Here’s the problem: the house is haunted.
Tine has lived in it now for over a year, and he doesn’t know when it happened, but over the course of the last month and a half it has become very apparent to him that the house definitely, absolutely, 100% has a Bad Attitude.
Tine’s evidence for this is numerous. First of all, sometimes at night, when Wat isn’t there, Tine hears noises . Spooky noises. Like someone is walking around and using his face creams which he pays really good money for, actually. And secondly, things keep going wrong , somehow, little dumb things like glasses falling off the shelf on their own or Tine’s sixteen-step facecare regimen running out before it should or, for example, their stove lighting on fire for no reason at all.
He wanted to make joke with a fried egg, because that was Wat’s favorite. He was going to do a very good job, and Wat was going to look at him with his little — with the way that his face was, sometimes, when Tine said exactly the right thing by accident. And then Tine was going to say, “Hey, I love you,” very casual and very cool, because Tine was a casual and cool guy, and Wat would say, “Wow! What great news! I love you too,” and then he would push the joke dramatically aside and it would clatter to the floor and he would grab Tine’s chin in his hand and —
Well, anyway, instead of that, Tine had set the house on fire. A little. A tiny bit. Enough to really ruin Operation Breakfast, and also possibly their kitchen backsplash.
“Man can fix it,” Wat assures him, patting Tine’s head with the same kind of resigned air he uses when Tine’s mom comes to town and they have to sleep on the couch because Type refuses to let her stay with him and Man even though they have a whole extra guest bedroom. He does this because he is a vicious bastard, and Tine hates him. Maybe Type cursed the house. Maybe it’s the ghost of Type’s sense of humor.
“This ... was not the plan,” Tine says glumly.
“Well, that’s good,” says Wat, sputtering around some smoke and waving a hand in front of his face to clear it. “Because if it had been the plan I would have been left with a lot of questions.”
Tine gives him a light shove, but catches him by the elbow before he can tip over. “The plan was joke and ... birthday stuff.” Wat’s eyes go immediately to Tine’s chest, perking up. Tine crosses his arms over his chest. “Not that ,” he scolds, but, turning it over in his mind, amends, “well. Not just that.”
Wat looks at him with a hint of a grin, and it’s not exactly the face that Tine was going for, but it is a face, the one that says Wat is smiling even though he doesn’t want to, because Tine has done something he’s trying not to be charmed by. Tine never knows what these things are; almost always it’s when he’s in the middle of some kind of crisis, which he thinks is unfair, but you have to make sacrifices for people when you love them. If Tine’s terrible life brings Wat joy then he will continue to live it exactly this way.
(“So what you’re saying is you’re putting a moratorium on self-improvement because being stupid turns your boyfriend on?” Pear had asked him dubiously when he explained this to her, after Wat brought him a sandwich because Tine “forgot” his lunch for the third day in a row. “Because it kind of sounds like you just want him to keep bringing you free sandwiches.”
“What, now it’s a crime to like sandwiches?” Tine had asked, affronted. “And no. You don’t get it. That’s, okay, that’s part of it but it’s more complicated then that.” For one thing, all of Tine’s sandwiches were free. They made them at home. It wasn’t about the money, it was about — it was — look, it was just more complicated and Pear didn’t get it.
Pear had patted his head fondly. “Please don’t take this the wrong way,” she’d said, “but sometimes I really worry about the fact that one day you’re going to be a lawyer.”)
“It’s the ghost,” Tine decides. That is absolutely the only explanation for why the simple act of frying an egg could almost bring their whole house down. Tine fries eggs all the time. Tine is a pretty good cook, actually. “This is proof. The ghost wants us dead.”
Wat pauses in the act of opening all the kitchen windows to look back at Tine over his shoulder with a deeply unimpressed facial expression. “The ghost doesn’t want us dead, Nuisance.”
“Aha! You admit it! There is a ghost.”
“No, I — no. That’s not what I meant.”
“You said the ghost doesn’t want us dead, which means there is a ghost, who wants things.”
Wat comes back over to him and puts a firm hand on Tine’s head, forcing him to meet his gaze. “Tine. This is our love lair. Our love lair isn’t haunted .” He looks petulant at the prospect that some ghost would dare to haunt them. It makes Tine’s chest go warm. He doesn’t know why. It’s probably not important, it just does that sometimes.
