The remarkable thing about Air, besides her quasi-psychic sense for turning Sarawat’s reference-dense and occasionally pretentious lyrics into preposterously catchy earworms, was the way she could glare at him without ever looking up from her computer.
“Nice interview, Mr. Freeze,” she said. “Did you at least hurry out of the room before she started crying this time?”
Sarawat flopped into the rolling chair across from her and gave himself a spin, glaring up at the ceiling. “It wasn’t that bad,” he lied.
Air deigned at last to look at him, eyebrow raised.
“I’m getting better,” he lied again.
She said nothing. Sarawat gave up. “Look, I don’t know why they keep making me do these fucking things,” he complained. “I’m terrible at them, and I can’t not be terrible at them. It’s not like I’m not trying. They should make the band do it — Man could flirt with a wall. Earn would have them eating out of the palm of her hand.”
“Yes, it is very hard to be the beloved and adored front man of a world-famous and critically acclaimed indie band,” Air said, voice so dry that all the plants in the room wilted a little.
Sarawat gave himself another miserable spin. “I just don’t understand why I have to do them alone,” he grumbled. “The band is called 2gether because that’s how we’re supposed to be.”
He must have sounded pathetic enough, because Air softened with a little sigh. She reached across to gently pat his ankle. “Well, try being less handsome, then,” she told him. “Have you considered getting mauled by a large cat of some kind?”
“Every day of my life,” Sarawat said, wistfully.
Air laughed. “Okay, drama queen. Now what have you got for me?”
Sarawat had never intended to get famous. He’d studied political science, for God’s sake. He’d expected to quietly go into, like, consulting, or something. Sometimes he had vivid fantasies of living a life as an accountant somewhere, working in an office where no one knew or cared who he was.
But then he’d joined his university’s Music Club, his second year at university, and somehow gotten into the showcase, with four other students — Boss, on drums; Man, on keyboards; and Earn, on bass. He played lead guitar. Back when Pam had been in the band, she had been the lead vocalist, but once they’d ... once Pam wasn’t in the band anymore, Sarawat found himself in the role, because was the only one who could write songs and also he was “a real asshole to anyone who tried to sing what he wrote.”
For the record, Sarawat thought this was an unfair review from Man. He wasn’t an asshole; he just had a very specific idea of how the song was supposed to sound, and if it didn’t sound that way, he didn’t see why he shouldn’t make them sing it over and over and over and over again until they got it right. It was called practice. It made perfect.
Anyway, they’d done really well at all the university shows, and recorded an EP called Ctrl S in the university recording studio, and put it online, and then ...
Well. Sarawat wasn’t an accountant, was he.
He stared down at the half re-written song on his desk. Air had told him it was good but needed “about 50% less pretension,” so he was cutting out all the references to the Odyssey, even though artistically speaking he thought that was the most important part , because the song was about loving someone and trying to get home to them but having obstacles in your way, the world filling up the space between you too fast for you to cross it.
Like if you opened for another band two years ago and then went out into the crowd to watch the show and were knocked into by a stranger with the brightest smile you’d ever seen in your life, and his like, cosmic energy knocked you the fuck out, and you watched the rest of the concert together because he was alone for some reason that you could not fathom, and then you were both buzzing with too much energy so you went out to a bar and got beer and then walked around the empty streets laughing and talking about everything and nothing, one headphone in each ear, and he never mentioned that you were in the opener because obviously he didn’t care about stuff like that, because he was one of those good, pure souls, you know? And then just as the sun was rising you came to a street corner and the light was red and he was looking at you with this expression that would be seared into your mind’s eye forever, touching your face with a hand as if he didn’t know he was doing it, and you thought: i could kiss him , but you froze, you couldn’t move, he was looking at you and you just couldn’t move, you couldn’t say or do anything at all, and then the light changed and you walked on and he hailed a taxi and you never saw him again, but he was imprinted on your dumb heart like a brand and all the songs you’d written since then were, basically, at their root, about him, the boy with the bright smile, the smile that lit up the whole city block.
Just, you know. As a random example.
