The bliss that resonates in your presence
Ignites the flames that radiates
Deep in my heart
From the echoing echoing words you whispered,
from the twinkling twinkling in your eyes
I sensed a slight and different movement
That halo of yours is so brilliant
—From the lyrics of “Starlight Keeper” by Momocashew.
[ Fascination ]
Norman is fascinated with Ray.
He doesn’t remember when it all had started—when he starts to find Ray so fascinating, when he unconsciously starts to observing the dark haired boy so often. All he knows is, the little laughs Ray sometimes let out, the cheeky grin Ray often exchanges with him, the soft smiles Ray very, very rarely show to anyone, it all becomes little precious moments he’s so fascinated with that he collects in his memory. Even the cute little pout Ray makes every time he finds the words he hasn’t yet to understand in the book he’s reading, or the adorable frown on Ray’s face every time he’s just some steps away from beating Norman in chess, Norman is fascinated with it all.
Norman begins to think that Emma’s silliness finally has started rubbing on him, after all these years.
Before, Norman thought that Emma was the most fascinating of them all. No, she still is, Of course, with those incredible amount of contagious joy and endless energy of hers that can’t help but draw everyone around her in to her presence.
But no, Ray is different. What makes Ray fascinating is really different than Emma’s. Norman knows, Norman understands at least that much—even though he doesn’t understand the reason and cause behind it yet. Because Emma isn’t fascinating in the way that draws Norman’s attention so often to her little gestures—unlike how Ray is. Because Emma isn’t fascinating in the way that’s making Norman eager to memorize every little details of her every rare precious expressions—unlike how Ray is.
Norman is so, so unbelievably curious. What is with this newfound fascination? What is with this sudden burst of eagerness? What is this certain feeling that he gets whenever he’s observing everything that is Ray’s?
Of course, Norman is no fool. He has his own suspicions. A hypothesis that makes his face warm whenever he thinks about its possibility. But Norman is reluctant to ask anyone. To ask Mama, to ask Emma- wait. Especially not Emma. Because Emma is kind and playful and observant. So, so playful and observant that Emma might just confirms his suspicions and then start teasing him about it all the time. …Well, no, Emma’s not that evil. But still.
So Norman does the most logical thing. That is, to just keep these newfound discoveries all to himself. For now, at least.
“Nooormaaan…! You’re spacing out again!”
In front him, Emma, in all her 140 cm height glory of a 8 years old body, is pouting and stares down at him as if he has just stolen her favorite dessert.
Norman smiles at her sheepishly. “I’m sorry, Emma. What was the story you were telling me again? Oh, wait. It’s the one about the merfolk, right?”
“Nooo! As I thought, you’re not paying attention, ugh! It’s about those snakes that come to life from a stone! The snake of- uh- of….al- al-something!”
“’The snake of al-something’?”
“Uhhh, don’t tease me! I just forgot the name.” Emma is pouting again.
Norman laughs at the girl’s antic. “I’m sorry, Emma. Come on. I’ll hear your story properly this time. Promise!”
But Emma is still pouting. “No. You’ll just start spacing out again in a few minutes.”
“Eeh? You don’t believe me? Even though I have promised?”
“Well, you always get like that whenever Ray isn’t around after all.”
If Norman was drinking right now, he probably would’ve choked and spilled the water all over Emma.
“W-what? What are you talking about, Emma? Me getting like what?”
“Don’t even bother to deny it.” Emma rolls her eyes and flops down beside him. “You miss Ray, don’t you? You’re always spacing out and wearing gloomy expression like that whenever Ray’s getting sick. Or whenever Ray’s too invested in his books to play with anyone. Or whenever Ray disappears to that hiding spot that he never tell us where doing whatever he also refused to tell us about.”
For once in a very rare moment, Norman is speechless. Wow, Emma is way more observant than he initially thought.
“I mean, I’m not teasing you about it or anything. Nat also gets like that whenever Anna is getting sick. And Anna gets sick a lot lately. Poor them.”
Emma then twirls her strands in her fingers and looks at him with unreadable expression.
“Ray isn’t sick. I checked the infirmary earlier. I think he’s cooped up with his books in the library again since morning. It’s been sooo many hours! It’s not healthy right? Norman, I think you should check up on him, after all,” Emma tells him with obvious concern in her voice.
Norman smiles at her and gets up. “Got it.”
“I would love to drag him out myself, but Ray always gets super angry if I disturb his reading.” Emma pouts again.