Tine hates it when he calls it the love lair, which Wat knows, and is probably why he does it all the time. Wat is unbearable. Tine does not know how he was fooled for so long into thinking Wat was cool, when really he’s terrible. “Then how else would you explain all the ...” Tine waved a hand around, to indicate the egg and the noises and the shattered glasses and the mysterious disappearance of Tine’s face creams.
Wat sighed, his hand falling back down to his side. “It’s normal stuff,” he insists. “Houses make noises. Eggs catch fire. You use a lot of face cream. You’re probably just using more than you realize.”
“Okay,” Tine protests, appalled. “ First of all, I know exactly how much face cream I use every night, because it is a science. I’m not just slapping it on thoughtlessly.”
Wat crowds him against the table, one hand on either side of his hips. He nestles his face into Tine’s neck and presses a little kiss to his collarbone before looking up, chin resting on the collar of Tine’s t-shirt. Tine lets him, because it is his birthday and for no other reason.
“Of course. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken ill of The Regimen.”
“Thank you,” Tine says primly. The Regimen is important. It’s what Tine brings to their relationship. As everyone knows, there are only four types of people: smart, cute, pretty, and weird. If every relationship has two people, and if Wat is smart, then Tine is left with cute, pretty, and weird. He does not want to be weird, so he is pretty. Or cute. He guesses it isn’t really his place to decide.
He puts a hand on Wat’s mop of hair and bends down to drop a kiss on the tip of his nose. Wat loves that kind of stuff, because despite the act he puts on at school he’s actually just a big soft baby, and Tine’s the only one who gets to know.
Well, also Man and Boss, he supposes. They probably knew before Tine did, but they don’t get to see it the same way. Tine’s the only one that gets to kiss his nose.
(Tine would not put it past either Man or Boss to kiss Sarawat’s nose.)
“I’m sorry I ruined your birthday,” he mutters, giving Wat’s hair a little tousle. He had wanted to say — he had wanted to say that thing, and have Wat say it back, but now it felt like the moment was ruined. He didn’t want to say it while they both smelled like smoke from a fire Tine had started by accident. He wanted to say it at the perfect time. He wanted it to be like a movie, like the end scene of a movie. He wanted to be choose the ending where, just once, everything goes exactly as he’d planned.
Wat grins, giving his head a little shake so his chin rolls back and forth against Tine’s chest. “The day is still young,” he says cheerfully, and pulls away. “There is plenty of time left for me to touch your boobs.”
Tine bats his hands away. “Don’t be a pervert,” he says, but follows Wat up the stairs anyway, because it is his birthday. And for no other reason.
“Did you break something,” Type says into the phone when he picks up. It’s phrased like a question but said like he already knows the answer and is very disappointed. Tine has been avoiding calling them about the stove for this reason. He hates when Type sounds disappointed. He hates when anyone sounds disappointed.
“No,” says Tine sulkily, even though the answer is yes. Wat levels him with a look and holds a hand out for the phone, making a give-it-here gesture. Tine obeys, but makes a face back to show that he’s annoyed about it.
“Why do you have Man’s phone, you control freak?” Wat demands. Type says something back. Wat laughs. Tine thinks it’s possible that over time, Type and Wat have become ... like, friends? But the kind of friends who are always mean to each other. Tine doesn’t really get it. All his friends are very nice to him. But whenever Wat and Type get together they spend the whole time obsessively picking at one another, and then, once they’re both drunk, they hug a lot and talk about how small Tine is. They really like talking about how Tine is very small, even though he’s definitely taller than both of them.
Whatever. They’re weird. Tine’s the only normal one.
“I don’t care if you’re there or not,” Wat is telling Type. “You’re only ever anywhere because Man is.” Type says something. Tine assumes its mean. Wat laughs about it and then says, “Fine. But he has to come before the weekend because your mom is coming over next week and we’re going to make dinner. ... No. ... No. ... You can’t come . I don’t care she’s your mother, you piece of — ”
“Ooooooookay!” Tine interrupts quickly, snatching the phone back. “Thanks, see you guys soon, bye.” He hangs up before Type can say anything else. “Is Man coming to fix the stove?”
