Chapter 1: say my name, again
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.
Chapter 2: carried you like a loom
“I found him,” Sarawat said.
my poor friends beta reading: this chapter is too long.
me: ya. anyway,,,
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“I found him,” Sarawat said, the second Man opened the door.
Man blinked at him. “Hell yeah!” he cried. “Found who?”
Sarawat shouldered past him, into the apartment. Boss was lying upside-down on the couch, hair brushing the floor, as he played a video game. He paused it, seeing Sarawat, but didn’t turn himself right-side up. Sarawat held his phone up, waving Tine’s contact information in Man’s face. “Him. The guy. The — the Scrubb guy. The guy I like! I found him! He was at Pam’s!”
“You were at Pam’s?” Earn asked. “Um—I mean, cool, whatever.”
They ignored her. Man grasped Sarawat’s wrist to keep it from waving round. He squinted at the phone screen. “Tine SB?” he read out. “That’s a weird name.”
“It’s a perfect name, fuck off,” Sarawat snapped. “It’s so cute. He’s so cute. He’s still so cute. He looks like — he — ”
He paused. “Wait. How come you’re all here? Do you guys hang out without me?”
His three band mates exchanged a look. “It’s not so much that we hang out without you as that you hang out without us,” said Boss, delicately. “And we don’t really hang out with anyone else, so. Mathematically this is your fault.”
“No one but yourself to blame, having other friends,” Earn agreed. “Anyway: you found the guy? Scrubb Guy?”
Sarawat buried his face in his hands and forced himself to take a few breaths. He had to calm down. He had to think. He flung himself onto the couch and gave Boss’s tummy a delighted, gentle pat. “They call him Super Bright. At work.”
“Damn,” said Earn with a whistle. “And all this time I thought you were just being melodramatic.”
“I’m not melodramatic,” Sarawat protested, frowning.
Earn gave him a very dry look. “You are the most dramatic bitch I’ve ever met,” she informed him. “Remember when Boss ate the last of your noodles and you banned him from your apartment for a month?”
“Or when you refused to wash your jacket for like six weeks because it was touched by your mystery concert man?”
“Or when you walked out on that interviewer guy after he called Man stupid?”
“That was deserved,” Sarawat bristled.
Man patted Sarawat’s head. “My big handsome protector,” he cooed. “My adorable, feral little grumpy cat.”
“Am I the only one with an attention span of more than two seconds?” Earn interrupted, snapping her fingers. “Don’t answer that, I know the answer is yes. Sarawat found Scrubb Guy! At ... Pam’s?”
Sarawat nodded. “He was returning her phone. She had left it at the law firm where he works, when she was visiting ... uh.” His mouth snapped shut with a guilty glance at Earn, whose face had gone blank.
Boss made a low whistle. “Pear, huh?” he guessed. Sarawat slapped his head. “What? It was, wasn’t it?”
Earn cleared her throat. “It’s fine. Guys, come on. It’s fine. We’re broken up. She can see Pear if she wants.”
“They’re just friends,” Sarawat offered helplessly. “It wasn’t a date.”
“Obviously,” Earn agreed, in a voice that suggested she very much did not think this was obvious. “I have lunch with my first love all the time, too, just as totally platonic friends.”
Her voice, normally a lower register, squeaked upwards. All three boys stared at the ground; Boss pushed himself into an upright position and gently patted Earn’s leg. “If it makes you feel better, my first love is dead,” he said, comfortingly.
The other three stared at him. “Why would that make me feel better?!” Earn cried.
“Dude, that is super fucking dark,” Man scolded him.
“Yeah,” said Boss solemnly, nodding. “Well, I mean, I guess she died. She disappeared. She had the most beautiful green hair.”
A long pause. Then Sarawat said slowly, “Are ... are you talking about that fucking girl from PangPond.”
Boss nodded, forlorn. “She was so hot. We never saw her again.”
“I’m quitting the band,” Earn announced flatly, before attempting to beat Boss to death with one of the couch pillows. “I don’t want to be associated with this idiot anymore.”
“You’re the worst person I know, by far,” Sarawat informed him, but he was laughing, and so was Earn.
Man swooped in to pick up Earn so that he could take her place on the couch, resettling her on his lap. She let him, but probably only because she was still feeling tender about the Pam thing.
“So what are we going to text him?” Man asked, holding up the phone, which Sarawat realized with horror he had left on Tine’s contact info. “A dick pic?”
“I will kill you,” Sarawat warned him flatly.
“What about you just transfer him a few grand and explain it’s what he earned in royalties for being your muse?” Earn suggested. “People love getting paid.”
“Just text him that video Wat made on Scrubb Night,” said Boss. “Singing Super Bright.”
Earn applauded a little. “Ohhh that’s good! Do that.”
“Do not do that,” Sarawat instructed. “You’ll scare him away. I have to — I have to play it cool.”
His friends said nothing.
“I recognize this will be an uphill battle for me,” he acknowledged. “But I can do it. I’ve seen a lot of dramas.”
“Okay, but you have to text him first, he doesn’t have your number,” Man pointed out. “So you need a reason.”
All four of them sat in contemplative silence. Sarawat tried to think of a good reason to hang out, but his brain just kept giving him fantasies of Tine emerging from a pool with roses falling from the sky and landing delicately on his shoulders.
Boss snapped his fingers excitedly, grabbing Man’s wrist. “Contracts law,” he said. “That’s what Pear does, right?”
“Yes,” said Earn, teeth gritted. “So what.”
“So, Wat doesn’t want to renew his contract with the label. He needs a lawyer.”