It had taken them twice as long to release their last album, a whole year, because all the things he wanted to say were too big and complex to break down into easy-to-swallow, radio-friendly songs. He’d written more than he ever had but they were all weird genre-bending seven-minute opuses, and he’d sent it to the label and they’d sent it back. The people didn’t want seven-minute songs about red lights, they told him. Four minutes or less. Heavy baseline. They were picturing a music video where he was dancing around in a garden of balloons, holding a guitar. They’d even let him pick his scene partner, as a treat.
Because Air loved them even though she was always telling them that she didn’t, she’d produced both albums, and they’d released it as a b-side.
The label had been right. The people didn’t want Sarawat’s opuses. Side A of the album had been streamed more than a billion times. Side B had been streamed less than a hundred thousand.
It was fine. Sarawat got to play music for a living, and take care of his friends, and give them all the lives they wanted, so it was fine. Who cared that it wasn’t music he personally would listen to? Who cared that he got production notes like, “make this 50% less pretentious”? The band was happy. Their bank accounts were happy. The fans were happy. Everyone was happy. That was a lot more than he could have done for anybody as an accountant.
“Ohhhh,” said Earn’s voice over his shoulder. “The Odyssey. The best of all road trip stories, in my humble yet extremely correct opinion.”
Sarawat looked up, shielding the page from her. “Fuck off, it’s not done,” he protested. “And anyway Air says I have to take all the Odyssey stuff out except in the title.”
“That’s the one about like, that really weird guy, right?” asked Boss, coming in from the hallway with his arms full of seat cushions. Sarawat didn’t ask. Man and Boss were always getting up to things that Earn and Sarawat had learned from experience not to get involved in. “The one with one eye?”
Flinging himself onto the couch and kicking his feet up onto the arm rest, Man corrected, “That’s Nobody.”
“No, it’s definitely somebody,” Boss said, brows furrowing and knocking Man’s legs off so he could sit beside him.
“Who’s on first?” said Earn in English, wry.
“On first for what?” Man asked, face a perfect blank. “But probably me. The fans love it when I come out first, because of how handsome and good-looking I am.”
Boss nodded peaceably; Sarawat and Earn shared a look.
“How did I end up here? I was going to be an architect,” Earn said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I’m really smart. You guys have no fucking idea how smart I am.”
Sarawat patted her hand comfortingly. “We know we don’t deserve you,” he assured her.
She smoothed his hair back and pressed a smacking kiss to his forehead. “These idiots don’t, but you’re okay,” she told him. Behind her, Man and Boss let out matching cries of protest that Earn got to kiss his head and they hadn’t; Sarawat barely got out of the chair in time to run as they descended on him, limbs everywhere, shouting at one another as they wrestled him to the ground.
“I can see your mouth forming the letters of my name,” Sarawat sang, and the crowd cheered, dobs of light from cellphones flickering on around the stadium. It was impossible to make anybody out, in the headlights.
In his weaker moments, he wondered sometimes: is he here? Did he come?
It wasn’t impossible. They were a famous band. They toured a lot. He could be a fan. He could be at this show, or next week’s, or any of the innumerable shows they’d done before. Sarawat would have no way of knowing. If he — if he remembered Sarawat, if he thought of him sometimes, he’d have no way of making his way backstage. He’d never come to a signing or a greeting or anything. Sarawat had stopped letting himself look.
“I can feel my name against your lips, falling out like water from my fingertips. You held me there for a longer than I knew a moment could exist. Say it again.”
“Say it again,” Earn echoed, her voice high and light.
“Say it again,” sang Sarawat, “Say it again,” sang Earn, “Say it again,” they sang together, and Sarawat thought of that night in the dark with a stranger smiling at him, his heart beating so loud he could have danced to it.
“Connected by a golden thread, your heart a beat I can’t forget. Do you think of me after the sun has set? Say my name again.”
Only, he’d never said it, because Sarawat had never told it to him. It hadn’t occurred to either of them to introduce themselves. It had felt too — pedestrian, maybe. They’d talked about how music could make you happier when you were happy, or sadder when you were sad; how music was what tied everything together, the thing that spoke to you when no one else had any idea what to say. They’d been beyond names, beyond here’s-my-number, beyond all that stupid small talk stuff that Sarawat hated.