“Yeah, but not til tomorrow. Type says he has to stay home and study for exams.”
Tine frowns. “Man doesn’t study.”
“Not before your dictatorial big brother came along, anyway,” Wat agrees, but he sounds cheerful as he stretches, dragging Tine in against his chest and curling around him. “It’s good. His grades are getting better.”
“I’m telling Type you said he was a good influence.”
“I will deny it,” says Wat. “I’ll deny it until the day that I’m dead, and then come back as a ghost and keep denying it.”
“So you do believe in ghosts.”
Wat groans, climbing on top of Tine and taking his face in his hands. “Our house. Is not. Haunted,” he says. It seems weirdly important to him that Tine admit this. “It’s — it’s a good place, okay? Only good.”
“Sometimes it’s kind of drafty,” Tine points out, instead of just saying okay, it’s not haunted. He wants to say that, but sometimes what happens inside his head gets all twisted up by the time it gets to his mouth. So instead he says things like sometimes it’s kind of drafty even though, like, he knows that Wat is trying to talk in a metaphor, that the house is supposed to be them, their relationship, whatever. Tine knows he’s a little slow on the uptake now and then, but he’s not stupid . He just ... it’s hard for him to say stuff, sometimes.
Wat was always making these huge romantic gestures and Tine was always messing them up, and he’d just. He’d just wanted —
Wat isn’t moving. His eyes have narrowed. “You’re having a thought,” he accuses.
“No I’m not,” Tine says quickly. “I never have any thoughts. I don’t think at all.”
“ Nuisance. ” He gives Tine’s face a little shake. “Tell me.”
Tine twists his lips. He could just say it, he thinks. It would be so easy for other people just to say it, but when he tries nothing comes out. The silence just sits in his mouth like a weight. It’s stupid; he knows Wat loves him. Of course he knows. Wat hasn’t said it, but that’s because Tine thinks he is waiting, for Tine to be ready. Which is dumb. Tine knew that every time Wat said I like you he was really saying I love you , but even Wat is vaguely aware of some kind of veneer of social respectability with regard to timing.
But it’s still hard. Once it’s out there, it’s out there, in the world, fragile and real. Tine’s whole heart.
“I will,” he promises, and shakes Wat’s hand off so he can press a quick kiss to his cheek. “I promise.”
“I love him,” Tine says, miserably.
Fong blinks. “Well ... that’s good?” he asks. “Given that he’s your live-in boyfriend and you guys co-parent a set of guitars?”
Tine shakes his head and makes a vague gesture, knocking over an empty glass of beer. It’s like, his fortieth one, at least. Wat’s parents came to town to celebrate his birthday so he’s gone off somewhere with them. He’d invited Tine to come, but Tine had felt ... overwhelmed by the idea of having to sit in front of Wat’s mom and be — whatever, judged, or something. She was going to ask him questions about his future, and every time someone did that Tine’s brain shuts down and all he hears are fire alarms.
“Nooooo,” he sighs. “Because — he’s smart.”
Ohm gently moves glasses that still have liquid in them outside of Tine’s reach. He thinks Tine doesn’t see him but he does. “He’s very smart,” Ohm agrees. “And he’s also handsome. TeamSarawatsWives say he doesn’t even use hair product, it just looks like that.”
Tine snorts. This is not true.
“Why are you still on TeamSarawatsWives?” he asks, blinking. “I already did it. I’m already the wife.”
This was not exactly what he meant to say, but his friends laugh anyway. Fong pats his shoulder. “Hell yeah you are, buddy,” he congratulates.
Ohm picks at the label of one of the beer bottles. “It’s. Look, I’m only in it for the community,” he grumbles. “They’re really nice girls, okay. We support each other.”
Fong, Tine, and Phuak stare at him.
“Whatever, you guys don’t know anything,” Ohm snaps, his tone taking a defensive lilt. “You just used them for their Sarawat knowledge but actually they’re all really smart and we help each other study for exams and we send each other encouraging emoji and they made me a cake for my birthday so you guys can all fuck off. You didn’t make me a cake for my birthday.”
“None of us can cook,” Phuak points out. “I bought you a supply of apple honey.”
“I wrote you a song,” Tine protests. “The friendship song. You said you liked it.”
