Refraction n: the bending of a ray when it passes slantwise from medium into another in which its speed is different.
It has been about a month since the end of the second Europan War. Ever since the decisive battle against Maximillian and the explosion of the Empire's mammoth the Marmota, life has once again become peaceful. Reconstruction has begun not only in my country Gallia but also in the Empire, our former enemy's country. Despite the heavy destruction in both of our countries, reconstruction has been moving along smoothly, and the people's shock has worn off. As for what became of Welkin and me after that…
The sun overhead beat down upon me as I stood outside in my small yard. I sighed as I continued to hang the damp, if not slightly heavy, laundry to dry on the short, taut clothesline. It has not only been a month since the war's end but also since that fateful day that Welkin had proposed to me. Or at least that's what I thought it was. Welkin hasn't really said anything about our relationship ever since then. Once I had finished hanging up the final shirt in the basket, I yawned and stretched tiredly. It wasn't even halfway through the day and I was already exhausted. Glancing at the clock, I realized that it was almost time for lunch and that Welkin would be stopping back home for a moment to eat soon. I hurriedly picked the basket up from the grass, set it down by the back door, and propelled myself into the kitchen. I grabbed my apron off of the hook and put it on while rushing to fetch some pans.
Pushing back all of my prior thoughts, I set to work putting the dough I had made this morning into the oven to bake. I sat down at the small table thoughtfully, the feeling of fatigue starting to set in. Thoughts of our "engagement" continued to plague my mind, though. I'd wanted to talk to Welkin about it before, but he was always at the university, studying at home, or observing the wildlife in the surrounding area. It almost felt like he didn't have any spare time to spend with me anymore. I stared at my left hand forlornly; it was devoid of a ring to mark our engagement. A dejected sigh left my lips at the thought.
We may live in the same house at the moment, but it felt like we were worlds apart. Our house was small and modest; we were only going to live here in the capital Randgriz for a while because Welkin still needed to complete his studies at the university. The national certification exam that I needed to take to become a baker was here in Randgriz as well. As much as Welkin and I wanted to return to our hometown of Bruhl, we knew that our obligations here had to come first. Time flew by as I thought about our circumstances, and before I knew it, it was already time to take the bread out of the oven. I hastily put on my oven mitts and carefully pulled the pans of bread out. Another quick look at the clock told me that Welkin would be home any moment.
This was my chance! I could voice my concerns to him and end this awkward chapter in our relationship. The unease I felt would be fixed, and I could stop being depressed. Everything would be – The sound of the door opening and closing interrupted my erratic train of thought, and Welkin's cheerful voice rang through our small home.
"Alicia, I'm back!" Welkin poked his head into the kitchen and visibly brightened. "Oh! You made some bread."
I snapped up to face him and instantly felt the courage drain out of my being. I couldn't bring myself to bring that up now. "Y-yeah, some nice, fresh bread… D-do you want some coffee to go with it?"
"Hmm, some coffee would be nice, I guess…" Welkin hung his bag on the chair and pulled it out to sit. He gave me a grateful smile and waited patiently for me to brew the coffee. I instinctively smiled back and fished around the cabinet for the coffee grounds. I checked where I would normally put it but didn't see it anywhere.
"Huh?" I checked the shelf space and scrutinized the countertops. "Did we run out?"
Welkin shook his head and continued to smile. "It's okay; I'll just eat and then head back for my afternoon classes."
I frowned at him. "I'll just go out and get some really quick, okay?" Before he could answer or protest, I shrugged off my apron, grabbed my purse, and was out the door.
The venture into town was boring and uneventful. The damage to Randgriz wasn't extensive, so most of the reconstruction in the capital was nearly complete. I didn't make any unnecessary stops to browse, but I did get some other things while I was out. I hurried back home once I had obtained the coffee grounds and a few other items we needed, but I was stopped short by a few of the neighborhood's wives at the corner. I almost snapped at them for delaying me, but I politely held my tongue. They might've had something important to tell me.
"My, my, Alicia... Where are you going in such a hurry?" one of the more elderly women asked me. Another one nodded her head in agreement.