Sarawat startled. “What? No. I never said — ”
“You didn’t have to say,” Man cut him off, waving a dismissive hand. “You hate them. You’re miserable. Obviously we’re not going to re-sign.”
“I thought we were waiting for him to tell us!” Earn cried, hitting Man’s chest. “We were going to be patient! It was a bid to encourage open communication and personal growth!”
“We don’t have time to be fucking around with personal growth when we’re dealing with an issue of true love,” Man dismissed, and before Sarawat could say or do anything, typed something into Sarawat’s phone and then sent it. He tossed it into Sarawat’s lap.
i have a favour to ask. we can meet anywhere. -sarawat
There were already three dots. Sarawat held his breath.
Tine wrote: omg thank god u signed it i thought it was one of those sex bots!!!!!
A pause. Then: not that i talk 2 sex bots.
Then: anyway ya we can meet. lunch tomorrow?
Sarawat changed six times before ultimately deciding to wear the same white shirt he always wore, with a green button-down hanging open over top. He’d tried to get Earn and the boys to help him, but every time he put anything else on they’d told him he looked “like King Baby” or “like a hot gangster that killed my dad but wants to marry me” or “like my Aunt Jennie, if she got really into drugs but then became a teetotaler and started her own church.”
“That is ... so specific,” Sarawat had said.
Earn had shrugged. “It’s a very distinct look.”
Anyway, he ended up in his jacket and shirt, and now here he was, in front of Tine’s office, watching Tine eat noodles at a picnic table like he hasn’t ever eaten food before. He had sauce on his chin. He’s had sauce on his chin since he came out to meet Sarawat, suggesting that he had definitely started eating before Sarawat arrived.
He squinted up at the sky. It had been threatening rain all morning.
“...complicated,” Tine was saying, his mouth still full. “I mean. I’m honestly pretty new, I really think you’d be better off with somebody more established than me.”
Sarawat shook his head. “I can’t get anyone established,” he said. “It has to be secret. If I’m out there being seen with some bigshot lawyer, it’ll get out. The, uh. The band will find out.”
“The band doesn’t know?” Tine asked, blinking in surprise.
“No,” lied Sarawat, who felt it was probably not the right time to reveal that this was a plan that had been devised by three unhinged musicians with control of his phone.
“So ... why do they think you’re here?” Sarawat took a bite of his lunch to avoid having to answer. He shrugged instead. Tine seemed to take this as a perfectly reasonable response, nodding thoughtfully and taking another bite of food. It reminded Sarawat of sitting at the bar with Tine (this Tine! His Tine!) that night years ago, looking at the ceiling and saying, sometimes I go places and I don’t tell anybody, because I like to feel invisible. I don’t have to live up to anyone or anything, I can just — exist. So maybe a shrug was answer enough.
He tried to imagine P’Mil letting him out of an interview just because Sarawat said he didn’t feel like doing it.
Overhead, there was a low roll of thunder; Tine, mouth still full, sauce still on his chin, said: “Okay. So we’ll have to think of a cover story, then. And obviously I’ll have to read through the contract and look at what your other options are. And we’ll have to talk through some scenarios. Like, lists of non-negotiables and stuff for your next contract, whoever it’s with.”
“Yeah,” said Sarawat. He was sort of listening, but he was mostly staring at the line of Tine's necklace, which had nestled into the soft valley of his chest.
“Hm. You don’t own your masters?”
Sarawat dragged his eyes up to Tine’s face. Thankfully, Tine was too busy flipping through the copy of Sarawat’s contract to notice he was being ogled. “No,” he agreed. The word lodged in his gums on the way out. “We didn’t think — when we signed, we were nobody. We needed the advance to record. They said we’d get, you know. Streaming royalties and stuff. It seemed like a lot, at the time.”
Tine hummed. He was smart, Sarawat thought, watching his eyes flick over the paper in front of him. Or — well, at least he was good at his job, and you had to be smart to be a lawyer, right? Didn’t you?
“Yeah, that’s pretty common,” Tine said, distracted. “Obviously you’ll want those, if we can get them. If nothing else all future projects will need to be owned by you. Or the band, I guess.”
“I want to do what’s best. For the band,” Sarawat told him, firm. It didn’t matter, the rest of it; he’d stay with stupid P’Mil for the rest of his career if he had to, give all the masters away, never say anything again. If that’s what was best for the band. He’d been over the contract hundreds of times now; he didn’t really see a way out that didn’t fuck everybody else over, and he wasn’t going to do that, so.
He’d let Tine work on it until he could convince Tine to love him, and then, at the end, he’d re-sign with GMMTM and that would be that.
“Got it. Well, I’ll do my best,” Tine agreed. “Oh, and if possible I’ll want to get access to — shit!”
The sky opened up. Around them, people lunching outside started scrambling to get their belongings and run inside. Tine shoved the contract papers into his briefcase; Sarawat, not thinking, pulled his shirt up over his head and tucked Tine under it as best he could. Laughing, they joined the crowd hustling inside, where Tine shook off his hair and plucked at the sweatshirt he was wearing.
“Well, at least I left my shirt and suit jacket at my desk,” he said. “I was worried about getting sauce on it.” He looked with dismay at Sarawat, who had not been so lucky; his white shirt was plastered to his chest and Tine sort of ... petted it, as if expecting to be able to brush the water off.
Instead, Sarawat felt a shiver follow his fingertips. Tine seemed to realize what he was doing and quickly yanked his hand away, eyes wide. “Sorry! Shit. Sorry. I don’t know what I was — oh. Uh. Hi, Green.”
