“And for the last group… Richard, Yvonne, Hubert and Lisa.” Mrs Gill barked out the last grouping and scanned the class with a gaze that pierced Yvonne’s heart. “If there is no objections, all of you can get up and look for your other group members and begin work now.”
Yvonne did not dare to raise a finger against Mrs Gill but silently, she wished she had objected. The students around her left their seats and grabbed their belongings and scrambled in every direction. However, Yvonne remained seated, hesitant to meet her group members, especially Richard, whom she had an uncomfortable history with.
“Hi, are you Yvonne?” A voice came from behind her. “Your name card says so.”
She turned to face a chubby boy with tousled wavy hair who was gesturing towards the name card on her desk. Every student had one.
“My name is Hubert. And this is…” Hubert gestured towards the pair that stood beside him, “Richard and Lisa.”
For some reason, the sight of Richard made Yvonne’s brain decide to cease all cognitive functions. It was not until Lisa extended her hand that Yvonne regained composure and gave it a shake. Richard followed suit, and Yvonne was surprised to see her own hand stretch out to answer. In a tragic miscommunication between brain and motor functions, Yvonne’s hand dangled in the air after Richard withdrew from the handshake. Taking this as an opportunity, Hubert took the hand and shook it as how an overly eager kid would with an unopened gift.
“Nice to meet you, Yvonne! I heard you’re great at this class, let’s find a seat somewhere and get started, shall we?” Hubert said as he let go.
Throughout the meeting’s duration, Yvonne sat opposite Richard. She secretly kept eyeing him while maintaining sufficient eye contact with whoever was speaking at the time. Oddly, he did not seem to return the interest. In fact, he seemed to be pretending to not know her at all.
Richard was intensely focused on the discussion and was trying his best not to bother with Yvonne or her equally intense gaze that she seemed determined to hold throughout their short meeting. He decided to brush it off with an attempt at forcing her to speak instead.
Hubert and Lisa were deciding between presenting on the topic of mergers and acquisitions or social organizations. Richard cut in.
“I think merger and acquisitions are particularly interesting.” Richard was intrigued about the conflicts that arose whenever two companies merged. “I think there is a lot to explore regarding the possibility of conflict and how companies successfully overcome it. What do you think, Yvonne?”
Hearing her own name from Richard’s mouth only made Yvonne realize how foreign it sounded as it rolled off Richard’s tongue. It lacked all the emotions, expression and longing that had once been the way she was accustomed to. A deep, throbbing pain began somewhere within her chest that numbed her entire esophagus. Her lungs expanded, expecting air, but she could not inhale, and she choked on the void that also seemed to have swallowed her voicebox.
“Yvonne? Are you okay?” Yvonne’s pain was evident to all at the table, albeit the rest only perceived it as a strange peculiar discomfort. Richard’s eyes were blankly staring at her, but as her gaze met his, she saw a flicker of concern, which was met by a flicker of rage.
How dare he utter my name as if all the time we spent together was wasted and for naught!?
“I’ll tell you what I think.” She inhaled deeply for the torrent of words she could feel building up and clambering relentlessly to be let loose.
Hubert began to squeak as his groupmate found her lost voice, “Well, that’s great then! I was getting worried-”
But Yvonne cut him off. “I think the conflict in merger and acquisition is an excellent idea. And you know why? Because there are so many ways to deal with it. Some companies address their differences. They talk it out, and they settle on a compromise. And some companies-“ Yvonne stared pointedly at Richard, “Some companies simply ignore it. They pretend they’re one big company and then they go about doing their own shit ignorantly without giving a single fuck about the employees from the other company. And what happens to those employees’ feelings? They get hurt. They don’t like it there. They feel like killing themselves. They-”
The torrent ended just as quickly as it began and Yvonne was barely holding back her tears.
“I need to go to the toilet.”
She stood up and left. The three remaining students stared at her seat. Hubert afraid, Lisa worried, and Richard a turmoil of emotions. Yvonne’s outburst had caught the attention at some of the students at nearby tables too.
Lisa was the first to move. “I should go check on her.”
Richard reacted. “No. Let me.”
Richard followed the echoes of sobbing that brought him to the emergency stairwell, where Yvonne was found bawling her eyes out until they resembled swollen tennis balls with slits. Instinctively, Richard’s hand acted before his brain did and it stretched out to wrap around Yvonne’s shoulders, but he withdrew it at the last moment. He was not sure if she still appreciated gestures like these.
to be continued