Chapter 2:

Lose Control

Can You Read Me?

‘H-Huh? Are you talking to me?’

The girl looks familiar. Dressed in a baggy t-shirt, shorts and a pair of crocs, there is a slightly immature appearance to her, looking almost like a child with her getup. Yet for Yan, there is an unmistakable aura about her, an uncomfortable feeling he often finds himself having during the mundane days of school. And those large glasses… He’s definitely seen them somewhere, a trademark of someone so often coming into his field of vision.

Crystal Chung.

A classmate since his junior high days, Crystal is someone that somehow always appears near him. He’s not really familiar with her, but her loud voice, her rude mannerisms and her brash attitude is always there in the classroom. She’s always answering the teacher’s questions, always talking in discussions, always exaggerating her reactions like she’s in a drama performance. Not to mention her friends: a bunch of girls known for their academic prowess yet unapproachability for their unique personality quirks, a group Yan thankfully has little interaction with.

Frankly, she’s obnoxious.

And of all places, she’s here in his sanctuary, invading his space, and talking to him without even the most basic of greetings. It’s as if she thinks they’re already good friends despite having barely exchanged words in the three plus years they’ve known each other. There is no sense of shame, no sense of embarrassment in her face even as the small crowds nearby glance at them in curiosity. No sense of social awareness even as his face begins to flush from the attention.

Can you please get away—

‘Yes, I’m talking to you, stupid,’ Crystal presses closer. ‘Who else in here is reading that manga, Yan?’

She has successfully demolished every bit of privacy Yan might’ve thought he had in the bookstore.

‘... Yes, it’s Romance in the Walls,’ he answers defeatedly, placing down the book on the floor.

‘How was it?’

How was it? Does she think they’re best buddies after all that embarrassment she has put him through? To Yan, Crystal is nothing more than an acquaintance, someone he might’ve said ‘hi’ a couple weeks or months ago.

Besides, he had never seen her in the bookstore before. Just what is she doing here? Granted, the district is one of the more populous ones in the city, but also an older one dominated by working-class families or elderly couples. It’s not uncommon for people his age to visit bookstores like this one where they maintain a nostalgic but comfortable environment, but for a classmate to appear here of all places? Surely this is some insane coincidence?

‘Are you even listening?’ she barks.

‘I… guess it’s pretty nice,’ he finally answers. Jeez, give me a break!

‘Always slow with speaking, aren’t you? No wonder you don’t talk much in class.’

Not everyone’s a chatterbox like you… is what he’d like to say, but right now, his mouth is closed shut, only able to awkwardly maintain eye contact as he holds the book tightly in an attempt to calm himself.

‘Anyway, what are you even doing here?’ she asks.

I could ask the same for you. ‘I come here every Saturday morning,’ he explains. ‘As for how long… ever since my family moved in a year ago.’

‘Dude, what?’ Her face is visibly surprised (classic Crystal, he might add). ‘My uncle owns this bookstore. That clerk at the counter? My cousin. He told me there’s a guy who looks like a classmate, so I decided to pop by and see who it is. Didn’t expect to be you, though.’

Who did you expect? ‘Do you come by often?’

‘Barely during the school year, but every summer I spend at least a month here, helping out with shopkeeping and whatnot while living upstairs. You know, for pocket money.’

‘That explains your outfit. Are those your pyjamas or something?’

‘Do you think I’d go through the hassle of dressing like a princess just to do dirty work at the bookstore?’ Crystal scoffs. ‘Seriously, you should’ve kept your mouth shut like usual.’

‘So you finally realise how annoying talking back to people can be—’

Wait. Yan has rarely spoken this much, nevermind shooting back at Crystal Chung of all people. It’s not that he’s very fired up. Even if he is, he usually won’t talk back that stiffly, often just becoming a doormat and letting people step all over him. To suddenly speak like this is quite the terrifying, yet refreshing feeling. It’s as if a huge burden has been lifted off his shoulders, his lips unzipped to release the words he truly wanted to say.

‘— How does it feel to get a taste of your own medicine?’ he finishes.

Crystal looks at him in shock. Of course, this isn’t the usual Yan Yau, a boy who prefers to blend in with the crowd and avoid attention to himself, existing just for the sake of existing. This is someone else entirely, someone not even Yan himself can recognise.

‘I-I just came to ask you a question?’ she hastily responds. ‘What’s with this attitude? Do you have to be this rude?’

‘I’m literally just being who you are on a daily basis.’

‘Are you kidding me? I was just curious about what you’re reading and why you’re here of all places. And you respond like a kid throwing a tantrum? Are you even ok in the head?’

‘I don’t like being randomly approached, ok?’ Yan shouts. ‘I was just minding my own business like every other time I come here, and all of a sudden you show up and talk like you’ve known me for ages? Of course I’m gonna be pissed!’

‘We’ve literally been in the same class for three years! If you don’t want to be approached like that, go hide in your corner or something!’

‘This is my corner! And what do you do? Crash in and ruin the vibe like you always do in any conversation! I’ve seen how you talk in class. All you do is to interrupt people and make yourself the centre of attention!’

‘At least I don’t make myself invisible as if I don’t exist at all! You’re better off just not fucking existing and wasting space!’

‘What did you say, you bitch—’

‘You two, calm down.’

A middle-aged man stands between Yan and Crystal, his slightly plump body establishing a barrier, blocking the two from hurling further insults. Although he’s only around the height of Yan and a little shorter than Crystal, the man’s presence is enough to establish control before the fires of anger overwhelm the other customers.

‘This might not be a library, but it’s not a boxing ring either,’ the man says, looking at Crystal while an outstretched arm blocks Yan from going any closer. ‘It’s not ok to make such noise, especially not in my place.’

Snapped out of his anger, Yan finally realises…

I messed up.

Memo Alfonso
Peace Sign
Cherry Star
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