Sarawat blinked, following the direction of Tine’s gaze to see that they’d been joined by someone he’d never seen before, wearing a suit with very damp shoulders. Suit Guy was drinking a purple-colored drink, but was holding a blue-colored drink in his other hand. He handed the blue drink to Tine, looking suspiciously at Sarawat as he did. Sarawat glared at the drink in Tine’s hand, then at Tine, then at Suit Guy.
“Hello, handsome,” Suit Guy said. “I see you survived our little afternoon shower.”
Tine flushed red. Oh God. Was this — was Tine dating somebody? Was Tine dating this guy? This stupid, fancy-looking lawyer guy, who brought him horrifically colored drinks? Was this Tine’s type? Because if yes, Sarawat was fucked. Sarawat couldn’t dress like that. He’d look like an idiot, and also, just looking at a suit with that many components exhausted him.
“Green,” he said. “We talked about this.”
“You talked about it, I never agreed to anything,” Suit Guy informed Tine cheerfully. Sarawat resolutely refused to think of him by the name Tine kept calling him. He didn’t deserve a name. He was stupid, and Sarawat hated him. “Anyway, look, the rain was fate. I’ve been looking all over for you and it brought you right to me.”
He reached out to gently pat the side of Tine’s head, which Tine accepted with a tight look on his face. Sarawat scooted closer, barely resisting slapping his hand away. Couldn’t he tell that Tine was uncomfortable? Couldn’t he see that Tine didn’t want to be touched?
“He’s with me,” Sarawat snapped.
Suit Guy blinked at him. “Uh, okay, that’s a nice tone. And who are you, exactly? His boyfriend?”
Tine cleared his throat, reaching out to put a soothing hand on Sarawat’s elbow, which shorted out his brain long enough to prevent him from saying something rude back. When Sarawat looked at him, Tine’s expression was — excited. Like there was a little lightbulb above his head. He gave Sarawat absolutely no warning other than a brief squeeze and then said: “Yeah! This is my boyfriend! That’s exactly who this is!”
Later, if pressed, Sarawat would have described what happened to his body as being similar to what he imagined it felt like to be consumed by an inferno, but like, in a good way. Like if being burned to a crisp were the best thing that could happen to you.
It couldn’t be this easy, he thought. He reached over to take the hand on his elbow in his own, interlacing their fingers and tracing a thumb over Tine’s knuckle.
Suit Guy was frowning dubiously at them. “Your ... boyfriend,” he repeated. “You’ve had a boyfriend this whole time and you’ve never mentioned him.”
“It’s new,” said Tine quickly. “Very new. But, uh. We like each other. A lot. Also, it’s been secret, because he’s famous. And ... we didn’t want the press to find out. So you can’t tell anybody. Isn’t that right, Wat? About us being boyfriends in secret because of the fans and stuff?”
Sarawat’s head jerked up. Tine was looking at him with enormous eyes, hand twitching in Sarawat’s, leaning forward like he was trying to communicate something from his brain directly to Sarawat’s.
Oh, Sarawat thought. Of course. Tine wasn’t — how could he have thought that Tine would just ... that they would meet for half a lunch and Tine would know, instantly, immediately, that they were, what, meant to be together? How could Sarawat think that just because he’d known within ten seconds of meeting at a concert two years ago, Tine would too? That wasn’t how life worked. That wasn’t how anything worked.
Sarawat was ... so stupid.
He dropped Tine’s hand. Tine snatched it back, giving him a significant look.
Suit Guy’s frown deepened. “This is weird,” he said, pointing between this. “Like, huge if true? But there is definitely something going on here. I don’t know what it is, but my job is not that challenging and I love a project so I will figure it out.”
He pointed two fingers at his eyes and then at the pair of them, threatening, before spinning on his heel and heading over to the stairwell, turning to look at them over his shoulder as he went.
The moment he disappeared onto the next floor, Tine disentangled his hand, giving Sarawat a sheepish smile. “I can’t believe that worked,” he laughed. “Thanks for just going with it. I wasn’t sure of what I was saying until I said it. Good cover though, right?”
The problem with a feel-good inferno was that no matter how good it felt while you were burning, afterwards, you were still a crisp. The same crisp you’d have been if any other flame had engulfed you. You felt good while the fire was hot, but eventually it went out, and there you were. Burned.
Tine was looking at him with big, worried eyes. Like he was afraid Sarawat was going to be mad at him. Not two minutes ago he was confidently telling Sarawat about running scenarios, but now he was sitting with his shoulders curled in, mouth twitching in a nervous smile.
“Sorry, I just, um, I thought — it would give you a reason. To be here. With — I mean, with me. That isn’t anything to do with contracts. Honestly, it’s probably more believable than that you’d be here to deal with your contracts, I still don’t quite understand why you’re so insistent that it’s me when I’m...” He gestured at himself as if to indicate he was — what?
Sarawat cocked his head to the side. “Too beautiful to work?” he guessed.
Tine flushed dark immediately, bringing his hands up like he was going to cover his face. “What? No! Oh my God. No. Dumb. I meant dumb.”
Sarawat sat back, taking Tine in. His hair was plastered against his forehead, cheeks flushed from either the dash inside or the embarrassment of their interaction with Suit Guy. He looked — he looked just the same as he had two years ago, but different, too. Things had happened in his life since then. Things had happened in Sarawat’s life since then.
The Tine that Sarawat had been imagining all this time was a version of him that had been compressed into six hours, wrapped in a haze of music and beer and mood lighting. It was a version of him that could never have been the whole of him, could never contain the fullness of the human person standing in front of him, with wet bangs, nervously tucking his hands into the sleeves of his shirt. That Tine had a halo around his head. This Tine ate noodles with messy abandon and acted impulsively and thought himself to be dumb. This Tine wore a sweatshirt because he was afraid of sauce stains. Sarawat’s memory of Tine was an idea.