Phuak coughs into his hand and covers his mouth by taking a long sip of beer. Ohm says, “Yeah. The, uh. The gesture was very nice. Thank you, Tine.”
“Did you not like it?” Tine asks. “Was it a bad song? Is it because I’m bad at guitar? P’Dim says that to me all the time. He’s like, ‘hey, Tine. You’re bad at guitar.’”
“You are pretty bad,” Phuak tells him, but with a kind pat of his head. “But you try really hard.”
Tine drops his head to the table and groans. That’s his whole problem, isn’t it? He tries really hard at everything and he’s still bad at it. He practiced saying I love you over and over and all he got was a fire in his kitchen. “I don’t know why I can’t just — it’s so easy. I should be able just to say it.”
Fong gently pushes another glass of beer into his hand. “Maybe your problem is that you think it will be new information,” he suggests gently. Ohm and Phuak nod in the way they have when they are only sort of sure what’s going on. “You think it’s a big deal because it will change your relationship. But you already love Wat, and he already loves you. So nothing will change once you say it.”
Tine takes a long drink. “Yeah,” he agrees, unconvinced. He doesn’t know how to say that Wat was the one who was always taking things to the next step. Wat was the one who knew how to do it. And Tine wanted to do it this time, because it must be tiring, always dragging Tine along. It must be hard to always be the leader. But Tine was shy sometimes, and awkward, and wasn’t good at expressing things, so maybe ... maybe Wat didn’t know. Maybe Wat hadn’t said I love you yet because he wasn’t sure that Tine would say it back.
“I could hack into your Facebook and post it to his page,” Ohm offers.
“Oh!! Or you could send him a letter,” Phuak suggests. “And send it attached to a dove. Guys love romantic gifts from birds.”
“I don’t know that I have any strong feelings about romantic gifts from birds,” says Tine, furrowing his brow. “Am I supposed to? Do you guys like birds?”
“Everyone likes birds,” says Phuak, confidently. Fong and Ohm nod.
Tine says, “Well. I’ll think about it.”
Tine is watching Wat and Earn. Control S has a gig this weekend, and they are practicing. They sound good together. Tine doesn’t feel the same spike of worry when he looks at them, anymore; he likes Earn. He likes Earn’s friendship with Wat. It’s different from his other friendships, Tine thinks, because Earn — gets the music stuff, in a way that none of the rest of them do. Earn can talk to him about musical scales and chords and, and, scansion, or whatever. Earn makes Wat laugh by calling him “G-string,” and being called “E-note.”
Tine likes that Wat has people. He likes that Wat is loved by people who know him, not just strangers who are mistaken in thinking he’s cool and aloof. He’s just a big dumb giddy idiot, and Tine gets to know that, now. He gets to know it and see it and kiss its stupid face.
“You don’t have to be jealous,” Green says, plopping down beside him and bumping their shoulders together. “Earn has a boyfriend.”
Tine huffs a laugh. “I know,” he says. “I’m not worried.”
“ And a girlfriend. Pear says — wait, what?”
“I said I know,” Tine repeats. He smiles a little. “I’m not jealous, I’m — wait. Earn has what ?”
“But you’re always worried,” says Green.
“You can have one of each ?” Tine asks, alarmed. Since when could you have more than one? Who changed this rule? Why had no one told Tine?
Not that — he didn’t want to add anybody, he just. Would have liked to know, is all. That it was a thing that people were doing.
He glances over at Wat and Earn. Did Wat know about this? Was it something Wat would want? Would Wat want to — to add somebody? Maybe Pam? Maybe ... Boss? No. Probably not Boss. Tine was being stupid.
But. Maybe. It would be nice, for Wat. To have another person. One who was better at all the stuff that Tine was bad at. Wat loved Tine, obviously, but that didn’t mean he didn’t get hurt sometimes, by stuff Tine did. Maybe having someone else could — maybe it would help. They could be friends and both love Wat, and that would be almost as much love as he deserved to get.
Green pinches the bridge of his nose. “I forget sometimes,” he admits. “How new you are.”
“I’m not new ,” Tine grumbles. “I’ve had loads of girlfriends.”
