A whole month had passed and he was still yet to make even a single friend, no matter how he tried it was like the other students had been instructed to ignore him. Tin felt there was a quiet irony to it since he was currently sitting in his sociology class, it was at that moment the teacher announced that they would be entering a pen pal program and everyone would be partnered at random with someone else around the world. After six months of exchanging letters or more accurately emails with their pen pals they would have to do a report on their culture. Rolling his eyes Tin opened up his current novel and continued to read it as the teacher walked around handing out their login details for the pen pal site and a short profile on their designated pen pal.
When the teacher reached him Tin sat his book down and looked at the person he was assigned "I thought the point of this was to learn about other cultures" Tin directed at his teacher before she could move on.
"Yes Mr Medthanan, that is the idea" Tin couldn't tell if her smile was forced because she was annoyed or because she was tired.
"The profile says this guy is Thai" Tin picked up the paper and held it out towards his teacher expecting her to swap it over to someone else.
Instead she blinked at him "do you not want to learn about other Asian cultures?"
Tin couldn't believe the accusatory look on her face or the confidence she seemed to have in her word "I'm from Thailand" Tin expected her to click but there seemed to be some form of mental wall she wasn't getting over "which means I'm also Thai"
"Yes Mr Medthanan but he is Thai from Taiwan" Tin didn't know if he should laugh or not.
"That's not right" hearing someone in the class mumble to their desk mate that they had thought Tin was Korean he decided to let it go "fine, maybe he is from a different socioeconomic background. I'm sure that will still get the point of this lesson across" Tin dropped the page back onto the desk in front of him.
The teacher watched Tin for a moment before moving on.
Back in his dorm Tin logged on to the pen pal site using the login details the teacher had handed out. After resetting the password Tin set about filling out his profile. Looking at his assigned pan pal's printout again Tin rolled his eyes, under hobbies the guy had listed food and football. It didn't really give Tin much to connect to but he did like the look of the dog in the profile picture, though he assumed it was randomly selected from the internet. After the five minutes of effort he put in to his own profile Tin opened up the messenger page.
Dear Pen pal
It is cold and shitty here.
From I wish I was back home
Can had been excited when his teacher had announced that they would be entering a pen pal program, he deflated however when he found out it was to improve their English skills so they would have to communicate only in English. Creating a profile had been fun but frustrating, at least he got to use a picture of Gucci for his profile, it was that or his favorite football team. It took a little over a week for Can to find out that he had gotten a pen pal. In his excitement he had opened the message, it was short which Can was thankful for because his English still needed a lot of work. When he did work out what it said a confused frown filled his face. Going back he found out the the person he was matched with was also Thai but was studying in England. Apparently the person liked to read and didn't like where he was.
Why are you there if you hate it so much?
Tin blinked at his computer screen, the guy actually responded and unless it was a weird screen name he now knew the guys name.
It's not out of choice. My brother convinced my parents it would be good for me. All it was good for was sending me away.
I like the dog in your profile picture, very cute.
Since we are friends you should probably know my name too.Tin
Tin hit send before he could change his mind. The moment it was gone Tin felt the weight on his heart lighten slightly making him grow impatient for his pen pal's response.
It took a few days of Tin continually logging in to check his account before he got a response.
Sorry about the delay, my English isn't very good so it took a while to work out what you said and to respond.
I don't get why your family would want to send you away but keep your head up. Put your energy into showing them up!
And of course he is cute, he is my baby.
Fighting! From Cantaloupe
Tin felt a smile split his face. For the first time in months something made him happy and he was determined to keep it. Tin took to writing his letters in both English and Thai, this was to both help his pen pal learn English and also to help with speedy replies. Over the following months their responses became longer, more often and if Tin were honest with himself intimate. Tin knew everything there was to know about Cantaloupe and in return he had told Cantaloupe everything about himself, even the things he hated to admit. His photo collection of Cantaloupe and his friends was slowly growing with his favorites being added to his phone.
He had been in England for nearly a year when his life got turned upside down, he hadn't wanted to go to the party and when he saw that they were doing drugs he had tried to leave but had been held back by his friends. The same friends that were nowhere to be seen when the cops started taking people in and even less present when Tin's parents came to take him home.