This Tine was a person.
Tine the Person had not magically fallen in love with him, the way that Sarawat had fallen in love with Tine the Idea. But maybe that — maybe that was better. Lots of people loved Sarawat the Idea; the label, the fans, Sarawat’s Wives. They loved the Sarawat they wanted him to be, but he could only be that in small doses. An hour or two on stage. Four minutes of song.
Sarawat didn’t want them to be ideas together. He wanted to ... he wanted to know everything, about Tine, all the stupid stuff, the annoying stuff, the messy and ugly stuff. He wanted Tine to know all that about him, too.
He made himself smile. People fell in love all the time, he thought; why couldn’t they?
“That’s my boyfriend you’re talking about,” Sarawat said, pointing a stern finger at Tine’s face. “So don’t talk about him like that.”
Tine opened his mouth to protest, but Sarawat cut him off, leaning in close and taking Tine’s chin in his hand. Pretend you’re in a drama, he reminded himself. He gave Tine’s face a little shake. “Wh ... what are you doing?” Tine asked. His voice was quiet. Not quite a whisper, but as if he had realized as he was speaking that he was supposed to be whispering and was trying to quickly dial it down.
It’s going to work, Sarawat told himself. It had to.
“You’re the one who wanted to be my boyfriend,” he pointed out, unable to suppress a grin at the way Tine’s eyelashes fluttered. “This is what I would do. With a boyfriend.”
“In broad daylight?” Tine squeaked. When his hands came up to Sarawat’s chest, Sarawat yielded to the pressure and leaned back. He wanted Tine to feel teased, not threatened. He let the lawyer disentangle himself, bringing his briefcase up to clutch against his chest. “Um. Okay. Cool. Well. I’ll — look over the paperwork. And get back to you.”
Sarawat let himself laugh a little. “Fine. Give me a call. It’ll be a date.”
Tine stared at him. “What ... um, what do you want to do? On the date?”
He was looking at Sarawat with big, round eyes, eyes that Sarawat remembered, but which his memory could never render right. His hair hung in his face, making him look sweetly young. He still —
Sarawat stepped toward him, reaching out to brush his thumb against the spot on the corner of his mouth where the sauce still was, then brought it to his own tongue to taste.
Later, if pressed, Sarawat couldn’t have said where it came from. He licked the sauce off his finger and winked as he said: “Well. Keep looking at me like that, and I’ll kiss you til you drop.”
Pear stared at him, unblinking. Tine stood with the contract clutched tight in his hands behind his back, as if she’d be able to see through the paper and know what was on it.
“So ... your friend ... whose identity you do not feel at liberty to reveal for some reason, but who is a musician of some stature, has asked you to look over their employment contract to see what their options are for leaving their current label and obtain ownership of their masters, even though you have absolutely no formal experience and technically cannot do any of this work without my direct oversight?”
Tine winced. It sounded bad when she said it. “I did tell him that it was a bad idea,” he muttered glumly. “But he really didn’t want to hire an actual lawyer, so. He said I could just do it as like, a favor. Like, just offer him advice before he makes any decisions or brings anyone on in any official capacity.”
Pear hummed. She tapped her pencil against her desk in a quick rhythm. “And did Sarawat tell you why he didn’t want me to know who he was?”
“What?” Tine said quickly, heart skipping. “It’s not Sarawat. Who said it was Sarawat? I didn’t say that.”
“Well, for one thing, Green said he’s your boyfriend now, which was a piece of news I did not care to learn from my admin, by the way.”
“Oh.” Tine looked up at the ceiling for some answers. It didn’t have any for him. It had a stain in the shape of Germany. He hated lying to Pear. He was bad at it. She always knew everything anyway. Sometimes he thought maybe it was possible she could read his mind. Sometimes he thought maybe it was possible that she could read everybody’s mind, and she was disappointed in all of them for what she heard there. “Well. Yeah. He is my boyfriend now. But that’s not related. That’s a totally different thing.”
Pear snorted. “So you met two semi-famous musicians, both in conflict with their labels, at the very same time?” she asked, using a tone of voice that suggested she thought he was incurably stupid for suggesting this.
“Small world,” Tine agreed miserably. “I met this other guy ... through Sarawat? On one of our dates. Our secret dates, that we go on.”
“If it was a secret date, why did he bring a friend?”
“We — ran into his friend? While out on our secret date?”
“You went out on a secret date? Don’t the paparazzi follow him around? Wouldn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?”
Tine rubbed at his forehead. Fuck. This was why Pear was a good lawyer. Tine felt like he was on the stand for something. “Well, we’re not very good at keeping secrets,” he said, exasperated. “Surely that can’t come as a surprise to you.”
Pear laughed. She tossed her pen down and leaned back in her chair, surveying him. “Well that’s the truest thing you’ve said this whole meeting,” she informed him. “All right. I will choose to deliberately believe this terrible attempt at a cover-up and say that you can go ahead and do this, but I want to see any and all advice you’re going to give before you give it, and nobody is to sign anything without me going over the documents first. Also, he cannot give you any money, because if he does he’s hired you, and you can’t do that. Like ... ethically, you can’t do this without me if it’s in any formal capacity.”
Tine nodded quickly, relief washing through him: it didn’t matter that Pear didn’t believe him; she was going to pretend to, and that was good enough. It would amount to the same thing. “If it progresses at all, I’ll tell him he has to come to you. Pinky promise.”
“Don’t pinky promise me, Tine, you’re a lawyer for God’s sake,” Pear admonished. “Tell Sarawat I said he was an idiot.”
