Tine saved him, Tine kissed him, and then Tine stopped answering Sarawat’s calls.
“He can’t talk right now,” Pear said when Sarawat eventually caved and got her office number from Pam, after three weeks of silence. “Sarawat, I told you. You can’t be seen with him.”
“He doesn’t have to see me,” Sarawat pleaded. “Please. I just want to talk to him. I’m trying to — figure out. What happened. What I did.”
There was a long beat. Sarawat could hear Pear whispering with somebody. Was it Pam? Tine?
She said, “I’m sorry. He doesn’t want to talk. Don’t call the office like this again, okay? You’re just making it harder. He’s — really trying.”
“Trying to do what,” Sarawat said, desperate, the words ripped out of him. “I told him, I don’t care if they — I don’t care.”
“He cares,” Pear snapped. “And even if he didn’t, I’d care. This is his whole career, do you understand? Make or break. Emphasis on or break. The publicity on this is intense enough that if he gets fucked, he’s fucked forever.”
Sarawat lowered his head against the steering wheel of his car. He was outside the office. He just wanted — he knew how Tine got. He didn’t eat well. He didn’t sleep sometimes. He needed someone to make sure he wouldn’t wear his shoes to bed. Who would make sure, if Sarawat didn’t?
Pear gave a long, slow sigh. “I know you — I believed you. When you said you liked him. I don’t know why he’s so sure you don’t, but it doesn’t matter. As his boss, as your lawyer, I am telling you, you have to let it go, at least until all this is over.”
She hung up the phone and Sarawat tossed it furiously into the passenger seat.
He just — he didn’t understand.
Tine had remembered. He had remembered who Sarawat was. He had spent months killing himself to find Sarawat an answer, and then he’d found it, and in finding it he’d — what? Decided that he had ... finished what they’d started?
No. Sarawat knew that wasn’t it. He knew Tine. He knew the knots his brain tied him in, knew he never trusted the people around him to keep loving him no matter how many times they said it, knew that the way he’d touched Sarawat’s face outside his apartment hadn’t been the end of anything.
Tine — liked him. He liked him enough to think he had to give him up. And Sarawat knew that was his own stupid fault, for letting Tine think for even one second that he was just a lawyer, that Sarawat wanted anything from him other than his time and his attention and the way he looked, sometimes, when Sarawat surprised him.
But now he wasn’t answering Sarawat’s calls, so Sarawat couldn’t tell him. Couldn’t explain.
He drove home. Earn was there; the band had him on a babysitting rotation, which he suspected they thought he hadn’t noticed. He nodded at her and then flung himself onto the couch, moodily plucking at his guitar. He didn’t want to write anything, or play anything, or think anything.
He accepted a beer when Earn brought him one. She sat beside him and waited, saying nothing. Earn got it, Sarawat thought. Earn was the only one who did.
“I don’t know how to just go back to living like I did before,” he confessed, voice breaking.
Earn nodded. “I know.”
“I don’t care about the fucking contract.”
She knocked her shoulder into his. “You do, though,” she chided him gently. “If you didn’t, you wouldn’t listen to Pear. You’d be at his house right now. It’s not like you don’t know where he lives.”
Sarawat buried his face in his hands. “I love him,” he said, because Earn was right, and that was the worst thing of all: he loved Tine, and he wanted him so badly it made all his muscles ache, but Tine wasn’t the only thing he wanted.
Earn rubbed slow, soothing circles on his back. “Sometimes I miss Pam so much it makes even my teeth hurt,” she murmured. “But I couldn’t have gone with her. I wanted to want to, so badly. But if I had — it would have all gotten all messed up anyway. You can’t keep making music you hate forever, not even for Tine.”
“I don’t hate it.”
Earn snorted. “Yes you do.”
Sarawat looked at her, finally. He’d never asked for the full details of what had happened with Pam. He hadn’t wanted to know. Pam had wanted her own sound; fine. But then the next thing he knew, it wasn’t just a new sound, it was a whole new life, and Earn hadn’t seemed to think she had a place in it. “When Pam left. She asked you to go with her. You said no, and that’s why ... ?”
“She was so sure I’d say yes,” Earn said, smiling a little. “And I was so sure she understood why I wouldn’t. But she was talking about love, and I was talking about art, and by the time I realized, it was too late.”
He leaned his shoulder against hers. I want you to have a happy ending, do you understand? One where you get everything you want. Had he been talking about love? Or art?
It seemed impossible that it couldn’t be both, but Sarawat had run through all of the options and he didn’t see a future where one of them didn’t have to give up something vital. If GMMTM thought they were still seeing each other, it would be bad for the case. It could be bad for Tine. And Tine liked being a lawyer; it made sense that he’d recuse himself from their fake relationship, rather than from the career opportunity of a lifetime. He was smart. Well, Sarawat corrected himself internally, he was smart at the law. Sarawat couldn’t see him quitting just to be Sarawat’s boyfriend, to travel around watching them perform and sometimes doing interviews.
2gether wasn’t even his favorite band. Maybe if Sarawat had been in Scrubb.
He sighed, leaning back against the couch. P’Dim had made a post last night announcing his and Tine’s “break up.” Sarawat hadn’t read it; he assumed it was something bland about it being mutual and friendly, and having no bearing on the news that 2gether was suing GMMTM for breach of contract. He’d logged out of his IG to keep from seeing any of the comments from fans. He didn’t care what they thought. He hoped Tine wasn’t looking.
“Earn,” he said.
“I’m sad. I’m really ... fucking sad.”
Earn ran her hand through his hair with a softness that he didn’t see from her very often. “I know, Wat. But it ...” she hesitated, then said, “It, um — just because it ended doesn’t mean it was a failure. Man told me that.”
“Man did? Our Man? The guy who thinks the pyramids were built by aliens?”
“Listen, I’ll take aliens. Boss thinks it was time travelers.”
Sarawat laughed. He blew out a long breath and resettled the guitar on his lap. “Will you help me with the song for P’Dim?” he asked. It would help to work. It always helped to work.
Earn gave him a smile, and then climbed over the couch to grab Sarawat’s bass from its stand before sitting back down beside him. She plucked a few notes, adjusted the tuning, and reached out a hand for the paper he’d been scribbling notes on. It was a mess; he’d been on a roll until Tine had pulled the rug out from under him. It seemed impossible now to write about happy endings.
“If this is really for P’Dim, it’s not very good,” Earn informed him. “Literally none of these lyrics could be conceivably about that guy he’s dating. This one says he’s shy. I met Green one time and I know that he is ... not that.”
Sarawat looked at the verse in question. Shy eyes, but you keep them open. Heart big enough for me to make a home in.
Earn laughed at whatever face he was making, giving her head a little shake. “It’s okay, loverboy. We can just change ‘shy’ to ‘green.’ So it’ll be, ‘Green eyes, and you keep them open.’ He’ll like that.”