Or at least it had felt like they were, until The Stranger was gone and Sarawat had no earthly way of finding or identifying him.
Dumbass, Pam had told him, shaking her head, and she had been right.
Pam was ... usually right.
The song ended. The crowd cheered. In the front row was a string of women holding all the letters of his name, shaking them madly. The last one in line had a sign that read #SARAWATSWIVES. They came to every show. He wondered if they had jobs, or were in school. How did they have enough time to come everywhere? Sarawat barely had time for all the shows, and he was in the band.
Behind him, Man said into the microphone, “Nobody asks me but just so you know that’s my favorite one off the new album. I wrote it.”
“You didn’t fucking write it,” corrected Earn. “Boss wrote it. Didn’t you, P’Boss?”
“I’ve written every one of our songs,” Boss claimed cheerfully. “I just let Wat take the credit because I know how much he loves the attention.”
Sarawat rolled his eyes but shrunk back to the corner of the stage where the water bottles where kept in a cooler. He wasn’t good at this part of the show, the bantering part; he usually let Man, Boss and Earn carry the in-between-songs bit. He piped up sometimes, because when he didn’t he got yelled at by P’Mil for not doing his job. So he took a swig from the water bottle and then poured some of it onto his head, both because he was hot and because he knew the fans would gif it later, and the label would be happy.
“... showing off,” Earn was saying, shaking her head. When Sarawat looked up, all three band members were looking at him, eyebrows raised. “He knows you guys like his hair.”
“Shut up,” grumbled Sarawat. “I was hot.”
“Aw, you’re still hot, buddy,” Man assured him. “Don’t you guys think he’s hot?” The crowd cheered their agreement that Sarawat was hot. In the front row, Team Sarawat’s Wives began to chant his name. Man joined in, looking delighted.
Sarawat cleared his throat. The chanting hushed. They were waiting for him to ... what? He never knew. Fans were inexplicable in their desires. He said, “Uh, thanks for coming,” into the mic.
Man laughed and shook his head, gently hip-checking him out of the way. “What he means is: HELLO BANGKOK! DID YOU HAVE A NICE TIME?”
Sarawat slunk back out of the spotlight. Boss leaned away from his mic and said, “Good show. You only looked like you wanted to be dead for the first half of the set.”
“I don’t look like I want to be dead,” Sarawat protested.
Boss grinned at him. “No, it’s good. They love that you look like you’re dying of a wasting disease. It makes you very mysterious.”
“You’re the most beautiful dying girl in the world,” Boss told him solemnly. “Hey, do you think it would be cool if instead of playing with drumsticks, I played with like, plastic bananas?”
Sarawat blinked. “Why ... would you do that?”
“I dunno,” Boss said on a shrug. “Why do I do anything?”
Which was surprisingly self-aware, for Boss.
He leaned back into the microphone and interrupted Man to shout, “IF YOU THINK I SHOULD PLAY OUR NEXT SHOW WITH BANANAS INSTEAD OF DRUM STICKS I WANT YOU TO SCREAM,” and, after a confused beat, everybody did.
Before Pam left, it was tradition for them to go out after shows. Pam loved to interact with fans, loved to talk to them and drink with them and charm them. But after Pam left, the rest of them had made the unspoken decision to just go back to one of their apartments and get drunk in peace.
Sarawat left them to pick a takeout place and slipped out onto the balcony, pulling out his phone. There was already a message on his phone: show sounded great but you looked miserable, mr. grumpy.
He brought the phone to his ear. “Why does everyone keep telling me I look miserable,” he demanded, once she picked up. “I’m not miserable.”
“Then you’re the best actor in the world,” Pam told him, sounding amused. “You should see if a studio will sign you.”
“Fuck off,” he grumbled. “That’s my worst nightmare.”
Pam giggled. “God, it truly is. Can you imagine? Having to make terrible insta posts about some weird sponsor energy drink or something?”
“My favorite drink is AppleHoney,” Sarawat deadpanned. “I drink it all the time. I only date people who drink AppleHoney.”