“It’s not Sarawat,” said Tine.
Pear gave him a look. “Okay. Tell your other musician friend that I said he was an idiot, and tell Sarawat I said he was an idiot, but not for this reason. For other reasons not related to this.”
Tine felt his mouth twist. He wasn’t going to ask. It wasn’t his place to ask. Sarawat wasn’t his real boyfriend, and his past relationships were his own business. It wasn’t fair for Tine to — to feel anything about them. He didn’t, obviously, but if he did, it wouldn’t be fair to. What happened between Sarawat and Pam was between them still, and just because Tine thought that Pam was stupid to have walked away, that was just his opinion. What did he know about Sarawat, really, anyway? Maybe he was a jerk.
Who cared how his eyes looked when they were that close to Tine’s face? Who cared how soft his hand had been, on Tine’s chin? Not Tine. That was acting. Sarawat was a musician, he had to act in music videos all the time. He had practice. He was a professional, that was all.
Tine shouldn’t get confused. This was his idea. Sarawat was just going along with it, so Tine shouldn’t mix up their relationship. It was very straightforward: Sarawat was his fake boyfriend so that Tine could give him legal advice in secret. Totally normal.
“Is it true that your two o’clock left because they broke up?” he blurted, and then barely resisted covering his mouth with his hand. “Shit. Sorry. Nevermind.”
Pear huffed a small laugh, hand mussing with her hair. She always did that when she was bothered by something. “That’s not your business,” she informed him, which Tine already knew. “But you’re cute and clearly distressed, so I’m going to be kind and tell you the truth, which is no. That’s not why Pam left.”
Something in her voice made Tine peer closer. Pear’s mouth was a little pinched at the corners, fingers now back to toying with her pen as if it were some kind of puzzle. Pear was his friend, kind of; was he supposed to ask? Tentatively, he began, “Was it ... um. Was it because of you?”
Her eyes snapped up to his, sharp. “That’s none of your business either,” she snapped, then visibly softened with a sigh. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s — I shouldn’t have asked. I just thought ... you looked. Uh. Kind of sad.”
“I’m not sad. I’m ... pensive.”
“I mean it.”
“I believe you.”
“She didn’t leave the band for me.” Tine no longer knew what the right answer was, so he said nothing. This seemed to be the right move, because Pear sighed again. “You know when you love somebody, I mean really love them, but it’s never the right time? Not just because of life stuff. But because you’re never the version of yourself you’d have to be to be right for them, and they’re never the right version for you? So the timing is never right. But there’s always the idea that one day it might be.”
Almost everybody in Tine’s life wanted him to be a different version of himself. All his ex-girlfriends, his mom, Type; Tine was too assertive or not assertive enough, immature or too deliberate, vain and also shy. They all loved him, of course. But Tine thought maybe he was never going to be the right version of himself for anybody.
He didn’t say that to Pear. He said, “Yeah, I guess.”
She shrugged. “Well, there you go. That’s the whole dumb story.”
Tine refrained from pointing out that it was no story at all, and she’d told him almost nothing except that she either was or was not in love with Pam, and they were or maybe weren’t dating, which was going either really well, or possibly terribly.
She smiled at him, and he smiled back. It felt kind of like they’d had some kind of breakthrough, though Tine didn’t know about what.
“All right, get out of here,” Pear said, and he hurried out before he could ruin the detente by saying something stupid.
Tine stared down at his phone. He kept his eyes on the same spot even as Ohm plucked the device from his numb fingers, giving a low whistle as the notifications that were popping up four times a second made the screen flicker. With a sympathetic pat to Tine’s shoulder, Ohm turned it off.
“Well,” he said slowly, “that’s ... certainly one way to get famous.”
Tine looked up at him, Fong, and Phuak, who had shown up almost simultaneously. “But — I didn’t want to be famous,” he said, almost desperately, like if he could convince them, then people on the internet might believe it too. “Honest to God. I didn’t even — how did they even get that photo? Who took it?”
Fong shrugged. “He’s famous. People take photos of famous people.”
“Also, well done,” Phuak said. “We said you should get a boyfriend and you really overperformed, buddy.”
“He’s not my boyfriend!” Tine squeaked, and then, remembering that he was sworn to utmost secrecy, amended, “I mean — he is. Yes. He is my boyfriend. But just for now.”
“Aw, c’mon, that’s no way to go into things,” Fong scolded. “You never know. Maybe it’ll work out, even though these things rarely do for famous people and their nobody boyfriends.”
Tine frowned. “I’m not a nobody.”
“Well, not to us,” Phuak agreed. “To us, you’re the most important and wonderful boy in the world.”
Fong acknowledged this by nodding in Phuak’s direction. “For sure. It’s just that to fans of the band 2gether, you very much are nobody.”
“They think you’re hot, though,” said Ohm cheerfully, holding up his phone. “This girl says she wants to chew on your abs.”
Tine winced, hand going protectively to his stomach. “Why does she want to do that?! Is that a sex thing?”
“I think it’s like how on the internet when people say that they hate you, it means they love you a lot,” Ohm assured him. “She wants to chew on your ab because she wants to bone, but if you guys were having sex, she wouldn’t actually chew on your abs. Probably. I don’t think. I don’t know, there’s corners of the internet that I try to avoid.”
“Is Twinks R Us a real store?” Phuak asked as he peered over Ohm’s shoulder. “See if it has a site.”
“What do you want a twink for? You are a twink.”
“I’m not a twink!”
“All of us would be twinks. Maybe Fong isn’t. I don’t know. He’s kind of middle ground-y.”