She started writing, and Sarawat watched as her attention shifted from distracting him to really working on the song, crossing out words here and there and making little notes above some of them — drum solo here? — for later.
He felt a flood of affection, for her, and for the rest of them. All the good things in his life, he had because they’d been there with him, urging him along. Even Tine. Every moment they’d had together, they’d gotten because Man had stolen his phone and sent a text.
Without much control over his own actions, Sarawat reached out to put a hand on Earn’s head. She looked up at him, startled, but the look quickly softened into a smile. She didn’t say anything about it; she didn’t have to.
They still gave their shows. Sarawat was surprised to find that it wasn’t more different, performing, even though he felt like such a different person. But the fans didn’t seem particularly bothered by the legal problems and gossip articles planted in the press; they still came, and sang along, and laughed at Man and Boss’s terrible jokes. They still screamed when Sarawat poured water on his head.
The real difficulty, he found, was that he wasn’t excused from interviews. P’Dim had looked apologetic when he’d brought by his most recent press schedule, but there wasn’t anything to be done about it; as long as the case was ongoing, 2gether was obligated to fulfill the terms of their current contract. At least P’Dim had managed to get most of the interviews to be for the whole band, and when Sarawat was asked about Tine, his bandmates usually steered the conversation away with jokes.
But sometimes they didn’t give up. Today, the interviewer didn’t take the bait and instead asked again. “The fans want to know what happened with you and your cute boyfriend. Did it really end because of the legal troubles with your label?”
Sarawat gave the answer P’Dim had coached him on: “I wouldn’t call them legal troubles. We still have a very good relationship with GMMTM. Unfortunately I’m not really allowed to say more at this time, but the fans should know that we are confident we will reach a happy solution.”
He knew he sounded stilted and scripted, but he couldn’t help it. He just wasn’t a very good actor.
“The important thing is that we’re already working on the next album,” Man piped up. “It’s gonna be very good. Sarawat has written some real bangers.”
“Bops, bangers, opuses, masterpieces,” Boss agreed. “It’s a whole new sound. The full banana.”
“Hm,” said the interviewer, somewhat dismissively, which Sarawat found irritating. They were here to talk about the music, weren’t they? (He knew that the answer was no.) (This was why Sarawat hated doing press.) “And what did happen with Tine Teepakorn?”
Sarawat rolled his lips inward. What did they want him to say? What did they want to hear? Why did everyone feel so entitled to his personal life? He’d loved Tine and he’d lost him and it made him feel like he was touching an open flame every time he thought about it. Is that what they wanted to know?
“That question isn’t appropriate, to be honest,” he snapped, and at Earn’s hand on his shoulder let out a long sigh. He knew he should apologize, but he couldn’t make himself do it. He wasn’t sorry, he was right. “And I don’t think the fans need to know anything about it, since all they did while we were dating was say that they didn’t think Tine was good enough for me and spread mean things about him, and he — ” believed them, Sarawat stopped himself from saying.
Sarawat hadn’t protected him enough, and Tine had believed all the things they’d said about him, and that’s why — that’s part of why —
“Next question,” Man said, voice firm. The look he gave the interviewer was enough to make her quell, and she moved on. Sarawat took some deep breaths. He didn’t speak for the rest of the interview, and when it was time to go, he didn’t say goodbye.
“Well,” said P’Dim dryly, leaning against the doorway to the recording studio. “I did not think I needed to tell you not to blame the fans for your breakup, but here we are.”
Sarawat shrugged. He was still mad. He wasn’t going to apologize. He knew it was his fault, ultimately, at the end of the day, but he hated everyone who had said those things, and he hated that they thought that they could then turn around and pretend to be on Sarawat’s team. The whole point had been that Sarawat and Tine were on the same team. Anyone not on Tine’s team wasn’t on Sarawat’s, either.
“You can issue an apology on my IG,” Sarawat told him dismissively. “I’m not doing it.”
“Wat ... I know this is hard. But you have to be careful about what you say. Fans are the ones who let you do what you love. If you turn against them, they’ll turn against you, and then what will you do?”
“Be an accountant,” Sarawat answered instantly. “Marry Tine. Be a house-husband. I don’t care.”
P’Dim sighed. He came into the studio and lowered himself into the chair across from Sarawat. “But you do care,” he reminded him. Everyone kept saying this, and Sarawat knew they were right; he did care, of course he cared, but it was — but he didn’t care now the way he had before. He didn’t care more about the music than he cared about Tine, it was just that he cared equally about both and Tine had chosen for him.
Didn’t Sarawat have to respect that? He couldn’t lock him up in a closet. He’d tried. If Tine wanted to go off and be a lawyer without him, Sarawat had to let him.
But he wasn’t going to let people say — he wasn’t going to let them suggest that Tine had been anything other than what he was, which was perfect.
“If you want me to stop saying mean things, then tell the interviewers to stop asking about it,” Sarawat said firmly. “I can’t ... P’Dim, I wasn’t good at being nice even before all of this. I don’t know how to do it when every time they ask me about him, I feel ... ” He shrugged and waved a hand to gesture at what he felt, which was an unnamable heavy thing that was in the air all around him. He didn’t know how to describe it. The suffocation.
P’Dim nodded. “I will try to keep them from asking,” he promised. “But if they do it anyway, you have to learn to just say ‘that’s a private matter,’ and move on. Okay?”
Sarawat nodded. “Okay.” He hesitated, then asked, “P’Dim? You’re still seeing Green, right?”
The look that P’Dim gave him was knowing. “I’m not going to ask my boyfriend to spy on yours.”
“That’s not what I was going to ask.”
“Yes it was.”
“Fine, it was,” Sarawat admitted. “I just — Pear won’t tell me anything. I just want to know that he’s okay. He doesn’t eat well. Too much sugar. And he doesn’t sleep well at his house because of the noise.”
P’Dim looked up at the ceiling, as if searching there for patience. Sarawat didn’t know why everybody always did that; the ceilings never had any answers for them. He’d asked them so many questions, and they always answered with silence.
“I will ask how Tine is doing one time,” P’Dim acquiesced. “But that’s it.”
“Every time you ask I’ll do another interview,” Sarawat offered in negotiation. “Come on, that’s a good deal, Phi.”
“Don’t sweet talk ‘Phi’ me,” P’Dim laughed. “Fine. I will talk to Green. But I don’t promise he’ll give you any information. He’s very tight-lipped. He likes Tine. They’re all very protective of him over there.”
Sarawat knew. Everyone was protective of Tine. How could you not be, with his big, dumb eyes and the way he threw himself into everything he did? How could all your walls not be dismantled by him?
It would be good enough, Sarawat decided. He held his hand out and P’Dim shook it.
my beautiful ripe mango of a lover says you’re a wreck so i’m going to be nice to you and give you a present, Green’s first text said when it came through. Immediately after, he sent a photo of Tine, sitting at his desk with his head bent over. There were four identical cups on his desk, three empty, one filled with his terrible blue drink. An open bag of oyster crackers was by his hand. He had a sticky note stuck to his shirt, and more of them on every surface of the desk, but Sarawat couldn’t make out what they said.
