His breath caught in his throat when his peripheral vision spotted a familiar figure sitting on one of the concrete blocks that protected their graduation hall from oncoming traffic. Although she was surrounded by their cohorts, she stood out in the crowd like a shining diamond in her attire. Her lips stretched upwards when he saw her. His earlier searches on her Instagram account may have revealed pictures of her in formal attire, but seeing it with his own eyes was a different story. Her bushy hair was pushed back behind her ears and landed a tad bit lower than her shoulders. She ditched her glasses in favor of contact lenses that accentuated her round eyes. There was only a blush on her cheeks and a light pink lipstick.
“Mind if I join you, Crystal?”
He saw that Crystal jumped in shock at his question. It wasn’t until she turned in his direction that she gave him a side glance. “You scared the lights out of me, Ryan.”
“Aren’t you with your parents?”
“Oh, they’re abroad, but insisted that I graduate in person. I’m waiting for a friend to come.” She observed that his eyes flashed with disappointment. “What about you?”
“My old folks are on their way. What time is your friend going to arrive?”
“I was thinking … whether you’d like to take a couple of pictures with me and kill time. I mean, instead of drowning in your thoughts.”
“Sure, why not?” She slid down the boulder and wiped the imaginary dust off the robe. “Any place in mind?”
“Perhaps the courtyard?” He suggested. “Since we’re both from law?”
“Okay, that’s a quieter place with enough natural light for photography.”
He breathed a sigh of relief when one of the students waiting on the round concrete seats agreed to help them to take a picture. His heart sank deeper into the ocean when he felt Crystal’s body stiffened as he placed a hand on her waist for the photography session. It indicated that she was still uncomfortable with him or experienced something so terrible that he wished he could wipe clean from her memory. He couldn’t place the feeling that she experienced: a comfort that washed over him to have her close to him. Yet, she reciprocated with an arm over his shoulder like a sibling.
“Thanks a lot,” he mentioned as the person returned his phone.
“Not to worry,” came the reply. “I took a couple more shots for you to choose. Congratulations on your graduation!”
“Thanks a lot,” Ryan answered while Crystal nodded with a smile.
She waited for the person to be out of earshot before she approached Ryan. “So, how are the pictures?” she asked. “I’m trusting your eyes. So, it better look good!”
“It should be okay. I hope.”
Just ahead of them, Crystal spotted the caricature of her friend entering the campus and cleared her throat. “Look, I’ve to split. My friend’s here.”
“Oh, sure thing. If I don’t see you later, congrats on the graduation!”
“Thanks. And you too.” She shot a grin before she dashed off in another direction.
“Thanks for coming!” Crystal scooped her friend into an embrace outside the graduation hall. “You’ve no idea how much I appreciate it, Harry.”
Her lips stretched upwards when she mentally analyzed his fashion sense. He wore smart casual attire - light blue checkered shirt and black working pants - and a pair of expensive-looking R.M. Williams shoes. Had it been in another dimension, she could foresee herself falling for his charms and personality. She loved how his eyes crinkled whenever he laughed and how relaxed he was whenever they were together. He was a kind soul who loved to help people and craved for his close ones to be happy - even if it meant pushing his own feelings aside. In essence, he was willing to place others before him.
Harry laughed out loud. “I’ll obviously be in attendance. It’ll be the last time that we’ll be able to regularly hang out. I’d have accommodated your graduation time into my schedule, even if it meant missing my tute.”
Her eyes widened with horror. “No, no. Did you skip classes?”
“Nah, we’re in luck that my tutorial is after your ceremony. The downside is that i’ve rush off for it right after it ends. So, we can’t take pictures with you in the robe.”
“I’d have asked you to go for your classes after all. I only care about who the pictures are with, not the freaking attire.”
“Awesome. Can we do late lunch or early dinner after that?”
“Sure, why not? It’d be glad to end the day with food … and wine.”
As there was a couple of moments before the start of the convocation, Crystal caught herself admiring the handiwork and decoration of the majestic hall hosting their graduation. Ahead of her was the stage with three chairs in the middle. Towards the left and right were more chairs of the same kind, which she suspected was for the academic administrative employees and the rest of her lecturers. Or at least those who were able to squeeze some time out from their busy schedules. The place never failed to amaze her, no matter how many times she was given access through her role as a graduation volunteer or as an orientation host.
“This is a surprise,” she heard a voice and turned in that direction. Her jaw slammed to the floor. It was Ryan standing in front of her with the pamphlet in his head. “Yeah, I know. I wasn’t expecting to be sitting next to you for the ceremony either.”
“How did this happen?!”
He shrugged as he sat next to her. “I don’t know. Maybe our scores are similar to each other. Maybe we have similar last names."
"Oh, please. I'm not as intelligent as you are."
"My dear friend, the possibilities are endless.”
This is not good, she thought. She stole a glance at Ryan, whose concentration was glued on the pamphlet with the list of the graduates, and closed her eyes. Although this was something that Trace and she discussed as a probability, never once in her wildest dream did she expect to occur. Back then, she figured that there would be someone else sitting in between them. Back then, she wanted that person to block her view of Ryan to afford her some sense of peace. But in the end, her worst nightmare became a reality.