Tine dropped his face into his hands and his body onto the couch. This had spiraled so quickly. He had thought it would just be, like, a few people they told, the people that Sarawat didn’t want to know about seeing a lawyer. And now Tine’s face and abs were plastered all over the internet while people speculated about his identity.
Ohm said, “The good news is, the WhatsApp group for Sarawat’s Wives is still open, and we’re talking about you.”
Tine sat up. “You’re doing what?!”
“Don’t worry, I’m telling them good things,” Ohm soothed, tapping away. He didn’t look up. “They’re gonna like you, and once they like you, you’ll be fine. From what I can tell, being in Sarawat’s Wives is less about wanting to be his literal wife and more about wanting to, like, be his team of bodyguards, kind of.”
Tine snatched the phone away and tossed it into his couch cushions, and then sat on them to make sure. “Don’t encourage them,” he hissed. “This is all just ... a big misunderstanding.”
His friends frowned at him, waiting. He chewed his lip. He wasn’t supposed to tell. He had promised not to tell. There was probably something about lawyer-confidentiality that he really had to adhere to.
But there was definitely nothing in the code of conduct about fake dating your client, who also wasn’t legally allowed to be your client, right? Was there?
Why had Tine thought this was a good idea? How was anyone going to buy that someone like Sarawat was dating someone like him?
He groaned, scrubbing at his forehead with his fingertips. “It’s ... guys. He doesn’t really like me.”
Fong made a soft, supportive noise and gentle mussed Tine’s hair. “Hey, man. Come on. He’s lucky to have you.”
“No, I mean — I mean he literally doesn’t like me.”
Fong’s expression hardened. Phuak cracked his knuckles. “Did he say that to you? Is he being mean to you? Because we don’t care how famous he is, we’ll — ”
“No,” Tine interrupted. Why was everything so impossible all the time. “No, I. Okay. It’s like this: he wants me to do some legal stuff for him, but it has to be a secret, and also legally I can’t anyway, right? So we decided we’d just. Pretend to be boyfriends. So that we had a reason to be spending all this time together. But we’re not really dating. I think he’s still in love with his old bandmate, who is Pear’s two o’clock. Also, it’s possible they’re in love, I mean Pear and Pam, I mean Pear and her two o’clock, who is named Pam. I don’t know, that part was really unclear but I was too afraid to ask any more questions.”
All three of his friends stared at him. Tine couldn’t read any of their expressions.
“It makes sense,” he said again, more weakly. “Also Green was there. I don’t know. I panicked. I’m not great in a crisis.”
“So you ... saw Green ... and your first thought was to claim that Sarawat was your boyfriend?” Ohm said, for clarifying purposes.
“It was your idea!” Tine cried. “You guys said I should get a fake boyfriend but it couldn’t be anyone at the firm!”
“We didn’t mean world famous musician Sarawat Guntithanon!”
“To be fair, we didn’t know he was available, at the time,” put in Phuak thoughtfully. He scrunched half of his face. “Actually, from an HR perspective, I’m fine with this.”
Fong slapped the back of his head. “This isn’t about HR violations, asshole. Tine’s going to get his dumb heart broken.”
Tine felt himself flush, which was stupid. He didn’t even like Sarawat that much. Or — well, he did. He thought he was interesting. And like, sad, maybe. And obviously he’d listened to some of the music and he thought it was pretty good. 2gether was no Scrubb, but nobody’s Scrubb. He thought the songs had a kind of ... aching quality to them, even the bouncier ones. He felt flattered in a way he hadn’t known to be before that they’d nicknamed him Super Bright, now that he’d listened to it and actually paid attention to the lyrics.
They were ... pretty intense. Whoever Sarawat had written it for, he’d really cared about them. You could hear it. Or maybe he still did; Tine didn’t know. Maybe Sarawat had a real secret — boyfriend? girlfriend? — somewhere. Maybe it had been about Pam. She was still with the band when they released it. It was Pam’s voice singing.
But just because he thought he was handsome and smart and interesting didn’t mean Tine liked him. It just meant he ... thought he was handsome and smart and interesting. So what?
“I’m not going to get my heart broken,” he told his friends, rolling his eyes. “I’m sure this will ... blow over. I’ll just be some weird footnote in future documentaries about the band. The worst thing that could happen is that, like, Type finds out.”
Phuak whistled under his breath. “Well — he doesn’t have social media, does he?” he asked. “And ... didn’t you say he was going to a meditative retreat for a couple of weeks?”
Tine gave a long, calming exhale. “Fuck, I forgot. Yes. He left this morning. Oh shit, that was so close. Surely this will have blown over by then. And he can’t get mad at me for not telling him, right? He’s at a silent retreat.”
“Why does he go to those things anyway?”
“Mostly I think he hates when people talk to him,” Tine guessed honestly. “...Actually I kind of think he just hates, like, people. Generally. As a concept.”
Ohm, Fong, and Phuak, who had met Type, accepted this.
He sighed. His phone was off, and therefore no longer yelling at him; he’d dodged the Type bullet for now; and Pear had given him the okay. Despite his initial panic, maybe this was, overall, going according to plan. He felt kind of bad that Sarawat had to be tied to him like this, but he supposed that they could just — not confirm anything. They could let people speculate, and it would draw their attention away from what they were really doing, and that would be fine. Eventually they’d pretend to breakup and Tine could go back to his regular life, and that would be fine, too.
His life was fine. It really was fine. Tine glared up at the ceiling, but this one didn’t have any more answers for him than Pear’s had. Ceilings were fucking useless.