He was due to start another interview in just a few minutes, but he typed back quickly anyway: that’s too much sugar. dont let him drink any more. make sure he gets something good to eat.
i’m not his mother, or his senior for that matter, Green sent back. if you want him to eat right bring him food yourself.
Sarawat let himself be led to the interview seat, still texting. u know i cant.
He could practically hear the derision in Green’s reply: ur both so stupid it is EXHAUSTING.
“Three, two, one, rolling,” said a cameraman, and Sarawat looked up from his phone.
The interviewer smiled. Sarawat dimly recognized her but couldn’t remember her name. He glanced offscreen but didn’t see it anywhere. Shit.
“You’ve said recently that you’re working hard on the next album, despite the legal battle with your label,” she said, and Sarawat nodded. “Tell us about the music.”
He was relieved that she hadn’t asked more about their fight with GMMTM, and he gave her a small smile of thanks. “It’s a very different sound,” he told her. “It’s, um. Most of the music we’ve made in the past is about longing for something. But this next album is going to be about what happens when you get it.”
Sarawat watched her struggle not to ask about Tine, and felt such a rush of gratitude for her restraint that he volunteered: “The band has been through a lot the last couple of years. So it’s good to put that behind us and look to the future.”
She nodded. “And the future looks bright?” she asked.
Sarawat opened his mouth, then closed it again. He hadn’t thought, before now, about what it would be like to sing the songs he’d write when he had Tine after he lost him. He hadn’t thought he would lose him. He might not be able to do it. He might have to let Earn or Man take all the lead vocals, during shows.
But there were — but Tine had left him better than he found him. Tine had given him so much, hadn’t he? His band and his masters and his future and, for a little while, Tine himself. And that was good.
It had all been so good, while it lasted, and the future ahead of them was bathed in the light of it. Sarawat didn’t know how to think about a life where he never saw Tine again, but he couldn’t bring himself to feel ungrateful for all that Tine had given him.
He realized he had been sitting pensively for at least sixty seconds, and the interviewer was getting nervous. He said, “Thanks to somebody, it looks super bright.”
Tine was never at the meetings about the case. Pear took to coming over to Sarawat’s apartment, rather than holding them at the office; she said it was because she wanted to minimize the amount of paparazzi photos, but Sarawat suspected it was because she didn’t want him to go looking for Tine. Which was fair enough; it’s absolutely what he would have done.
She had all four of them sat now around a stack of papers, asking questions about whether they’d given permission for use of the photo (they hadn’t), whether there could be any ambiguity about that in writing anywhere (there wasn’t), and whether they’d even known that the photo had been used (obviously not). Further research had uncovered other personal photos used for promotional purposes (Pam working out, Man kissing a girl in a club, Man kissing a guy in a club, and Boss in a… library?) which had caused Pear to giggle like a schoolgirl each time. Boss claimed she had even done a full body shimmy once, but the others didn’t believe him.
“Okay. Good. That’s good. Now for the future, I’ve been talking this over with T — with the team, and what I’d like to suggest to you all is, rather than signing with a new label, we create an entirely new sub-label, still under the auspices of GMMTM but with complete control and ownership of the music. So basically, you partner with them on the marketing, the tours, etc., for investment purposes but it’s a partnership, and you get the ultimate say-so over the content and creation. But this would allow you to continue using the people you’re already comfortable with, and we think it will keep them from fighting us too hard over the rest of the contract issues.” She hesitated for a moment, then said, somewhat delicately, “I was given to understand that you would like to preserve some of those relationships.”
“Pam and Air, you mean,” Earn said.
“For example,” agreed Pear.
The air between them wasn’t as tense as Sarawat had expected, and with each additional meeting it eased further. He guessed that they had come to some kind of truce, though he didn’t know when. Sometimes he spotted them chatting on the balcony during breaks, laughing a little.
The band looked at one another, each person trying to gauge the others’ reactions. Man said, “I mean. I really like working with Air. And it would be nice to ... maybe in the future do some collaborations. With Pam. Once we’re all, you know, over our broken hearts because she left us.”
Earn rolled her eyes. “Air gets us,” she agreed. “And — I mean, we’re not going to find a more patient PR guy than P’Dim.”
“And you want to leave the door open to reunite with Pam,” Boss added.
Earn slapped the back of his head. “This isn’t about me and Pam,” she scolded him. “Sarawat has spoiled you guys with how much meddling he allows.”
“I’m not meddling! This is about the music.”
“Music, my ass.”
Pear held up her hands. “Not that this isn’t extremely good television, but can I just get an all-clear that this is how you’d like to proceed?” All four of them nodded, and Pear clapped her hands together, looking pleased. “Excellent. Then that’s a new round of horrible, horrible paperwork I will take great pleasure out of assigning to ... uh, my rookies.”
Earn climbed to her feet. “I’ll walk you out,” she offered. Pear nodded, gathering her papers into her bag and heading toward the door; they murmured happily together. When they got to the door, Earn pulled it open and gave a surprised little shout.
Pear said, “Type?”
Sarawat’s head snapped up. Man and Boss looked at him, then at the door, which was being pushed all the way open from the outside. In the doorway stood a man who Sarawat had never seen before, but recognized certain similarities. The ears, which poked out a little from his face. The cut of the jaw.
Type pushed his way through the entryway and pointed accusingly at Sarawat. “Right,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Sarawat blinked. “Go?” he repeated. “Where?”
“I have to kill you, obviously,” Type snapped. “Personally, I think all of this is extremely stupid, and I was very much enjoying having no part in it. But it’s one thing to string my brother along and make him love you just so you can get free legal consultations, and another to talk on national television about how much brighter your future looks without him. So, unfortunately, it is now fight time.”
“Type, does Tine know you’re here?” Pear asked gently, before Sarawat could say anything. “Because I don’t think — ”
“No he doesn’t, because all he does these days is stay at the office and work himself to death, and fall asleep crying to YouTube clips of music magazine interviews,” Type told her, giving her a glare. “Work for you, by the way, so don’t think you’re not also on my list.”
Pear held both of her hands up. “He’s a lawyer, Type. This is part of it.”
“Somehow I don’t think that dating and breaking up with potential clients is the usual procedure,” Type said. “And don’t try to tell me — ” He broke off sharply, expression going slack. Sarawat followed his gaze to ... Man?
Man was staring right back, jaw almost on the floor. “You,” Man said. His voice was hushed.
“Me?” Type asked. “You!”
“You — remember? Me?”
Type’s mouth snapped shut. He looked quickly away, crossing his arms over his chest. “No,” he said quickly. “What? No. I don’t. That would be — no. Of course not.”