Green makes the same face at Tine that he had made at the baby saplings. “Sure you have, you’re Mr. Chic,” he agrees, in a voice that suggests he does not believe this to be true. “Anyway, don’t worry, I don’t think Wat wants more than one. When would he have the time to pine after anybody else when he spends literally one hundred percent of every day pining after you?”
“He doesn’t pine after me, he already has me,” Tine grumbles, embarrassed to say it. He can feel himself blushing, which he hates. Green makes a wounded sound, clutching his hands to his chest.
“Tiiiiiiiiiiine,” he whines, as if Tine is too much, and he can’t control himself. He sits on his hands. Tine thinks it’s probably to keep from pinching Tine’s cheeks and clutching him to his breast.
Tine chuckles at him. “Green,” he asks, tentative, “how did ... when you liked me. It was so easy for you to say it, right? Even though I kept pushing you away. How come it was so easy? Weren’t you — didn’t you get scared?”
Green is quiet for longer than Tine has ever heard him be quiet. He studies Tine’s face, and then looks over to where P’Dim and Air have their heads bent over a new concert poster mockup, bickering cheerfully about the lettering at the top. When he looks back at Tine, there’s something very soft on his face, softer than Green usually is.
Tine thinks maybe there’s a lot more to Green than he knows about. Maybe a lot more than anybody knows about.
He says, “No, I didn’t get scared, because I didn’t really like you.”
Tine blinks. “Hey,” he protests. “Yes you did. I’m very likable.”
“Yes you are,” Green agrees, giving into his impulse and pinching Tine’s cheek. “But I mean — it wasn’t scary because if you rejected me, I knew it would be okay, because my heart wasn’t really in it. I liked the idea of you, you know. But really my heart was ... somewhere else. So it didn’t matter what you said.”
Tine is quiet, mulling it over. “So ... you couldn’t talk to P’Dim ... because it mattered? What he said?”
Green nods. “If I had told him that he was hurting me, and he didn’t care, it would have — ” He cuts off, giving a rueful shake of his head and a shrug. “Well. He did care. So.” He leans in. “Can I tell you something?”
Tine nods, leaning in to meet him halfway. They knock foreheads a little. Green says, “I knew he would care. But I was scared anyway.”
“Because it meant he loved me enough to change,” Green confides. “It’s a lot of responsibility. To be loved like that.”
Tine looks over to wear Wat is laughing at Earn, who has snapped a string on her guitar and is swearing profusely at it. Their eyes meet, and Wat’s smile changes a little, just enough for Tine to know that he’s included in it now, that it’s not just for Earn but for him, too. Wat has let Tine into everything. He has made room and made room and made room. Tine thinks about lying on his too-small couch, Type sleeping on the bed across from them, Wat holding onto him so tight that it was actually a little hard to sleep. It doesn’t matter how small the space is, Wat always makes sure that Tine can squeeze into it.
Tine doesn’t know if Wat has changed, since meeting Tine. But Tine has changed, he thinks. Probably. A little. Or maybe — maybe he wants to change. One night a long time ago he had asked are you going to take responsibility, for what you did? and hadn’t even known what he was saying.
“Oh,” Tine says.
Green pinches his cheek again.
Wat thrives in quarantine.
It’s not that Tine didn’t know his boyfriend was introverted, but there’s something about seeing him in what turns out to be his element that is oddly startling. Being trapped indoors with Tine is, it turns out, all he’s ever wanted from his life. Every virtual meeting with the Music Club is spent on their bed, legs entwined with the laptop balanced precariously on top. Wat is more engaged in the discussions than he’s ever been before, cheerful and oddly boisterous.
“Who are you,” Tine marvels when they hang up. “What is happening.”
“It’s nice to see people just because you want to,” Wat tells him easily, with a shrug. “Usually have to see them because I have to go out into the world, where people are.”
Tine snorts. “You have to see me ,” he points out. “I’m a person.”
“No you’re not,” Wat tells him dismissively, which Tine is not sure he should feel great about until Wat finishes, “you’re Tine.”
Tine huffs a laugh, dragging Wat against him so that he can press a kiss to his cheek. He has been trying to do this more often, because of how much it clearly delights Wat to be kissed and dragged and touched. “I’m Tine, a person.”
Wat shakes his head. He looks serious. “No. People are tiring. I have to try so hard, all the time. But you’re easy.”