“Shut up and take my money,” joked Pam, and then paused for just long enough that Sarawat knew what she wanted to ask. He said, as casually as he could, “It’s a shame that Earn doesn’t drink AppleHoney. She’s still not dating anybody. This could be my chance.”
A beat. Pam said, “That was almost smooth,” but her voice was grateful. He knew she didn’t like to ask. Earn didn’t like to ask, either. Both of them did a great job of never asking him about the other, because the breakup had been soooo amicable, and they were both being soooo grownup about it and giving each other soooo much space, and everything was soooo fine and that’s why they couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to or about each other, ever, about anything, and made Sarawat painfully try to convey that everyone was doing well and was, yes, still single, while pretending he wasn’t doing that.
“I didn’t tell you that for you,” he lied. “I’m serious. I think this is my chance to finally get Earn to open her heart to me.”
“Shut up, saraleo. Don’t talk to me like I don’t know every song you’ve written for the last three albums were about some dude you met at a Scrubb concert one time.”
“That’s not true,” Sarawat protested, leaning his elbows against the balcony rail and looking out at the city. Behind the glass door, he could hear Man, Boss, and Earn starting to bicker over a takeout menu. “Haven’t you read any of the tabloids? This last one was about you.”
He didn’t mean to let quite so much bitterness creep into his voice, but he couldn’t help it. He hated talking to the media. It always made him tongue-tied, and he looked like an asshole, and now they all wanted to talk about Pam leaving as if it weren’t the worst thing that had ever happened to him. She was — no, it wasn’t her breakup from Sarawat that made her leave, but she was still gone , and she was Pam. She’d ... always been there, before. Now she wasn’t.
He wasn’t mad, he just. He wished ... that Pam wasn’t gone. That was all.
“Sorry,” Pam told him. She sounded sincere. “Although for what it’s worth, you’ve never loved me enough to write anything that good about me.”
“Hey! I — ”
“It’s okay. You know as well as I do I’d hate it if you did. I’m not making pop music just to piss Earn off. I also like it. It’s fun. Are you having fun still, Wat?”
“Of course I’m having fun. We’re — doing better than ever. The label says we’re going to outsell both our last two albums.”
“I didn’t ask how the band was doing.”
“The lyrics are still mine, mostly. I mean, they get some edits. Air says they’re too obscure for our audience. And she really does know how to make a good hook.”
“Wat. I didn’t ask about Air. I asked if you were having fun.”
Sarawat rolled his eyes. “Life isn’t about fun, Pam,” he told her. He glanced back into the kitchen, where Man was gesturing at the menu as if he expected Sarawat to mime his order through the window. “Anyway, I gotta go. We’re ordering food. Good luck at your show tomorrow. I won’t watch because your music is bad now.”
“Fuck off,” Pam said cheerfully. “You’re a terrible singer.”
Sarawat made a dismissive sound and hung up the phone. Inside, Earn, Boss and Man were sprawled out on the couch, already ordering. That was fine; they knew what he liked. They were so dumb, he thought. All three of them. They were the dumbest people alive.
“We got you that weird spicy soup,” Man told him when he flopped down on top of tangle of them, his feet in Boss’s lap and his head on Earn. Man, Sarawat's butt in his lap, played a brief drum solo on Sarawat’s stomach. “The gross one. With fishcakes.”
“Which we only did because this is your house and you don’t care if it smells bad for the rest of the week,” Earn informed him. “Also, your house already smells bad.”
“How dare you speak to him like that,” Boss protested. “He’s the best and most handsome boy in the world.”
“He shines like the sun,” Man agreed. “Earn. Doesn’t he shine like the sun? Tell him he shines like the sun.”
“Stop it,” said Sarawat.
“You shine like the sun,” Earn told him, face sincere. “The brightest sun in the world. Just, like, super bright. So bright I could write a song about how your smile was brighter than all the lights that — ”
Sarawat reached up to shove her face away, but gently. “Fuck off,” he grumbled, cutting her off. “All of you can fuck off.”
His bandmates all beamed down at him, the three dumbest and most precious people in the world, and then doorbell rang, heralding spicy soup.