“Man, who’s this,” Boss asked.
“Nobody,” Type said firmly, not looking at anyone in particular. “I’m nobody.”
With a dazed expression on his face, Man said plainly, “I looked all over the place for you. I never found you again.”
Type snorted. “I lived on campus. You couldn’t have looked that hard.”
“So you do remember!” Man cried, slow joy spreading across his face. “You remember me!”
“Good God, it’s tissue man,” whispered Earn to Sarawat, incomprehensibly.
“What is the fuck is a tissueman?” Sarawat hissed back.
Type coughed. “I never said that. I just said that theoretically at a time when you might be remembering something which I myself do not remember, I would have been living on campus, and therefore not that difficult to find. If you were really persistent. Which obviously. You weren’t.”
Man stepped forward, already reaching out, causing Type to back away until he ran into the wall behind him. “I’m sorry I didn’t find you. I should have kept looking. My name is Man. You should be my boyfriend,” Man said, slowly approaching Type like one would a potentially feral stray cat. Sarawat had to sit down.
“What is happening,” he said slowly. He looked between Man and Type, who were still staring at one another.
“I don’t know you,” Type was saying through his deep frown. “Even if I knew what you were talking about, which I don’t, it wouldn’t matter, because it was one weird moment a long time ago. I don’t ー we don’t know anything about each other.”
Man said, “That’s fine. We can learn. I’m a really great boyfriend. I have a lot of love to give.”
“What a ridiculous thing to say,” The tips of Type’s ears were red and Sarawat couldn’t tell if he was breathing. “Love isn’t useful.”
“Also a lot of money,” said Man easily. “Money is useful. Marry me for that. Then you can come to love me after, once you know me. You can pay me back with your heart.”
Type opened his mouth, clearly about to argue, then snapped it shut again, eyes narrowing. “... How much money?”
Man gave an exaggerated shrug, palms out. “I have no idea. I’ve never checked. But it’s probably a lot by now, right? Guys, we’re rich, right?”
Earn nodded quickly, elbowing Pear in the side. Pear, looking as bewildered as Sarawat felt, said, “Yes, you’re rich. Do you really not know how much money you have? Because as your lawyer I feel obligated to tell you that’s something you should know. The rest of you know, right?”
They all looked at each other, and Earn gave Pear a sheepish smile. Sarawat had no idea how much money he had. It was a lot. His mom did all his accounting stuff. What did he care, as long as he could buy what he wanted when he wanted it?
“Oh my God,” said Pear, distressed. “Do you even know how much you pay me? You don’t, do you. Oh my God. I’m upping my rate. Right now. Get an accountant, you absolute disasters.”
Type waved a hand in the air, as if erasing the entire exchange. He looked a little panicked. “Nevermind. I have a ten-year plan, this isn’t in the plan, and I’m not going to let a tissue derail me. Not even for ... okay, like, roughly how many baht? Ballpark figure. No. NO! That doesn’t matter. I came here to kill Sarawat, and I have to do it quickly because I’m scheduled for a massage in half an hour.”
Man gathered him up, beaming. In his arms, Type looked even more like a furious cat, but Man didn’t seem to notice. He buried his face in Type’s neck. “You can’t kill him now, he’s your boyfriend’s bandmate,” he explained cheerfully. “And anyway, Sarawat loves Tine very much. Not as much as I love you, but what can you do.”
“Fat lot of good love ever seems to do anybody,” Type muttered as Man nuzzled his cheek again. “All it’s gotten either of us is a broken heart and a stolen tissue half a million years ago.”
Earn squeaked again. “He definitely remembers,” she breathed gleefully. “Oh, I love this. Pam would love this. I love this enough for both of us. Oh God.” She burst into tears.
Sarawat felt frozen. Nothing made any sense. He couldn’t get his head around anything at all that was happening. Pear put her arm around Earn’s shoulders and was gently patting her head; Man had not let go of Type, but seemed over the moon that Type had ... once gotten and/or lost a tissue? And Boss was watching the whole thing up-side down, hanging off the couch, eating popcorn.
“Can someone please explain to me what just happened,” Sarawat begged the room at large. “Are we fighting or not?”
Type shoved Man away again, but he was gentler about it this time, and shifted to stand closer to him after Man regained his balance. He made a face, closing his eyes for a moment and delicately pinching the bridge of his nose. “... Don’t talk about him in interviews anymore,” he said after a long pause. “Don’t talk to him, or about him, at all. Leave him alone. He’s — you’ve hurt him enough.”
“I didn’t mean to,” Sarawat reminded him, a touch sullenly. “He left me.”
“He thought that was what you wanted!”
“I never told him that!”
“You never told him otherwise, asshole!”
“IT’S NOT MY FAULT HE DOESN’T ANSWER HIS PHONE.”
They glared at one another. Sarawat folded his arms across his chest. “You should get better windows. It’s too loud in your apartment. He doesn’t sleep well when there’s noise.”
“Fine, I’ll send you the bill,” Type snapped. “Since you’re all — is it millionaires? UGH! Don’t tell me. I don’t care.”
“This is so great. I’ll buy you all kinds of stuff. I’ll buy you whatever you want, and I’ll love you, too, as an extra special bonus treat,” declared Man, and hugged Type again. This time, Type reluctantly let him, though he was still glaring at Sarawat.
How is he, Sarawat wanted to ask, but he knew he wouldn’t get an answer. He felt his mouth twist, and he dropped Type’s gaze, looking down at the floor instead. It was good, he thought, that Type was here; that Type cared enough to be here. Tine had told him once that silence was Type’s love language, but Sarawat thought maybe it was just that Type didn’t talk about his love, he acted it out. He was here to protect Tine, and hadn’t told him he would be.
Tine was like that too, Sarawat thought. He had such a hard time talking about things, but he took care of the people he loved. He always tried so hard for them.
In a small voice, he said, “I didn’t mean that the future looked brighter without him. In the interview. I meant — is that what he thinks? It’s not true. I meant ... I was trying to, to thank him. For everything.”
Type pulled himself away from Man for a final time. “Just send flowers next time,” he advised, and then — having apparently decided not to kill Sarawat today — turned and stormed out of the apartment.
He paused in the hallway, hand outstretched to punch the button for the elevator. His finger curled back into his fist and, without looking at any of them, asked through gritted teeth: “Well, tissue man? Are you giving me a ride home or not?”
Pam brought pad se eiw, and dumplings, and a big bag of healthy snacks that Tine could keep in his desk drawer. Sarawat had sent her a whole grocery list, which she’d mostly ignored because it was all stuff that Tine would have to eat in one day before it went bad, or take home, and she had it on good authority that he wasn’t really going home.
Pear had let her know that she was going to be detained, and given her express instructions not to bother Tine while she waited, but Pam assumed Pear knew that this was fruitless instruction.