Ohm let out a soft giggle, and brought Tine’s attention back into the room. He realized that his friends were all huddled together. They were holding —
“What are you doing,” Tine said flatly.
“Don’t be mad,” Phuak told him. “He did it first.”
“Did what first?” Tine asked, scrambling off the couch and reaching for his phone, which Fong quickly held above his head. When he grabbed at his arm, Fong dropped it into Ohm’s hand, who darted behind the couch. “Who?”
Phuak wrapped his arms around Tine’s middle and lifted him easily off the floor, holding him. “Sarawat made a post, while you were busy dissociating.”
“I wasn’t dissocia — wait. He did? What does it say?”
“Well,” said Ohm, looking thoughtfully at the screen. “It says ... uh. Dessert. With the eyes emoji.”
Tine stopped struggling. He knew it wasn’t as simple as Sarawat posting a picture of his dessert and then noting that it was, in fact, his dessert. But he didn’t see why it should be funny. Or what it had to do with him. Or why ... Ohm held the phone out for him to look at it, and Tine made a sound he didn’t know he was capable of making.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT,” he yelped, reaching for it again. Fong grabbed at his legs, so that he was suspended like a hammock between him and Phuak. “IS THAT ME? WHERE DID HE GET THAT PICTURE OF ME?”
“It’s on your IG,” Fong reminded him soothingly. “Anyway, he chose a good one! You look cute!”
“That’s not the point!” Tine complained. “He — called me dessert! He didn’t even ask!”
“Well, he’s your boyfriend now, he doesn’t really have to ask,” Phuak pointed out.
“He’s not my real boyfriend.”
“Well, his followers don’t know that. Anyway, it’s fine. We retaliated.”
Tine felt himself go limp. He felt, in this moment, like there was no battle happening anywhere that he could win. Anything at all might happen at any point, and he was just going to have to accept it. Someone could tell him he’d grown wings and he’d probably jump off a balcony, believing.
“How did you retaliate,” he asked dully, without really making it much of a question.
Ohm beamed. He flicked his phone and up came a photo he’d never seen before. He guessed they’d done what Sarawat had done and pulled it from his instagram, or just ... wherever. Online somewhere. Who cared. Tine resigned himself to reading, “I want to eat @sarawatlism” next to his instagram handle.
“That’ll teach him,” Fong said, satisfied.
“I’m not sure he’s going to learn the right lesson,” Tine informed them. “Hey, do you guys want to do me a solid and just toss me out the window?”
Instead of doing that, they gently lowered him onto the couch. Ohm climbed over the back and sat on his legs, so that he couldn’t get up.
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” Phuak said. "I even added a period, because you guys are lawyers."
“Us lawyers do love a full stop,” Fong agreed. “Get that ellipsis shit out of my face.”
Tine closed his eyes. On the coffee table where Ohm had tossed it, his phone vibrated on and on and on. He took a moment to be grateful that Type was safely tucked away at his retreat, and that his parents were afraid of the internet. He took another moment to be grateful that it was Friday, and he didn’t have to go back into work for two days.
Then he jerked his legs up as hard as he could, dislodging Ohm, and went about hitting all three of them with pillows until they learned their lesson.
Sarawat knew before the door opened that P’Dim had arrived, because he could hear him shouting as he marched down the hall. Also, Boss and Man poked their heads out, yelled, and sprinted down the hallway in the other direction, because they were disloyal and Sarawat hated them.
Earn, in the booth, had stopped in the middle of laying down her bass track, and Air had pinched the bridge of her nose, muttering under her breath that she didn’t like any of them and that she deserved better than a working environment like this.
The door opened with a slam. “HEY, QUICK QUESTION, ASSHOLE,” P’Dim shouted. “WHAT THE FUCK?”
Sarawat winced. “Okay. I know it’s — I should have talked to you first.”
“Oh, should you have?” P’Dim asked, voice rising into octaves not even Pam could have hit. “Should you have talked to me, your PR manager, before you posted SALACIOUS PHOTOS of a MYSTERY MAN on your SOCIAL MEDIA? Is that what you SHOULD HAVE DONE?”
“I got carried away,” Sarawat conceded. “I — it was an emotional moment.”
“IT SAYS DESSERT. WITH THE EYEBALL EMOJI.”
“It was ... a very specific emotion?”
P’Dim let out a shot and reached for Sarawat like he was going to strangle him; he dodged behind Air and held her out in front of him, peeking out around her shoulder. Whatever look she was giving P’Dim seemed to quell him; he held his hands up in a gesture of surrender and then took a series of deep, calming breaths. “Okay,” he said. “Okay. Tell me who he is. And what happened. I can fix this.”
Sarawat couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face; he knew it was dumb. He knew he looked — whatever, googly-eyed, but it didn’t matter because what he finally, finally got to say was: “P’Dim. It’s him. It’s the guy I like.”
P’Dim frowned. “Since when do you like anybody that isn’t some waif you met at a Scru ...” He trailed off, eyes going wide. “No way. No way. Are you serious?”
Sarawat nodded, emerging from behind Air and clasping his hands behind his back, then in front of his chest, then dropping them down to his sides. He couldn’t seem to keep them in any one place. “He works at Pear’s firm. She sent him to Pam’s to return her phone while I was there. It was just — it was random chance, but it’s him. I know it is. I found him. Or he found me. Both. Whichever.”
P’Dim deflated, leaning back against the wall and giving Sarawat a long, hard look. “...Does he know?” he asked. “Who he is to you?”
Air snorted. “Do you think this idiot has the game to tell Mr. Scrubb that he’s been in love with him for two years upon first meeting?” she asked.
“Well, apparently he has game enough to convince him to be his boyfriend,” P’Dim pointed out. “So maybe stalking is effective these days.”