Everyone else is happy, Sarawat thought, not for the first time that week. He got paid to hang out with his best friends and sing songs that were — well, good enough. His parents had been able to retire early. He had paid to send Phukong to Cambridge.
What more could you be allowed to ask for, really?
Tine had a headache. He’d had one since yesterday, possibly because yesterday was The Anniversary, and as was their custom the boys had all crowded into his tiny apartment to get shitfaced playing Heads Up and Guitar Hero. Tine was not allowed to listen to Scrubb. Scrubb was, according to Ohm, a “three hundred and sixty-four day band.”
Tine didn’t really like any other music except for Scrubb, but he agreed that he couldn’t be trusted with Scrubb songs on The Anniversary. The last time he’d combined them he’d ended up practically crying on a stranger at some terrible bar, leaning their heads together over beer and unable to put a coherent thought together that wasn’t about how good Scrubb was and how many feelings he had. He’d been ... unsober. He thinks there may have been a point where, too wrung out to stand at the crosswalk, he’d grabbed his nameless friend's wrist and held onto it like it was the only thing keeping him tethered. Tine had definitely brushed away a bead of sweat from that poor guy’s cheek and he'd looked so startled Tine thought he might be about to get punched. Tine had had to quickly hop into a taxi to escape a beating. It was embarrassing to think about it, even now.
The thing about The Anniversary was that it never felt scary in its approach, just another day in Time’s basically good life. He was a lawyer at a good firm, with colleagues he liked, and his best friend there with him. His boss was good to him, had taken him under her wing from the get-go because he was, her words, “just a little teeny tiny baby boy.”
“I am twenty-five,” Tine had told her, confused. “P’Pear, you’re — holding my resume.”
Pear had shaken her head. “No, you are a tiny infant child,” she corrected. “Spiritually. Look at those eyes. They’ll eat you alive, you’re so small and squishy. I’m going to call you Super Bright, like that song. You know, ‘brighter than all the lights that tried to make the stage a haven’? You know it, right? Anyway, do not tell me your name.”
Tine was taller than Pear by at least a foot, but this had not mattered to her. She had staked her claim and made him her rookie and now here he was, in an office flooded with light, helping her sort through documents for some client she was not allowed to tell him the name of (but obviously had).
“Hey, SB,” she said, having chewed almost all the way through a pencil, “have you seen the banking info because it’s — ”
“Here you go.” He handed it over. He was kind of grateful to Pear for giving him a gentle if embarrassing nickname. Ohm was called Hashtag and Fong was stuck with Bad Soup. So he guessed Super Bright wasn’t so bad.
Pear took the file with a little smile and flicked through it. “God, these fuckers have so much money,” she groaned. “Look at this. Their CEO bought two yachts for his birthday. Why? What do you need two yachts for?”
“The wife and the mistress, obviously,” said Pear’s PA, Green, coming in from the hallway. “Your two o’clock is here.”
Pear’s face lit up. Tine had never met Pear’s standing two o’clock meeting, though he’d seen her in passing: she was Tine’s age, probably, smaller than him but taller than Pear, with long, dark hair and big earrings. She didn’t always come, but Pear had the hour carved out anyway.
“Get out, Bright-boy,” she instructed cheerfully. “Take these with you. Tell me if there’s anything that looks hinky.”
“Hinky like illegal or hinky like having a mistress?” Tine asked.
Pear patted his cheek fondly. “Please remember sometimes that you’re a lawyer,” she instructed him. “Now shoo. Green, send her in.”
Tine took the file and let himself out. Pear’s two o’clock tossed him a sharp salute as he went passed, and then disappeared behind the door. Tine waited a beat, then slapped at where Green’s hand had slid down to his lower back. Green removed it cheerfully.
“Why do you do this,” Tine complained.
“You’re cute,” said Green, and then laughed at the look on Tine’s face. “I just can’t help it. The confused little faces you make. It’s like when you trick a dog into thinking you’ve thrown the ball, but you haven’t.”
“Wait, so I’m the dog in this scenario?”
Green made a face and gave Tine’s cheek a little pinch. “Tiiiiiine,” he said, “my little SB. I can’t stand it, it’s too much. Go away.”