He was asleep when Pam got there. It made something in her heart clench a little, to look at him: hair a mess, shirt rumpled, an ink stain on his cheek from where he’d drooled onto a printout and then rolled onto it.
From his desk, Green shrugged at her, looking fresh as a daisy. “Girl, I’ve tried,” he said before she could ask. “He won’t listen to me.”
Pam sighed, putting the food down on his desk and then gently shaking him. “Tine. Hey. Wake up.”
He mumbled something, shifting away from her; but when she shook him again, he jerked awake, paper sticking to his cheek as he sat up. He flapped his hand at it until it fell, then ran his arm across his mouth. “Wassa?”
Pam smiled at him, reaching into one of the baskets to pull out a dumpling and wave it under his nose. “I brought sustenance,” she told him. “And thank God I did, your trash can is full of sugar foods. Have you eaten a real meal this week?”
“I’ve been busy,” Tine grumbled, rubbing at his eyes. He blinked at her for a moment before apparently processing who she was. “Oh! Pam. I — um. Wow. You didn’t have to bring me all this.”
She reached out to ruffle his hair. He was so cute. She got why Wat liked him, and she was glad that it was him that Sarawat liked. She’d known Sarawat a long time, and he’d never found anybody, not the way he’d found Tine. He was picky; he was socially anxious; he found it difficult to be loved. It was good, Pam thought, that the one he picked was so overflowing with sunshine that Wat would be able to stand in its warmth.
Super bright, Pam mused. Sarawat had done a good job describing him across fourteen songs and two albums. Strange to meet the person she’d been singing to for all those years.
“It’s not from me, it’s from the band,” she told him, which was a gentle lie because she worried if she said Sarawat’s name he’d start crying or something. “They’re all worried about you. They miss you. They wish you’d come around.”
Tine rolled his lips inward, a little shake at the corners of his mouth.
This poor baby, Pam thought. She remembered how distraught he’d been, when she’d spoken to him at the concert. She had thought it was the music, and maybe his own fears; she hadn’t realized that he’d known what was coming.
“I miss — the band,” Tine croaked out. “I think about — I wish — but I, but we’re doing really good. We’re going to win, I think. Pear says we have a really strong case.”
Pam couldn’t keep herself from pushing the noodles toward him. She reached into one of the bags and pulled out the utensils, putting them firmly in his hand and raising an eyebrow, tapping her foot impatiently until he started eating. “The band would like to talk to you,” Pam told him, trying to be gentle. “You could give the band a call.”
Tine shook his head. He looked so tired. “I can’t,” he said. “If I heard — if the band said — I did it once, you see? And it was ... I wouldn’t be able to do it again.”
“Why would you have to?”
Tine’s eyes got wide, and he shoved a dumpling in his mouth, presumably to keep from answering. I’m not what he wants, Pam remembered him saying.
“Pam.” Pear’s voice cut across the office. “Stop harassing my rookie and get in here.”
Pam made a face at her, but nevertheless gave Tine’s head a goodbye pat. “Finish the dumplings at least,” she commanded. “You can have the noodles for dinner. The snacks are meant to last you the week. Okay?”
Tine nodded. “Okay,” he murmured. “Thanks.”
“And you’re wrong,” she added, before Pear called her name again, more sharply this time. “About what the band wants, long term.”
Tine didn’t look up at her, just shrugged. But he tucked into the dumplings, so Pam let him be, going instead to Pear’s office and tuning out the first five minutes of her lecture about leaving Tine alone to do his job and not meddling.
“I’m not meddling,” she defended finally, leaning back in her chair until the front two legs came off the ground. “I’m helping.”
“Are you?” Pear asked. “Because he can’t get back together with him, if he wants to stay on this case.”
“Yeah, publicly,” Pam agreed. “I dated Earn in secret for like, five years. It’s not hard. In fact it’s a great excuse to stay in and have sex. Like, all the time.”
“Ok, number one? Leave me out of that,” Pear sighed heavily. “I’m just looking out for him.”
Her expression was a little lost; she glanced over Pam’s shoulder through her office window to where Tine was sitting. Pam smiled, a rush of fondness taking over. Pear was so bossy. She’d always been bossy. She thought she knew exactly what was best for everybody and she was going to make sure they got it, whether they wanted her to or not.
They’d never found a way to make love work between them, not in any romantic sense. There was always something that unbalanced them, pushing or pulling too strongly in the wrong direction. But Pear was — Pear. She was Pam’s Pear. That was all, but it was a lot.
“He’s not exactly thriving,” Pam pointed out, gently. “And Wat’s not much better. Why won’t anybody just tell him the truth?”
“That Sarawat’s in love with him. That he’s been in love with him ever since they met at that concert two years ago.”
Pear blinked. “Ever since ... what?”
Pam clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oops,” she said. “God, I’m the worst at keeping secrets. I forgot you didn’t know. In my defense, you nicknamed him Super Bright!”
Pear buried her face in her hands, muffling a shout of irritation. “Sarawat, you asshole,” she muttered. “He ... fucking — Tine said — shit. I want to — can I hit him? I want to hit him.”
“Not unless you want Earn to hit you back,” said Pam. “She gets very protective.”
“I can take Earn. She’s all bark, no bite.” At Pam’s surprised look, Pear shrugged. “Well, I’m her lawyer, aren’t I? I’ve gotten to know her a little.”
Something roiled in Pam’s stomach, something she couldn’t name. Whatever it was must have shown on her face, because Pear gave her a soft smile and stood, came around her desk, slowly and meaningfully lowered Pam’s chair back to the ground, and looked her dead in the eye. “Listen up, dummy,” she said, firm. “I’m not flirting with Earn. You were right. She’s — she’s funny, and smart, and talented. And she’s also still so pathetically in love with you that it’s almost embarrassing to watch.”
Pam looked down. She felt her cheeks heating.
How could you ask me that? Earn had asked, when Pam had asked her to come with her for the new project. How could you ask me, like the idea of them was crazy, like Pam was — like without the music, Pam wasn’t enough. Wouldn’t be enough.
“She doesn’t like pop music, you beautiful idiot,” Pear reminded her, gently slapping the back of Pam’s head. “That doesn’t mean she doesn’t like you. Why are all of you musicians like this.”
“I made indie music with them!” Pam cried. “Because they were my friends and that was the sound they wanted! How is that different?”
Pear shrugged. “Did you tell them you wanted to make pop music? At the beginning? During any of the writing sessions?”
“They knew,” Pam muttered. The look that Pear gave her was so unimpressed that Pam felt herself blush again. “Whose side are you on?”
Pear bent forward and gently kissed Pam’s forehead. “Yours, stupid,” she said. “I want you to be happy. Nobody in that stupid band is happy, except maybe Boss, and that’s because I honestly don’t think that guy lives on the same plane of existence as the rest of us. Like, what’s his whole thing with bananas?”
Pam laughed, shrugging. “I learned a long time ago just to kind of accept the weird shit Boss says to you and move on.”