“Hey,” Tine protests, and covers his chest with his free hand. “That’s rude.”
Wat rolls his eyes and does not dignify this with a response. Instead he climbs out of bed and pushes open the window, shouting across the courtyard to where Man and Boss are quarantining together in a rented apartment: “WHO’S READY FOR LUNCH?”
Boss’s head pops up into their open window frame. “MY FRIEND,” he cries. “YOU LOOK SO BEAUTIFUL IN PERSON. YOU ARE THE MOST BEAUTIFUL MAN IN THE WORLD.”
“UM, FUCK OFF?” cries Man, appearing beside him. “I’M RIGHT HERE?”
Behind Wat, Tine mimes throwing a shoe at them. Man ducks, dramatically. Wat shakes his head and goes downstairs to get them food to eat in the window, where they can shout at Man and Boss.
Tine’s friends had all gone home to their families; he misses them, sometimes, but they don’t give him much opportunity. His phone almost never stops buzzing in the group chat. It’s mostly links to TikToks. Phuak has decided to become TikTok famous and Ohm is helping him by generating followers through a series of false online identities that, in Tine’s opinion, he’s getting way too into. He thinks maybe being on TeamSarawatsWives has broken something in him. But it’s an army for a good cause now, anyway; they all leave comments on Phuak’s dance videos that say things like HANDSOME BOY!!!! followed by strings of heart-eye emojis.
Type, back home with their parents, texts every day. He always says things like tell Sarawat he’s a piece of shit and Tine always texts back things like i told him u love him and he says he loves u too. Then they both get mad and text insults to each other. But Tine is getting better at knowing that this means they're, like, bonding. Somehow. In some way.
He knows it’s happening, he just doesn’t really understand the process.
Sometimes, sitting next to him in bed, Wat will text send nudes. Tine will text back, i'm sitting right next to you. my shirt is off. Wat will give him a deeply offended look and say, its abt the ART. And Tine will give up, and sigh, and take a selfie of them both, making sure his boobs are in the picture.
Wat comes carefully back up the stairs, balancing all their food on a tray, and Tine hurries to go help him. “Thanks,” Wat says, distracted. He tosses Tine a smile. A strand of his dumb bangs has gone rogue and is getting in his eyes. Tine reaches out to fix it because he knows how much it annoys Wat when it tickles his forehead. Wat lets him into his space, unbothered, like he barely notices.
Oh , Tine thinks: oh, that’s it, isn’t it.
That’s what love is. Making room. Letting Tine into the bubble of space he usually builds around himself. Letting Tine be a source of energy, not a drain on it. Tine had thought all this time that Wat was leading because Tine couldn’t, but that’s not it at all; Wat was leading because he — wanted to. He wanted to show Tine how to love him because he knew Tine hadn’t ever done it before.
“Hey,” Tine says, easy as breathing, “I love you.”
Sarawat doesn’t drop the tray, but it’s a close fucking thing.
He puts it down, very carefully, on the bed. Tine is looking at him with his head tilted slightly. He doesn’t seem nervous. Sarawat loves him so much, all the time, that sometimes it feels like he’s making it all up. Like maybe he had a psychotic break a while ago and dreamed Tine up to love him, and his friends are just humoring him because they know he’s fragile.
But here Tine is, holding a bowl of soup, starting to smile.
There is a hard knot in Sarawat’s chest that unspools as if that were its only choice. Tine has been trying to say it; has been trying for a long time.
He's been saying it, Sarawat thinks. Saying it with every gesture, every tentative step into Sarawat’s life, every brave thing he’s done.
Tine has made room and made room and made room.
Sarawat can feel his smile blooming. He knows they are in full view of the window, staring at each other with stupid looks on both their faces. He knows that probably Man and Boss are taking pictures, and they're going to post them to Instagram, and Tine is going to be pleased and mortified at the same time. He knows that they're going to have lunch and bicker about Tine's insane system for sorting their laundry and do their homework and listen to Scrubb and to go bed and do it all again tomorrow and the day after and the day after. He knows that Tine has been worried this whole time, about everything, but did it all anyway. Sarawat hasn't ever been scared of loving or being loved the way that Tine is, but here Tine stands with soup in his hands, regardless.
Sarawat says, “Oh, Nuisance. I know.”