Tine obeyed, but he petulantly took a candy from Green’s desk, as payment.
“Do you guys think Green is in love with me?” Tine asked at lunch. Fong choked on his noodles. Phuak looked like Tine had given him a gift. Ohm said, “No I do not.”
“He always flirts with me, though. He tells me I’m cute all the time.”
“You are cute all the time,” said Phuak, supportively.
“You’re Mr. Chic,” Fong agreed. “Anyway, maybe he just wants to get a reaction from you.”
Tine frowned. “What kind of reaction?” he asked.
Fong held out a finger and slowly raised it, eyes darting from his finger down to his lap and then back up again. The three others threw napkins at him. He did not try to dodge. “What? I meant a blush.”
Tine groaned, leaning back in his chair and staring glumly at the ceiling. “I tried telling him I didn’t like him. He laughed at me and drew out my name for a whole minute. I thought he might be having some kind of stroke.”
“Maybe you just need to convince him that you’re already dating someone,” Phuak said. “Oh! I’ll be your boyfriend.”
Ohm snorted. “You can’t be his boyfriend. You’re too ugly. Mr. Chic deserves someone much handsomer.” He perked up. “I could do it!”
“Neither of you can be his fake boyfriend, that’s an HR violation,” Fong told them sternly. “Which, by the way, you should know, Phuak, because you work in HR. ”
They fell silent, contemplating. “I guess you could lie?” Ohm tried. “Just tell him you have a boyfriend even though you don’t?”
“Mr. Chic can’t lie,” Phuak said dismissively. “He can’t even keep a secret. Remember when he told P’Fang about her surprise birthday party just because she told him he looked a little sick?”
“She seemed really worried!” Tine protested. “What was I supposed to do?”
Fong shook his head, sighing a little as he patted Tine’s shoulder. He opened his mouth to respond, then snapped his mouth shut again, staring. Tine turned his head to follow his gaze. Up the stairs, Pear’s door was open, and she was standing in it with her two o’clock. They were laughing at something, and then Pear pressed a kiss to Two O’Clock’s cheek. They waved goodbye.
Pear, spotting Tine, shouted: “SB! Finish up your lunch and get back here. We have work to do. Also, bring me snacks.”
Two O’Clock disappeared into the elevators. Fong said, “Who was that?”
“Two O’Clock,” Tine told him. “Pear’s appointment.”
“She looks familiar,” said Ohm. “Doesn’t she?”
She didn’t look familiar to Tine, except insofar as she looked like Pear’s two o’clock, which was because she was Pear’s two o’clock. She was pretty, Tine thought. He bet she had a really nice Instagram. She seemed the type.
Pear called his name again, so Tine packed up what he hadn’t eaten from his lunch and bid the boys goodbye. They waved him off, heads bent over Ohm’s phone, perusing Pear’s Facebook for a clue.
There was a note from Type on his desk when he got home, telling him that he’d be working late and to get dinner for himself. Type worked late a lot; Tine thought he was maybe recycling post-it notes, because this one had a suspiciously similar stain to the last one.
Tine looked around the empty apartment and felt something clench in his belly. It wasn’t that he was that close to Type, but he — didn’t like being alone. He’d kind of hoped that moving in with Type would give them the chance to hang out a little more, to be ... brothers, in a way they’d never been. But Tine worked a lot, and so did Type, and even when they were both in the house they mostly sat in silence doing their own thing, unless Tine’s friends were over, and then Type watched them judgmentally and occasionally made sort of vaguely bitchy comments about how loud they were.
Tine wanted to return the favor, but Type never had friends over. It was possible, Tine thought, that Type didn’t ... like, have any friends.
His phone buzzed. Pear. did u drop off the phone?? she needs it tonight.
He reached into his bag and pulled out the phone in question. Pear’s two o’clock had left it in her office, and Pear couldn’t return it tonight because she had a client meeting. im on my way, he texted back, dropping his bag on the couch and quickly changing his shirt. He hailed a taxi downstairs and gave them the address that Pear had texted, not realizing until they were outside the building that it would take him to the fanciest neighborhood in Bangkok. Whoever Pear’s two o’clock was, she was rich.