"Yes, it's not like you have a husband to tend to…"
"Oh yes! Speaking of which, you should meet my son; I'm sure he would make a fine husband for you." The other women began to join in the conversation, talking about what "good" matches their sons or brothers were for me.
I felt my eyebrow twitch with irritation at their words. "Excuse me, but I'm actually already engaged…"
"What? Really?" the first woman questioned skeptically. The group of women closed in around me, all asking to see my ring. I shook my head impatiently.
"Yes, I really am. Now, if you'll excuse me…" But before I could sneak past the women, however, one of them gripped my shoulder.
"Now, now. If you don't want to meet my son, you don't need to make up excuses like that."
"Huh?" I turned back to the woman incredulously. "I'm not lying."
"Then where's your ring? A taken woman shouldn't be running around without a ring. It's improper."
I felt my face heat up with shame at her words. It wasn't my fault I didn't have a ring anymore. My original ring was a lion's paw flower that Welkin had fashioned into a ring. The flames of the Marmota, however, had scorched it. I had been upset, but I was more glad that the love of my life and I had made it out of the mess alive. I diverted my gaze and hesitantly answered, "I don't have one right now…"
I tightened my grip on my bag and practically ran the rest of the distance home before the women could comment further. As soon as I shut the door behind me, hot tears blurred my vision. I angrily wiped them away and walked into the kitchen to put away the groceries. Welkin was already gone.
I spent the rest of the day tidying up the house absentmindedly and preparing dinner. I couldn't deny that I was feeling depressed because of my earlier conversation. I habitually checked the clock every couple of minutes, restless and unable to wait for Welkin's return. After the food finished cooking and the table was set, I sat in front of the window, anxious for Welkin to walk through the door. He was unusually late that night. I could feel the loneliness eating away at me as the minutes passed.
When Welkin finally did walk through the door, I practically threw myself at him, overjoyed at the sight of him. Almost immediately, he wrapped his arms around me in return. In his arms, all of my problems disappeared; everything that had been worrying me today just seemed to disappear. I couldn't remember how long it had been since he last held me like this. I breathed in his scent happily, and noted that he was soaked with sweat. I let out a cough.
"W-were you running or something? You're all sweaty!" I hesitantly pulled away from him and ran to get him a damp cloth. I caught sight of his smile before I left the room.
"Yeah, something like that…" Welkin answered enigmatically. He followed after me and accepted the cool cloth graciously. "Thanks."
I couldn't shake the feeling that he was hiding something from me…
It has been close to a month since the fated conclusion of EW II. I lost my best friend Faldio after the final battle with Maximillian upon the Marmota, and I was barely able to escape in time with Alicia. It was thanks to Leon flying Isara's plane that we were able to make it out alive. In the time that has passed since then, I've gotten a small, temporary house in Randgriz with Alicia. We both figured that it would be easier to stay in Randgriz to take care of our individual obligations.
It had been over half a year since I had last attended class, but the subject matter was still fresh in my mind. I sat in class, fascinated by the professor's lecture about how the effects of war can affect ecosystems. Apparently, he thought that it was crucial that he go over it again because of the major war we had just ended. I wasn't about to complain about the interesting lectures, though. Once the professor dismissed us from class, I gathered my things and headed home. I had classes in the afternoon, but I still had enough time to go home, see Alicia, and grab a quick bite to eat.
The walk between the university and home was peaceful. Because the temperature had been dropping lately, less and less people lingered outside. When I approached my house, I saw that smoke rose from the chimney; Alicia must've been baking again. I felt a smile come to my face at the thought of her happily baking. I opened the door, and the smell of freshly baked bread hit me.
"Alicia, I'm back!" I called out to her. I followed the heavenly smell to the kitchen where Alicia most likely was. At the sight of her bread, I felt even happier. "Oh! You made some bread."
Alicia's face snapped up to meet mine suddenly. "Y-yeah, some nice, fresh bread… D-do you want some coffee to go with it?"
"Hmm, some coffee would be nice, I guess…" I walked over to the table, hung my bag, and took a seat. A gracious smile broke onto my face at her consideration and she seemed to smile back. I didn't really care if I had coffee, though. Just seeing Alicia's bustling form as she prepared it would be enough for me. We hadn't been seeing nearly enough of each other lately, so I savored the few moments we spent together.