I don't know what to do, I didn't do what the news papers are saying about me and now my parents have came to the school and the people I had thought were my friends wont even back me up. What's worse is that my drug test came back and it showed I am clean but my parents still don't believe me, they don't trust me.
I'm coming back to Thailand, I don't know for how long but do you think we can meet up?
I could really use my friend.
Looking at the words he had put on the page Tin couldn't bring himself to press send. He felt like he would disappoint Cantaloupe like he had disappointed everyone else and truthfully he wouldn't be able to deal with it if Cantaloupe also didn't believe him. It was just that he cared about how Cantaloupe saw him, he just couldn't work out why. When he was finally home and in his own room laying on his bed staring up at his ceiling he got a message he hadn't expected. His old friend Pete was reaching out to him, he had done so when Tin was first sent away but Tin had been the one to let the connection die. Now that he was offered a second chance he was going to make sure not to mess it up again.
Pete was a sweet as ever and while Tin had grown cold and cynical after what had happened in England Pete stuck by him, even when the rest of their social group kept whispering behind his back. Tin couldn't bring himself to tell Pete about it when he found out his own brother had been the puppet master behind the drug scandal and through it all he had left his pen pal account inactive. With every passing day he was more and more convinced that Cantaloupe would be disappointed, if not for the scandal it would be because Tin had turned his back on him.
A few months passed and Pete and Tin were walking around their new campus getting welcomed by seniors in the International College Department. Growing tired of pretending like he wanted to be there meeting his new classmates Tin decided to check out some of the other faculties. Not that he expected to meet anyone in particular but he headed to the Sports Science building. There was quite a large ruckus growing louder as he got closer, coming to the front of the building Tin felt his jaw drop as he saw a figure he had only ever seen in pictures moving around yelling and dancing along with his seniors. Cantaloupe's movements weren't all that graceful but they were full of energy as his happiness rolled off him and infected those around him. Tin's eyes were so transfixed on Cantaloupe's bright smile that he missed the figure approach him, he still didn't notice them until he felt a tug on his sleeve.
Pulling away Tin stared at the boy who now had his attention, there was something very familiar about his inquisitive look and knowing smirk. "Come join me Ai Good!" Tin heard Cantaloupe's voice for the first time as his brain clicked, the boy in front of him was Cantaloupe's best friend. He should have know, he was in most of the photos Cantaloupe had sent him "are you making a new friend?" Cantaloupe's voice was so close now and Tin wasn't sure if the heat he felt coming form Cantaloupe's body was from the exercise or if he was just acutely aware of his being there.
Tin watched frozen as Good shook his head "Ai Can isn't this Ai Tin?" even though Good's voice had been soft and slow it had hit Tin like a freight train.
"Ai Tin is in England" Can said though curiosity had him move next to Good so that he could take a look at the guy. "Wow you really look like a friend of mine" Can grabbed Tin cheeks pinching and pulling them like he expecting Tin's face to be a mask.
"I am a friend of yours Ai Cantaloupe" Tin said quietly to Can while his cheeks were getting squished.
Jumping back Can bumped into Good as his eyes widened in shock "when did you get back? Why didn't you tell me? Why have you been ignoring my messages?"
Tin started to panic when he saw the tears form in the corners of Cantaloupe's eyes. When others started looking their way Tin grabbed Cantaloupe's wrist pulling him away from the curious group to somewhere private.
Standing under the football field bleachers Can could feel tears burning the backs of his eyes. Can couldn't tell if it was hurt or anger that was creating them but either way it was Tin's fault. Finally looking up at him Can felt it all wash away, Tin looked so sad and guilty that Can didn't have it in him to hold a grudge. "I'm so sorry Ai Cantaloupe, some things happen and I just didn't know how to tell you"
"I already know Ai Tin, it made it into the news papers here" Can reached up cupping Tin's cheek with his free hand "tell me what really happened"
Tin's eyes snapped up to Can's in surprise "what? You don't believe what was in the papers?"