Tine pressed the buzzer. After a moment, a lilting voice said, “Hello?”
“Uh, hi,” Tine said, “this is, um, Tine Teepakorn? I’m, um, I’m P’Pear’s rookie, I have your phone?”
“Oh! Great!” The door buzzed and then swung open, and Tine walked carefully inside. The foyer was ... the shiniest place that Tine had ever been in. It looked like a hotel. There was a man at the front desk, wearing a suit, who took Tine’s name and then ushered him up in the elevator, giving him a dark side-eye as he did. He didn’t walk Tine to the apartment door, but he did wait in the hallway until Tine got there, and watched him knock.
The door swung open, and there stood — not Pear’s two o’clock. It was a guy, half an inch shorter than Tine, with dark eyes and a half-twist to his mouth. He looked frozen, eyes on Tine’s, fingers going stiff on the door handle. He didn’t say anything. Neither did Tine, even though he knew he probably should. Maybe this guy was waiting for Tine to explain why he was here, at Two O’clock’s apartment. Maybe this guy was Two O’Clock’s boyfriend. Maybe Tine was about to get hit.
But he also felt familiar, in a weird way. Tine couldn’t place from where — but it felt like he was recognizing, not noticing, the cut of his jaw, the oddly gentle way his hair fell across his forehead, the one eye that was slightly larger than the other.
Who are you? Tine thought, tilting head head to the side.
“Uh,” he managed to say out loud, “I have — a phone.” He held it up and gave it a little wave.
The guy blinked. He opened his mouth to respond before a feminine voice behind him called out, “Wat? Did you get my phone?” The door opened wider, Two O’Clock poking her head out from behind it. She waved cheerfully at the doorman, snatched the phone from Tine’s hand, then gave the guy — Wat? — a gentle shove to the side. “Don’t mind Mr. Grumpy. He takes a minute to warm up. Why don’t you come in?”
She turned around and walked deeper into the biggest apartment Tine had ever seen; Wat was still standing perfectly still, staring at him wordlessly. Tine gave him a tentative smile and then shimmied past him, mumbling an apology for he didn’t know what as he did.
“I can’t believe I left it behind,” Two O’Clock was saying. “My agent is always telling me I’d lose my head if it weren’t attached to my body.”
Tine, trying not to obviously gape at her apartment, nodded. “Um. Sure. No problem.”
The door closed behind him. Wat went into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, and stood with it like that, blocking Tine’s view of him. Two O’Clock glanced over with a little furrow in her brow, then back at Tine. “Sorry you had to come so late.”
“It’s no problem,” Tine said. “I wasn’t busy.”
The refrigerator shut very abruptly. Wat was looking at him, hands clenched in fists at his side. Tine glanced at Two O’Clock, who shrugged in a way that said I have no idea what’s happening either. “What is your name,” Wat said, and his tone was so flat that it took Tine a moment to realize he was being asked a question and not informed that his new name was "What."
He said, “Um, Tine Teepakorn. You’re ... Wat? Right?”
“Sarawat.” He cleared his throat. “Guntithanon. I’m — in a band.”
“I only listen to one band,” Tine said. “Have you heard of Scrubb?”
Two O’Clock snorted, then covered her mouth. Sarawat glared at her. “Tine Teepakorn,” he repeated, saying Tine’s name like he was tasting it. “That’s who you are. That’s your name. It’s cute.” His eyes widened, and he gave his head a little shake. “Uh. I mean. You look familiar. I mean — you look like someone.”
Tine blinked. “I look ... like someone?” he repeated, kind of offended. Tine had always thought he had kind of a unique face. It was — really soft, his mom always said. Not everybody had a soft face like his. And anyway, he was someone. He was Tine. “Who?”
Sarawat opened his mouth, then closed it again. His eyes darted to Two O’Clock, who was staring at him like she’d never seen him before; Tine felt sure that something was happening, but he had no fucking idea what it was.
“Well, I’m Pam,” she said eventually, giving Tine a smile. “Sarawat’s a big Scrubb fan, too. They’ve been a big influence on his music. You should listen to it.” Sarawat made a sound. Pam's smile widened.