They smiled at one another. Pear kept holding Pam’s face in her hands, stroking her thumb beneath her eye. After a moment, she leaned in and kissed Pam’s brow. “Pam. I love you. I’m really glad to have you as I have you, and I don’t think we made any mistakes, okay? But I don’t want to see you miss a chance again because you’re waiting for the other person to speak up first. Just call her.”
Pam reached up and put her hands on top of Pear’s, gently pulling them down to her lips. She kissed Pear’s palms, taking a moment to feel awash with gratitude for her. If Pear thought it was possible, sensible Pear, cautious Pear, careful Pear, if she thought that Pam could — that things were salvageable. Then maybe. Then it was worth trying.
“Okay. I’ll think about it,” she said. Then, “Pear. You’re my best friend.”
“I’d better be,” Pear teased, and then paused. “Wait. Pam. You know how much money you have, right? You have an accountant?”
“Uh,” said Pam, and Pear yanked the cushion off the other chair so that she could scream into it.
The documents Pear needed him to sign usually came by courier, but this time she texted him to tell him there had been a mistake. They’d been sent to the studio; Sarawat needed to get there as fast as possible to ensure that they weren’t seen by anybody at the label.
“Air signed for them. She texted Pam,” Pear had said over the phone. “Studio A. Text me when you have them.”
“Fine,” he’d said, grabbing his keys; he could do some work while he was there anyway. He texted Air, who promised to keep them hidden. She’d included a winky emoji, which was kind of out of character for Air. He parked in the lot and jogged into the building, keeping his head down. He’d managed not to run into P’Mil so far and today was not the day to run out of luck.
He found Air in Studio A, as promised, and texted Pear confirmation that he had what he needed. Air tossed the package to him, then said, “Actually, if you want to just read and sign, I’ve got to mail some stuff later today. I can drop those off at the same time.”
“Oh, sure,” he said. “Thanks. Got a pen?”
“I’ll go get one. I gotta pee anyway.” She patted his shoulder as she passed him. “Oh, hey, give a listen to the latest ‘Odyssey’ mix. I think you’ll like it.”
He waved her off, dropping into her usual chair and pulling the papers out of their envelope, flipping through. It was mostly legal jargon that meant nothing to him. Whatever; he trusted Pear.
His phone buzzed. Pear’s Line message said, got you a present. page 17. my rookie has a habit of writing down what he’s thinking instead of writing valid contracts. don’t thank me. get an accountant.
He frowned and turned to the page in question. The top half looked normal enough, but the middle section was covered by a big bright orange sticky. Sarwat lifted it; underneath, Pear had circled a sentence in red pen. It read all rights and ownership shall be the exclusive property of love, i love him, i can’t help but love him in accordance with agreed partnerships between ...
Coming back into the studio, Air said, “Excuse me, did you — oh.”
No. Not Air.
Sarawat’s head snapped up.
Tine was staring at him, hand still on the door handle. He looked ... terrible. He was thin, and his hair was a mess, and he looked like he hadn’t slept in days.
“Hi,” Sarawat said dumbly. “You’re here.”
Tine blinked. “I — Pear said, um, that the courier went to the wrong place. She said — is this Studio A?” He looked at the papers in Sarawat’s hand and blanched. “Did you, uh, did you read those yet?"
Sarawat’s phone buzzed. JK! got you 2 presents. GET AN ACCOUNTANT.
He looked down at the papers in his hand. “‘The exclusive property of love,’” he read out with numb lips. “That’s good. That’s a lyric.”
There was so much in his head. So much he wanted to say, so much of it impossible. Sarawat was good at lyrics, he was good at guitar riffs, he was good at sitting down and putting it all down and handing it off to someone else to sing. But he had never been good at this part, at knowing in the moment how to say the right thing. He always came across too strong or too aloof. He didn’t know how to be gentle with his words. He only knew how to say nothing or too much.
He set the papers down on the desk and walked slowly toward Tine, who was frozen. “Tine, I — me too,” he managed, stumbling over the words.
Tine’s face fell. When Sarawat reached out to brush them away, Tine ducked his head, stepping back. “Oh, please don’t,” he said, voice rough as gravel and pitch rising, increasingly panicked. “Don’t say it when you don’t — when I — I know you’re trying to be good to me. You don’t have to. It’s okay. Only please don’t say it.”
“I’m not,” Sarawat told him. “Tine. I know you think — but can you trust me? Can you just trust what I’m saying?”
Tine closed his eyes. He backed up again, this time into the hallway. Sarawat was afraid that if he followed, Tine would run, so he stayed put. His hands fisted at his side in the effort not to reach for him. But he couldn’t make Tine stay. He’d done it once; he wouldn’t again.
Tine opened his eyes, biting the inside of his lips together. “How can I?” he asked quietly. His hands were fisted, too. “Pear told me. About — that you remembered me. That all the songs were for me. But you didn’t say anything. You let me — you let me talk about you to you, and you — ”
“I was afraid,” Sarawat interrupted. “I thought you’d be embarrassed. I thought it would be too much, how long I’d liked you, how long I’d thought about you, and that you didn’t recognize me.”
He couldn’t keep the old sting out of the words, that Tine hadn’t held on to Sarawat the way Sarawat had held onto him. He knew it didn’t matter, of course it didn’t matter, how could it matter? But the thought made him embarrassed anyway, that it would be so obvious how much more the night had meant to him.
“You didn’t recognize me,” Tine answered, and there was a matching bitterness in his words that made Sarawat look up. “You just — maybe I didn’t know your face, but I remembered everything you said. I remembered who you were. And you, you just, you invented someone, you made me into this — I listened, I’ve done nothing but listen since I left, and I don’t know that person. I don’t know that person in those songs. He’s not me. He’s this, this, this — fantasy, and I’m just. I’m a shadow of him.”
“Tine,” Sarawat said, stomach dropping. “No. That’s not — ”
“All those songs you wrote,” Tine interrupted. His shoulders had climbed up by his ears, hunching inward. But when he finally met Sarawat’s eyes, his expression was brave, his jaw set. “You wrote them for someone else. He had my face, but he wasn’t me. And it’s not fair, because then you came in and you made me like you, you, and now you’re everywhere, all the time, and you look at me like you love me but you don’t. You love an idea of me you had.”
Sarawat opened his mouth to argue, then closed it again.
Say something! he thought, frantic, but the words wouldn’t come. There weren’t any. He closed his eyes.
Tine was right. Who was it that Sarawat had written about? A nameless man bathed in light. The idea of someone completely unselfconscious. The fantasy of a boy who’d understood him without trying.
But Tine hadn’t, had he? The real Tine hadn’t understood Sarawat at all; he’d had to work at him. He’d had to put in so much time, and be so purposefully brave, and climb over so many of his own walls. But that was — that was what Sarawat loved, that’s what love was. The trying.