"I know you Ai Tin, probably better then I know anyone else. Of course I don't believe what the papers said" the moment Can's words were out Tin pulled him into a hug pressing his nose in to the shorter boys hair.
"Thank you Cantaloupe" Tin's arms squeeze a little tighter "I'm sorry I ran away" Tin felt his heart swell when Can returned Tin's embrace.
"What's going on Nong?" Tin and Can jumped apart when a deep voice interrupt them.
"P'Type" Can wanted to thump Type for the strange smile he had on his face that seemed to know far too much.
"If you two are going to have this lovers thing maybe choose somewhere more private"
"We're not lovers P'Type, Ai Tin and I are friend" Can tried to step towards Type but Tin stopped him with a gentle hand on his arm.
"I have to go, I'll call you later" as Can watched Tin walk away he couldn't understand why he seemed so down when he had been happy and hugging him moments ago.
As Tin walked away it felt like there was a hand holding his heart a little too tightly. Tin found Pete again thankful that the day was coming to an end the best friends walked their way to their cars. Curious about the strange air around his best friend Pete kept a watchful eye on Tin as he seemed distracted "is something going on Ai Tin?"
Looking over at Pete Tin was met with concern "no, nothing. I'm just thinking about some stuff" Tin's eyes flicked towards the football field.
Pete had given Tin a strange look and a tight lipped smile before they had parted ways, leaving Tin to think about everything he was keeping from Pete as he headed to his car. Once safely inside it, Tin pulled out his phone and called Can. He only had to wait a couple of rings before Can answered "can we finish talking?"
"Have you left school yet?" Can's response hadn't really been an answer.
"I'm about to, I'm in my car" Tin felt strangely hopeful.
"Where are you parked?" Can sounded rushed and a bit odd to Tin's ear.
"Behind the science building, but I can com-"
"Wait right there" Tin's words had been cut off by Can's, he didn't get a chance to try again because the next thing he knew was that Can had hung up and he was left to wait. It didn't take long before the passenger door was flung open and a sweaty out of breath Can had dropped into the seat. "Is everything okay, you kind of took off earlier"
"I didn't want to create a misunderstanding between you and that senior" Tin knew it was a lie but he still didn't know why he had felt the need to leave at that time. But having Can beside him again made things feel right.
"P'Type was just teasing us, after you left he felt bad for making you uncomfortable" Can fiddled with the strap of his bag as it sat on the floor at his feet.
"It's okay, P'Type didn't make me feel uncomfortable" just has fidgety Tin played with the buttons on the steering wheel.
Looking at him out of the corner of his eye Can had to hide his smile at finding Tin cute. Quickly covering himself Can cleared his throat "you wanted to talk"
"Yeah, did you want to go to a cafe or something?" Tin asked turning the engine on and buckling himself in.
"I know a place we can go" Can smiled before pulling his own seat belt on.
Tin followed Can's directions paying more attention to having the one person he had counted on the past year next to him then where he was being directed to. "If you pull up here on the right" Can said pointing to a light blue slatted gate.
Climbing out of the car Tin looked around at the street confused as it looked to only contain houses. Seeing Cantaloupe disappearing through the gate Tin quickly followed his face splitting with a smile as a shaggy dog came bounding up to them. Dropping to his knees Tin reached out as the dog jumped into him "hey Gucci, it's great to finally meet you" Tin laughed as he rubbed at the excited dogs fur then looked at Can who was smiling down at him "you brought me to your house?"
"Less chance of us getting interrupted and I thought you would like to meet Gucci, you have asked for enough of his photos" Can crouched down to join Tin in scuffing up his fur. Both boys paused when their hands collided and fingers slipped between each others. Gucci's loud bark brought them back into themselves resulting in the two boys pulling their hands apart as blushes coloured their cheeks.
Tin and Can quickly stood putting some space between them "um, why don't we head inside" Can said scratching the back of his neck.