Tine cleared his throat and scratched the back of his neck, feeling kind of embarrassed by the obvious affection between them. “Um, okay. Sure. I’ll look it up.”
Tine doubted they would be as good as Scrubb. No band was as good as Scrubb. But he made a mental note to look them up anyway.
“I have to go,” said Sarawat, very abruptly. Pam and Tine both turned to look at him, but he was already grabbing a well-worn looking brown jacket from the couch. “I’ll walk you out.”
Right, Tine thought. Of course. He didn’t want to leave Tine alone with Pam. They probably were dating. He gave Pam a half-wave and trailed quietly after Sarawat as he strode into the hall, pressing the elevator button with maybe more force than necessary. It occurred to Tine that maybe he wasn’t out of the woods in terms of getting hit.
Was it something he’d said?
“Uh,” he said, “just ... so you know ... um, Pear wanted to bring the phone herself, but she had a meeting she couldn’t get out of. She just didn’t want Pam to be without it.”
Sarawat cut him a look, then nodded once. “Okay.”
“I’m not hitting on her.”
The elevator doors gave a soft ping! as they opened. Sarawat didn’t move, too busy staring at Tine like he’d said something insane. “... Okay,” he said again, and then, “You can, if you ... I mean, she just. She used to be in my band.”
The doors started to shut, and Tine threw his hand out to re-open them. He stepped in and Sarawat followed, eyes not leaving Tine’s face. It felt — he didn’t know how it felt. His heart was beating really fast, maybe because he still thought that he might be facing a fist at the end of the ride. His palms felt a little sweaty.
He nodded. “Did you guys break up?”
Sarawat snorted. “No,” he said. “That’s just what the tabloids said.”
But there was something in his voice, something Tine couldn’t quite decipher. Maybe they weren’t dating. Maybe ... ohhh , he realized: of course. That’s why she’d left. Sarawat loved her, and she broke his heart.
Scrubb had a song about how your first love could hurt you. Tine knew because Tine’s first love had hurt him, and he hadn’t listened to anything else, for two hundred and ten days, and then he’d gone to a Scrubb concert, and met that guy, and the next day he’d thought: okay. Time for the next track.
He reached out and put a hand on Sarawat’s shoulder. “You’ll find somebody,” he said earnestly. Of course he would. He was a little weird, but handsome, the handsomest guy Tine had ever seen, probably. His hands were — nice. And his eyes. And the way his hair moved.
“Yeah,” Sarawat agreed, with a breathless gasp of laughter. “I’m sure.”
Feeling settled now that he knew he wasn’t going to get his ass kicked, Tine reached into Sarawat’s jacket pocket to grab his phone. Sarawat flinched. Tine realized abruptly that he'd just, technically, stolen a famous person's phone. "Oh, I'm sorry ... I ... I mean, I was going to give you my number. For, um. To talk. I’m sure you have lots of friends, but maybe it’s hard to talk to them about it? Because they know you both? So. You can talk to me. If you want. You don’t have to."
Sarawat stared at him for a moment, then gave a slight, permissive shrug of his shoulders. Tine grinned and plugged his number in, saving it as Tine SB. "There." He held it out.
Sarawat took it gingerly, squinting down at the screen. “What is SB?” he asked.
Tine blushed and laughed, making a sheepish face. “Oh, it’s what they call me at the office. It’s my rookie nickname. It stands for Super Bright.”
Sarawat stood absolutely still out front as the taxi pulled away. He felt like he had been dropped off a roof. He felt like he’d had all his bones removed. He felt like he was on fire, and also drowning.
It was him. It was him. It was 4am, red lights, pink collared shirt, brightest smile Sarawat had ever seen in his entire fucking life, there in Pam’s apartment holding up her phone and not recognizing him.
But he had — but people called him by the name that Sarawat had given him. His phone felt heavy in his hand, like it was full of something new, full of something he didn’t know how to name.
“I wrote you a song and it found you,” he said to the tail lights, not fully believing it.
Before it turned a corner, Tine leaned his head out the taxi window, and gave him a cheerful wave.