Alicia seemed to sweep all through the cabinets and stared at the countertops. I raised an eyebrow at her behavior. "Huh? Did we run out?"
Seeing what was coming next, I shook my head at her. "It's okay; I'll just eat and then head back for my afternoon classes."
She frowned at me, much to my displeasure, and said, "I'll just go out and get some really quick, okay?"
Before I could protest or stop her, she was already out the door. I let out a sigh and turned back to the bread that she left behind. A "moink" behind me alerted me to Hans's presence; it was his lunchtime, too.
"Hey, Hans... What's up?" He pointed his nose at the bread on the table and gave a huffy "moioink" in response. I chuckled at the porcavian and offered him some of Alicia's bread. He happily took the offering. I followed his lead and began to eat Alicia's bread as well. Once I had eaten all of the bread that I could handle, I glanced at the clock and frowned. It was time for me to head back.
I gathered my things and headed out the door. I intended to go around the corner, but snippets of the conversation at hand there stopped me short. I didn't know why, but I felt the need to hide. I took cover behind the nearby bushes and listened in.
"If you don't want to meet my son, you don't need to make up excuses like that."
"Huh? I'm not lying." Wait… that was Alicia's voice…
"Then where's your ring? A taken woman shouldn't be running around without a ring. It's improper."
There was moment of silence before Alicia answered again. "I don't have one right now…"
I felt a pang of guilt in my heart at the tone of her voice. I could hear her quick footsteps pass by me and disappear into our house. Once I was sure the coast was clear, I left the bushes and headed toward the university. Partway there, however, I stopped. I felt that there was a more important task at hand. I changed direction and headed to the jeweler's shop. Without realizing it, I broke into a run.
I burst into the store and was surprised at the face I saw there.
"Hey boss! What brings you here?"
"L-Largo?!" I stepped back and did a double-take. What was Largo of all people doing here?
"Boss… Don't look at me like that. You're makin' me blush." Largo scratched at his chin for a moment before gripping my head in a powerful headlock. "Naw, jus' kiddin'."
"A-ah… Really…" I unhooked his arm and walked up to the display. I saw him move to follow me out of the corner of my eye. He appeared to be browsing the rings as well.
"Gettin' a ring for the missus, boss?" I felt my face heat up at Largo's words, but I nodded. He was right, after all.
"What about you, Largo?" I asked in return. Largo's face also seemed to take on a pinkish tint at the question.
"Gettin' a ring for Elle. By the way, boss… Don't you think it's a bit late to be getting the missus a ring? But, I guess it's better to do it late than not at all."
"Yeah… I can't believe I didn't notice for so long. Alicia must be mad at me for making her wait."
"I think she'd be happy jus' ta get one from you now. Don't sweat the details, boss."
After much deliberation, we were both able to find suitable rings. Largo's advice while we browsed had really made me think, though.
"Ya got that, boss? Ya gotta be more romantic with her," Largo had told me before we parted ways. I nodded reluctantly before tightening my hold on the small box. I took one look up the dark sky and realized that Alicia would be waiting for me at home.
I made sure the box was securely placed in my pocket before running straight home. The air was crisp and burned my lungs, but I continued onward. When our house came into view, I slowed to a brisk walk. The moment I walked through the door, a desperate Alicia rushed into my arms. I couldn't help but reciprocate her act and wrap my arms around her in return. I could feel her shaking within my embrace.
Alicia nuzzled into my chest but quickly pulled away with a cough. "W-were you running or something? You're all sweaty!" She left my side and ran into the bathroom. I followed after her without a second thought.
"Yeah, something like that…" I answered. I didn't want her to know why I had been running in the first place, though. I couldn't shake the suspicious look she shot me when she handed me the cool cloth.
I had the feeling that presenting the ring would take more than just my reckless impulse this time.
A/N: Okay, so I'm trying my hand at something more mature and serious this time around. At first, I was going to split the two points of view into separate chapters, but I think it works better to just split the chapters in half like this as two sides of the same thing. As the story goes on, it shouldn't be too hard to discern whose point of view it is.
Anyway, the title "Refraction" seems random, but if you actually sit down and think about it, it makes sense. I won't tell you, though, because it's good food for thought.