“You aren’t the shadow, you’re the sunshine,” he said at last, but when he opened his eyes, Tine was gone.
Air said, “Here’s your — oh. Uh. Are you okay?”
Sarawat looked up at her from the floor. He didn’t answer.
“Right. Time to break out the office whiskey, I see,” she told him, and produced a bottle from underneath the desk. She lowered herself to sit next to him and gently pulled his head to her shoulder. “I’m not good at this. But it’s going to be okay.”
Sarawat wordlessly snatched the bottle from her hands and took a long drink of it. In his pocket, his phone buzzed.
WOW. SEE IF I EVER DO A NICE THING FOR YOU AGAIN, Pear had texted him.
He didn’t text Tine. He knew he wouldn’t get a response. He knew that Tine was right, and Tine knew he was right, and there was nobody more stubborn than a Tine who knew he was right.
Saying it wouldn’t matter. Sarawat had to — he had to show him. Somehow.
“Have you considered flowers?” Man suggested from Sarawat’s lap. The band had quasi-moved in since Air had called them to collect Sarawat at the studio. He didn’t remember much of what he said the first night, only that it was probably very sad and embarrassing. Pam had taken to spending some nights there, too. The first week, Sarawat had walked in on her and Earn standing side-by-side in the kitchen, speaking quietly to each other. Earn was plating food for them, and Pam kept plucking pieces of kale from Earn’s and popping them into her mouth.
Sarawat hadn’t asked. He was happy for them, but the sight of it had made him so viscerally jealous that he’d had to go lie under the covers for a few hours without speaking.
He gave Man a dry look. “I’m not sending flowers,” he said.
“Oh yeah, this is way beyond flowers,” Earn agreed from the floor. She and Pam were sitting side-by-side, backs against the couch. Boss had strung himself out along the top, balanced precariously. “Pear said Tine hasn’t even come back to the office.”
“He’s working from home,” Man told them. “Type said.”
“Oho!” cried Boss. “Tissue Man responds to your texts now!”
Man grinned. “About half the time. Sometimes he just sends me the thumbs-down emoji.”
“Type’s love language is silence,” Sarawat remembered. He swallowed. “Tine told me.” Man smiled so widely his eyes disappeared into his cheeks.
Pam reached up to gently pat Sarawat’s knee. “Tine’s isn’t,” she said. “Wat. He’s taken all the risks. Every time.”
Sarawat sighed. He played an idle rhythm on Man’s forehead. “But it’s not just my risk,” he reminded them. “If I — it’s you too. All of you. ”
Earn and Pam exchanged glances; Man’s face got serious. Boss rolled off the back of the couch onto the cushions and sat up, pulling his lips together. Sarawat looked between them, waiting. He knew when his friends were Up To Something.
“Pear says we have a pretty clear-cut case,” Earn said. “The bulk of it is done. Now it’s mostly up to the lawyers to agree to things.”
“And,” said Man, “you’ve always taken care of us.”
Boss added, “We can take care of you sometimes, too.”
Pam leaned in close, her smile soft. “Enough of these sad eyes, ka. Bring me my old Wat back.”
“Anyway, it’s good that it’s a risk to all of us,” Man added, reaching up to give Sarawat’s chin a shake. “Because that’s how we’re supposed to be, right? 2gether.”
Sarawat closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Boss was hitting Man’s stomach with a pillow. “That’s. So. Lame. We said we weren’t gonna be mushy about it!” Earn was yelling, and Man rolled off Sarawat’s lap and onto the girls. Boss gave a delighted yell and followed suit, taking his pillow with him and still whacking Man with it.
They weren’t a band, Sarawat thought; they were a family. They were his family.
He took half a second to be glad for it before a pillow smacked him in the face and he had no choice but to retaliate.
Sarawat spent the whole show in a state of high anxiety, keeping out of the spotlight. They’d brought Pam out after the first song; Earn had leaned into the mic and said, “There’s been a lot of hard things lately. We know the fans have been stressed. So we wanted to give you something nice, to show you that it’s okay, and to say thank you for all your support. That’s why just for tonight we have a really special guest to help us with our songs. I think you guys remember Pam?”
The fans had screamed loudly enough to shake the building. Sarawat was just grateful that he hadn’t had to sing. He didn’t think he’d have been able to do it.
Offstage, between the last song and the encore, the band drew into a tight circle. “Together?” Sarawat asked, throat tight.
Boss put his hand into the center. The rest of them stacked on top. “Together,” he said. They broke, and Pam took out her phone. She checked her Line messages and then nodded to Wat.
He took a deep breath, let it out long and slow, and then grabbed his acoustic guitar and went back on stage.
The lights adjusted, encircling him in a bright ring. The arena went quiet. He’d never done anything like this before. He wasn’t even sure he’d ever been onstage without the others.
He cleared his throat “Um,” he said. “Hi.” They answered him with a loud, curious cheer that died out quickly, clearly wanting to hear what he said next. “So, I’ve been ... working. On something. And I was supposed to change it, to make it more radio friendly, so that you guys would like it more. But — I don’t want to. I want to sing the version I wrote, because it’s how I feel. It’s messy, and maybe a little dense, and my producer says it’s pretentious, but that’s who I am, and that’s how I love. And this song is ... it’s for the person I like.”
The crowd was silent. Sarawat thought he heard somebody gasp.
“I don’t know if he’s listening. But if he is, I want to say to him that he was wrong. That I do know him. I didn’t before, but I do now, and he isn’t a shadow. He’s — the brightest thing I’ve ever seen. All the cosmos. The whole chaotic universe.”
In the front row, the girls carrying the #SarawatsWives cards slowly brought them down. Sarawat gave them a small smile.
“Okay. So. I hope this is enough to convince you, but if it isn’t, that’s okay. You don’t have to believe me yet, but what I’m asking is, will you leave your heart open for me? Until you do?”
And then he began to play.
Pam took her hand.
Onstage, Sarawat was bathed in light. His hands were shaking as he played. Earn didn’t know if anything was going to work out. She didn’t have any idea what the future would look like.
“I gave you bad choices,” Pam said, without looking at her. Things had been better, lately. Earn thought that, maybe, they were on a road. Going somewhere. “The options I should have given you were: can you love me if I’m not in 2gether, or can’t you?”
Earn brought Pam’s hand up to her mouth and kissed it. “Once, a long time ago, I was sitting in the university practice room. I don’t remember what I was doing. But I looked up and there was this girl in the doorway.”
“Listen. I didn’t love you then. I’ve thought recently that maybe that means we didn’t love each other enough, but it doesn’t, because that’s not enough, you see? To see once and love, it’s a start, but it’s just a dream of things. But you — everything you did, every day after that, that’s what made me love you.”
Earn shook her head. “I don’t need a meet-cute moment. I need all the moments after that.”
Eyes wet, Pam leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to Earn’s lips. The hand not held in Earn’s came up to hold the back of Earn’s head. When she pulled away, she was smiling, smiling, the most beautiful girl in the world.