Norman laughs and reaches out to ruffle Emma’s hair before heading out to the library.
Ray jumps from the sudden whisper beside his ear.
Norman finds the boy burying himself over a very thick book at the most secluded corner of their library. Ah, of course. That’s just so Ray.
“What are you reading?”
Ray doesn’t answer, only tilts his book up a bit so Norman can reads the title.
Electromagnetic Theory and Transmission Lines.
Norman hums internally. That, also, is so Ray.
Ray has always been interested in books that have anything to do with engineering and machinery. Ray seems so passionate about it, and it’s something Norman never really understands—Ray isn’t really a passionate person in anything else after all.
“What is it about?” Norman asks.
“Theories about electromagnetic and transmission lines,” Ray says, pretty much quoting the book’s title itself.
“Why are you so interested in this book? It’s not like we’re going to build any transmission tower or something around here.”
Ray lets out a deep sigh, a sign that he isn’t in the mood to be bothered with questions today.
“What are you sticking here for? Go play hide-and-seek with Emma and the others.”
“Mhm…sometimes I like being in quiet places too, you know?”
Sometimes I just like watching you in silence.
“Well, in that case, sometimes I like being able to read comfortably alone too, you know?”
Norman laughs. “I know. I’ve known Ray for more than eight years here after all.”
Only then does Ray lift his eyes off the book. He raises an eyebrow at Norman.
“Well, I know that. But,” Norman continues, “I don’t think I should leave you alone this time. Else you might keep continue with your reading until you pass out here.”
Ray scoffs. “Emma sends you here, doesn’t she? I see her peeking here more than a few times just this past hour.”
Norman laughs. “That’s just Emma for you. She’s just worried.”
Then, scooting in closer and purposely leaning up his head onto Ray’s shoulder, he says more quietly, “Me too… Whenever Ray gets like this, I’m worried too.”
Ray tenses up a few seconds before relaxing again and letting his body leans a bit into Norman’s. Norman closes his eyes and breathes deeply, savoring Ray’s scent. Ray has a unique calming scent, but he can’t really describe it.
We can just fall asleep here like this, Norman thinks.
They have been doing that too often—he and Ray, and often Emma too, tangled up sleeping together in random places—that everyone now are just too exasperated and given up on telling them that they have each their own perfectly comfortable and functional beds here.
“You shouldn’t worry too much about me,” Ray says after a while of silence. “I can take care of myself just fine. There are much more exciting things to be thinking about than my health, anyway.”
“Like…I don’t know. Dinosaurs fun facts? Where giraffes live? How to bake the cookies without burning the oven down?”
Norman rolls his eyes, even though Ray can see it right now from his position.
“Dinosaurs are supposed to be dead from this world millions years ago. Emma is the only one here who’s excited about giraffes, and it wasn’t me who burned the cookies last week. It was Don.”
“Are you here solely to bother me with these silly things?” Ray says instead.
Getting up and move so he can face Ray, Norman pushes Ray’s book down gently to force Ray’s focus on to him. “I don’t know what your idea of ‘I can take care of myself’ is, but I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t include severely exhaustion from lack of sleep on your part.”
Ray widens his eyes. Norman smiles sadly.
“I notice it, you know. The bags under your eyes. The way whenever I wake up in the middle of night your bed is often empty. Your face becoming paler each day, and you have barely any energy to focus on anything that aren’t tests or reading these books. How can you say that I shouldn’t be worried?”
Ray avoids his eyes and looks to the side, seemingly at loss at what to say.
Norman is silently studying the expression on Ray’s face when suddenly an idea hit him.
“Let’s make a deal, Ray!” Norman says cheerfully, probably too cheerfully that it comes out as eerie. But well.
“What deal?” Ray asks warily.
“My birthday is in two days,” he begins. Ray nods, signaling that he remembers.
“Stay away from any books for a whole day that day and spend time playing with me instead. If you do that, I promise I won’t bother you in the library for a whole week.”
Ray blinks. “Well, it isn’t like your presence really bothers me. Usually. But I won’t say no to a peaceful reading time without your nosy questions every few minutes.”
“Wha– ‘Nosy’?!” Norman pouts and Ray smirks at him.
“Fine, I’ll take you on your deal,” Ray finally says. Norman beams up happily.
“But for now, go find a book you actually like and stop bothering me with my books.”
They spend the rest of the afternoon reading, until they both dozed off tangled up with each other under one of the library staircases and Emma eventually wakes them up at night for dinner.