Walking into Cantaloupe's lounge room Tin glanced around and had to stifle a surprised gasp at the photo of baby Cantaloupe showing his naked bum to the camera. Picking up the photo frame next to it Tin smiled at Can covered in mud smiling at the camera as he held up a trophy. Tin assumed it meant the Can had won the grand final of his high school football match and felt a pang of guilt for not already knowing. The letter informing him of the win was probably in his inbox still unopened "what are you looking at?" Tin jumped slightly at having been caught in his thoughts.
"Congratulation on winning your grand final Ai Cantaloupe" Tin said tilting the photo towards Can.
"Your voice is completely different to how I thought it might sound, it's a bit deeper then I expected" Can said gently taking the photo frame from Tin's hand "I did send you a message letting you know" Can's sad voice made Tin drop into the couch next to him.
"I'm sorry Ai Cantaloupe, I didn't know how to tell you, I didn't want you of all people to be disappointed in me" Tin said to the floor knowing that he would have to tell Cantaloupe everything if he wanted the boys forgiveness.
"Ai Tin" Can said softly as he cupped Tin's cheek like he had done when they had met earlier forcing Tin to look at him "I don't think you could ever disappoint me"
Tin searched Can's eyes and found that there was nothing but the truth in them just like every letter he has ever sent. "What did the news paper report?" Tin asked wanting to see how much of the story Can had heard.
"Just that you had been arrested for drug use at a party that was raided by the police" Can said softly as his thumb rubbed across Tin's cheek.
Letting out a deep sad breath Tin felt tears sting the back of his eyes "that is true but I didn't take any drugs, I've never taken taken drugs. I hadn't even been at the party for five minutes when the police arrived and I was arrested. They tested me and it proved that I was clean but my parents don't believe me, they only care that I have tarnished the Medthanan name" this time when Can's thumb rubbed across Tin's cheek it collected a tear.
"There is something you're not telling me" Can used his free hand to push Tin's hair out of his face "we don't keep things from each other Ai Tin"
Cantaloupe's encouraging tone completely captivated Tin making him feel safe and cared for which he hadn't felt for a long time "I found out after my parents brought me home that it was my brother Tul that had done it"
Confused Can's brow scrunched as he tried to work through Tin's words "what do you mean Tul did it?"
"He paid the kids to befriend me and take me to the party. He was the one that called the police and let the media here know what had happened. He did it all to make sure the family business would go to him" Tin finally let his devastation overtake him now that he was wrapped in Can's arms getting held by the only person who had been by his side for the past year.
"I don't get it, you don't even want your families company. Why did he come after you, why does he have to hurt you like this?" Tin could feel Can's grip getting tighter as anger built in his voice "if I ever meet him I'm got to beat him up. I'm going to kick his ass so hard that he will be buried so deep in the ground he will struggle to climb out"
Tin pulled out of Can's hold but kept a grip on the hem of his shirt like a life line "why are you so mad about this?"
"Because he hurt you, he hurt my Tin" Can clenched and un-clenched his fist before pushing to his feet only not moving away because of Tin's hold on is shirt.
"Cantaloupe....." Tin's words were cut off by the front door being thrown open by a whirlwind of a girl who dropped her bag breezing by them and into the kitchen as she talked. Tin knew it was Cantaloupe's little sister Lemon and just like seeing Good and Cantaloupe for the first time it felt so surreal. Quickly getting to his feet Tin let go of Can's shirt and cleaned the tears off his face before Lemon could see them.
"P'Can why is all the juice gone? Couldn't you have at least saved me some?" Lemon said slamming the fridge shut and turned to see Can standing next to a tall handsome boy she had never seen before. Almost tripping over herself Lemon run up to Can "who is this P'Can" Lemon asked pulling Can closer to her.
"This is Ai Tin" Can said and to Tin's surprised seemed to straighten with pride.
Lemon took a moment to study Tin making him feel conscious of her searching stare, he shifted in discomfort as he felt incompetent somehow "is he the one from the photos in your room?"
Tin's eyes widened in shock as Lemon's words played over in his head. Cantaloupe has his photo in his room, it wasn't really strange Tin guessed seeing as how had photos of Cantaloupe on his phone. "N'Lay don't you have homework to do?" Can asked through clenched teeth annoyed that Lemon had let Tin know about the photos and worried that Lemon might spout more.