She said, “Stringing a bass. That’s what you were doing,” and kissed her again.
Man dropped Sarawat off alone. The apartment would seem so much bigger without everyone in it, but he didn’t want to feel crowded. He wanted to sit in the quiet. It was good to be alone, sometimes. It helped him to feel the expanse of things. It helped him think.
He took the stairs, unhurried. His phone hadn’t rung. He didn’t know if Tine had seen, yet, or if Tine would see at all. Pear had said she would try, had told Pam that she’d sent Tine the link to the livestream and told him to watch. But Sarawat didn’t know if he would.
It would be fair, Sarawat thought, if he didn’t. He didn’t owe Sarawat anything.
He opened his door and set his guitar by his umbrellas, heading straight to the kitchen for some water. He was halfway upstairs before he realized that he’d done all of this without turning the lights on, because they already were.
“Hey,” Tine said from the top of the stairs. “Man gave Type his keys. For me.”
Sarawat tightened his grip on his water glass so he wouldn’t drop it, finishing his ascent slowly. Tine fell back to give him space as he made it to the landing. He didn’t say anything; when Sarawat looked back at him after setting his glass down on the bedside table, he was still just standing there, framed by the hallway light, eyes wide. Precious. Golden. Brighter than Sarawat had ever given him credit for, and beloved, not for his cosmic energy, not for the mystery of a man at a concert, not for having gotten away.
Beloved for his eighty-four step nightly skincare regimen. Beloved for the way he liked to curl up against Sarawat’s back, forehead pressed to his spine. Beloved for the faces he made when his prudish sensibilities were shocked. Beloved for the way he smiled when he was pleased, for how silly he was once he stopped worrying about what people thought of him, for how hard he worked at everything, for his terrible blue drinks, for his bad guitar playing, for his desire to love the things his friends loved, his kindness, his obliviousness, his impulsivity, his bravery, his very specific taste in music, his bad driving, his inability to properly process emotion, his dumb sexy muscle tee-shirts, his hair in the mornings, his vanity, his terrible sense of humor, his ache to be loved, his willingness to love, his sharp mind, his kind heart. His kind kind kind kind heart, that loved Sarawat, that couldn’t help it.
Sarawat loved him from his hair to his shadow.
“I love you,” Sarawat said. “Tine. Nuisance. I’m so in love with you.”
Tine closed his eyes. His hands fisted in his shirt sleeves. He looked — small. “You have to be sure,” he whispered, and when he opened his eyes it was only to glare at the floor.
Sarawat moved quickly this time, moving in to grab both of Tine’s wrists. If Tine wanted to run he’d have to shake Sarawat off first.
“No, listen,” Tine said, but Sarawat shook his head. He let his hands go to take his face in his hands, dipping his head down a little so that Tine had to meet his eyes. There were bags under Tine’s eyes. He’d been working himself so hard, and Sarawat had let him, Sarawat had thought he had to let him in order to make the art he wanted to make, but he didn’t. He wouldn’t. They would win the case, and if they didn’t, Sarawat would make the music that he loved at home, for an audience of one.
It was the making of it that he loved, not the concerts or the fans or the money. It wasn’t one or the other. It had never been a choice between love and art.
It had never been Sarawat’s choice at all.
It was Tine’s.
“Tine,” he said again, savoring it in his mouth. He brushed his thumbs across Tine’s eyebrows, along his cheekbones, over the bow of his lips. “You said you wanted me to have a happy ending. This is it. You’re it. You just — you have to choose it, that’s all.”
Tine studied him, mouth open slightly, eyes wide. “The songs. You were weaving for someone who doesn’t exist. I can’t be that person.”
“I was weaving for you,” Sarawat said. “The songs weren’t my inventions of you, Nuisance. They were maps for you. It’s not coincidence that I found you again. It’s because of us. I wrote all those songs to bring you to me, and they did.”
Tine leaned forward until his forehead rested against Sarawat’s collarbone. Sarawat’s hands came up to cup the back of his head. He was afraid to move, in case it made Tine try to run; but Tine was heavy against him, limp. He was tired, Sarawat thought. He’d been trying so hard.
“Do you want to try?” Sarawat murmured, threading his fingers through Tine’s hair. “You can — I know the case is important for you, for your career. I can wait. I can wait as long as you want.”
For a long, terrible moment, Tine said nothing. He didn’t move. When he finally lifted his head, his eyes were so bright that Sarawat could see his own reflection in them.
“That night. At the concert,” Tine told him slowly. “It was — there had been a heartbreak. And I’d been running from it for months.” He reached up and slowly traced the outline of Sarawat’s face with four of his fingers. “No, that’s ... that’s not what I want to say. I thought I’d been running from it, but I wasn’t. I was running toward something, only I didn’t know what. And I stopped at you.”
Before Sarawat could say anything, Tine leaned up and kissed him.
It wasn’t like the kiss on the sidewalk, or the one when Sarawat was drunk. It felt like a stamp. It felt like a seal. It felt like a promise. It felt like Tine was asking him a question, and Sarawat answered by pressing back, drawing Tine in with both hands around his head.
Tine opened his mouth and Sarawat pushed into it, and then kept pushing, gently, until Tine caught his drift and began backing up, toward the bed. When the backs of his legs hit the mattress, he let Sarawat lower him down onto it, not breaking apart.
Boss was wrong about the chaotic universe, Sarawat thought. It kept arranging itself to put Tine in Sarawat’s path. It kept giving them new ways to find each other. He wouldn’t ask it to bring Tine back again. He’d finally learned the lesson that the universe had been trying to teach him: to hold on. To not let go.
He pulled back, hand moving from the back of Tine’s head to his cheek, then down to his chin. Tine’s eyes opened slowly, blinking dazedly at him, hands fisted in the front of Sarawat’s shirt.
“I wanted,” Sarawat managed, somehow, to say, “all this time — I wanted — ”
Tine broke into a grin. “To touch my boobs?” he suggested, one eyebrow rising.
“You,” Sarawat told him, just to watch him blush. “All this time, I wanted you.”
The smile dropped off of Tine’s face, to be replaced by something new that Sarawat could not read. They lay there for a moment, regarding each other. It felt good to look at him, after not having been allowed. Every part of him was dear. There were no parts, only the sum, and the sum was more than Sarawat could have ever asked for, two years ago in the red of a traffic light.
Tine had worried that he was a disappointment, that he did not live up to Sarawat’s memory of him, but that could not be possible because Sarawat’s memory was only ever meant to be the beginning of something.
“I never thought that who I met that night would be the whole of you,” Sarawat told him gently, hand firming up on Tine’s chin, not letting him look away. “I only ever thought you were the person that I wanted to know most in the world.”
“Wat,” Tine said, voice breaking a little.
I could kiss him, Sarawat thought, and then, this time, finally, he did.