body language than meets the eye. It could have been a mere coincidence if he hadn't given her the eyebrow flash when he noticed her change of attire a fortnight ago.
Screw you, man. She mentally cursed. If you're jealous that I'm laughing with another guy, you've to be out of your mind. There's no standing for you to be jealous and we're not even that close.
It was obvious that there was discriminatory treatment on Crystal's part, but to her defense, she was growing exhausted with Ryan. On some days, she could feel the cold air radiating from him. On other days, she could feel a faint trace of warmth whenever they crossed paths. Their eyes accidentally landed on each other when they looked at the tutor, who addressed the class with the discussion topics after the break. Crystal looked away, opted to focus on the carpeted floor ahead of her as it was straining her neck to look at the tutor. Not wanting the tutor to assume that she was zoning out and feeling that the coast was clear, Crystal turned to face her tutor again, it was Ryan who glanced in the opposite direction instead.
Ryan sat on the benches outside the building with furrowed brows after the class was dismissed. He couldn't quite place the cause of his emotions the last couple of days and nothing has been able to make him lose his concentration either. All he remembered was a long awkward silence before he realized that the tutor asked the class a question, to which he awkwardly cleared his throat to answer it. Now that he reflected on it, he was surprised that none of his peers took the opportunity to gain brownie points for their contributions.
Much earlier in the semester, when the assignments for all three courses were released for the autumn break, he remembered Crystal's hesitance when she approached him about it after their afternoon class.
"Oh yeah, Ryan?"
"Yo," was what he replied, and knew that he must've said the wrong thing because her eyes betrayed her surprise.
"Have you completed that piece of assignment for our morning class?"
"Nah, I'll do this weekend."
He vehemently shook his head, bringing his mind back to the present. It couldn't have been her messing with his emotions, but it made absolute sense on another hand. If he regarded Crystal as nothing more than a fellow legal colleague, he definitely would've ignored her when he saw her laughing with her compatriot.
He definitely wouldn't have wished her by her name on the first day of lectures when they returned from summer break three months later for another round of studies.
He definitely wouldn't have forced her to move to another seat in the morning class or seated in close distance from her for the afternoon class.
And lastly, his focus wouldn't have lingered on Crystal more than necessary during his class presentation when he spoke to the class.
He covered his face with his hands, realizing that there was a possibility that he was intrigued by Crystal's personality. On the bright side, he'd be done with exams and could finally smell the roses during his break in less than a month's time. As he was confident that Fate wouldn't allow them to be in each other's view at the exam hall, he gathered his items and decided to head off-campus to clear his mind.