"Yeah my English assignment" Lemon already sounded defeated by it "can't you help me P'Can, you got really good at English all of a sudden" Lemon whined pulling on Can's arm.
Seeing Cantaloupe giving her an indulging smile Tin could tell that she thought she had won "I can help you by checking it over once you have done it and show you where you went wrong and how" Can's smile shifted into something cheeky.
"P'CAN!!!" Lemon wailed before storming off upstairs leaving Tin and Can alone again.
"Why is everyone calling you Can?" Tin asked the moment he heard Lemon slam a door somewhere upstairs.
Scruffing up the back of his hair Can shifted from foot to foot "because that's the name I started using when people started teasing me for being named Cantaloupe"
"But I like your name" Tin said before he could stop himself but seeing Can quickly shift his eyes to him Tin tried to cover for his slip of the tongue "should I call you Can? I don't want to cause any problems for you so I will call you Can. It might take some time for me to get use to it because I have only ever known you as Cantaloupe so I'm sorry if I slip and call you the wrong name"
While Tin was babbling Can had moved back in front of him. Can grabbed a hold on Tin's hand to stop him from continuing "it's fine, I like that you call me Cantaloupe" Can's words had sounded so sweet and Tin could feel the warmth from their joined hands spreading up his arm and through his body.
Tin shifted, leaning through the space between them as his eyes locked on Cantaloupe's lips, a hesitance had him pausing until Cantaloupe tilted his head and lent in himself. Tin's breath ghosted on Can's lips as the sound of the door opening again had the boys jumping apart, this time with bright red faces.
After an awkward meeting with Cantaloupe's mother Tin had politely excused himself before heading home. Safely inside of his own room with his bedroom door securely locked Tin began to pace the length of his room 'what the hell was that you idiot, did you seriously try to kiss him? Why? You aren't into guys, you have never had a crush on a guy before' Tin thought to himself as his steps picked up speed 'but Cantaloupe isn't like anyone else, he is friendly and kind and loyal. He didn't get mad that you ignored him the last couple of months and he has been waiting for you to tell him what really happened instead of believing the news papers like everyone else did. He got mad when he found out what Tul did' Tin paused as he rewound his thoughts then quicker then he had ever moved before Tin crossed the room and all but threw himself into his desk chair and opened his laptop. Without missing a beat Tin was logged into his pen pal profile and begun reading his letters from Cantaloupe.
The first one had been just before he had gone to the party, it was a quick catch up on how school and his friends were going and just checking in on how Tin was and how he was going with his new friends. The next one was dated a couple of days later it was full of concern as the news had come out about Tin's arrest. The bulk of the letter was just Cantaloupe asking if he was okay and letting Tin know that he didn't believe anything the papers had published. The next letter had been a couple of weeks later Cantaloupe was trying to check in and see how Tin was coping and offering a friendly shoulder while almost pleading with Tin to let him know that he was okay. The next one was almost a month later, Cantaloupe told Tin about winning the grand final and there attached to the email was the photo Tin had been holding at Cantaloupe's house earlier in the evening. The letter finished with Cantaloupe asking again if Tin was okay and asking for the boy to just let him know that he was fine. The last letter was almost a full two months after the previous one and nearly broke Tin, if he hadn't already felt guilty before he definitely would now.
I think this will be my last letter to you, I will try to make it my last letter but I can't bring myself to promise to leave it here.
I want you to know that I still don't believe what was in the papers, that it NOT the Tin I know. That is not my Tin. You are a much better and stronger person than to do any of the things they have written about you. I know we have never met in person but I know you Tin and until you yourself tell me differently I am going to continue to believe that you are a great person, a great man. One that has shown me how truly kind and wonderful you are.
I didn't think I would go to University but thanks to your help and support I got into LBC University. Where I will be thankful everyday that I am becoming a better person for having had you in my life to help get me there. You will always hold a special place in my heart and I hope that I will one day hear from you if for no other reason then to find out that you are safe and healthy.
With all my heart,