“He doesn’t know,” Sarawat said. “He ... it all happened kind of fast.”
P’Dim hummed, peering more closely at Sarawat and then glancing at Air as if asking for her opinion on a question he hadn’t asked. She shrugged. Sarawat didn’t know what their faces were talking about.
“And ... you’re sure,” P’Dim began delicately, “that ... he likes you? For you? For your personality?”
“What’s wrong with my personality?” Sarawat asked, offended.
“Almost everything,” said Air. “You make, like, four people cry every day.”
“Those aren’t people, they’re gossip columnists,” Sarawat said dismissively. “And they always start it.”
P’Dim shook his head. He lowered himself into one of the chairs and gestured for Sarawat to sit in the one Air usually used. She made a grumpy sound when he looked at her for permission, but waved him ahead and grabbed her jacket from where she’d tossed it in the corner. “I’m taking Earn out for lunch,” she announced. “I’ll be back whenever I feel like it.”
They sat in silence as Air let herself out, then reappeared in the booth and dragged Earn away by her wrist. Finally, P’Dim said, gently, “Sarawat, there are a lot of reasons why people might meet you and agree to be your boyfriend on the same day, and not all of them have to do with true love. You’re very rich, and you’re famous. Some people might ... want to also be those things.”
Sarawat frowned. “Are you calling Tine a gold digger?” he asked, fists clenching. “He’s not. What the fuck, he’s — no. He’s ... if you met him. You’d see. He’s not like that. He’s ... good. He’s really really good.”
“Sometimes it is easy to mistake people who have nice torsos for people who have nice personalities,” P’Dim said, not unkindly. “I am president of that club.”
“I wasn’t bamboozled by his boobs,” Sarawat cried exasperatedly. “Come on, Dim. You know me better than that.”
P’Dim groaned, tipping his head back in his chair. “Yeah, I guess I do,” he admitted. “But this isn’t just some guy with a cheese grater on his abdomen. It’s Scrubb Guy. Maybe you aren’t thinking clearly.”
“I’ve never thought more clearly about anything,” Sarawat promised, despite the fact that every time he tried to think about Tine his brain did go kind of fuzzy, like he was looking at him through an instagram filter. One of the ones with hearts, maybe. “Look, he hasn’t asked me for anything. Man and Boss posted that photo, to tease me. But someone else took the first photo anyway. Everyone already knew.”
“I should have fucking known it was those idiots, you never use the eyeballs emoji,” P’Dim grumbled, then visibly gave in, patting his own cheek. “Well. All right. If you want to do this, we’ll do it. But we’re going to have to do better than some obscure IG posts. I want to do an interview.”
Sarawat frowned. “Posts? Plural?” he asked. “What else did they ... ?”
“Not them, asshole. Him. Didn’t you — ?”
Sarawat yanked P’Dim’s phone from his hand and stared down at the image on it. “I want ... to eat ...” he read out, voice faint. “Oh god.”
P’Dim’s‘a hands guided him into a chair. “Whoa, okay, easy,” he laughed. “I guess you hadn’t seen it.”
Sarawat couldn’t do anything but stare at the photo of himself. Tine must have taken it from his IG. What did it — was he just playing along? Was it one upmanship? Was it flirting? Did he want to eat Sarawat?
“I should text him,” he decided. Yes. That was a good idea. The best. He’d say —
P’Dim plucked the phone from Sarawat’s numb fingers. “Nope,” he corrected. “I am gonna be your best friend in the world right now and not let you do this. You’re welcome. Say yes to an interview and I will help you compose something.”
Sarawat made a face to indicate his displeasure, but he knew it was no use. This was getting off easy. Plus, if P’Dim had decided to be on his side about it, it meant that he’d handle stuff with the label, and Sarawat wouldn’t have to. He’d probably spin it as being done on purpose, to help with Sarawat’s image. Maybe they could say that he was doing it to try to dispel rumors that Pam had left because she’d dumped him.
“I’ll ask,” he said. “But if he says no, I’m not going to make him.”
“Fair enough. Then you’ll have to do one alone.”
Sarawat stuck out his hand and P’Dim shook on it. They stared at one another for a long moment, and then P’Dim broke out into a big grin. “What the fuck,” he said, laughing. “You found him.”
“Only took me three albums,” Sarawat agreed, and let himself be dragged in for a hug.
The next week went like this:
Sarawat turned off all notifications for his social media, letting P’Dim have complete control; he wrote four songs in two days and recorded both the radio-friendly and the original version of ‘The Odyssey’; Pam called him a moonstruck idiot twice in one phone call; and, at a concert, he was so giddy with joy that all the headlines the next day wondered whether he was secretly dying of some terrible disease and this was his final hurrah.
He thought that was a bit of a stretch. He didn’t usually look that miserable onstage.
“Yeah you do,” Earn told him without looking up from her book. “Are you sure you want this to be an F sharp minor because I actually think if you make it minor-seven it could give it kind of a cool dissonance with the vocal.”
Sarawat looked over her shoulder at where she was pointing. “It’ll make the harmony more difficult,” he pointed out. “But yeah, it could sound cool.”
“Let me worry about the harmony,” Earn informed him, and sketched a 7 next to where he had written F#m. “You never do shit on the harmonies anyway.”
This was a fair point, which Sarawat conceded with a nod of his head before going back to bouncing his knee nervously. Earn put a firm hand on it to make him stop. “It’s going to be fine. Calm down.”
“What if I fuck it up?” he asked, hating himself for saying it.
Earn sighed, putting down the guitar and pushing the sheet music to the side. She took both of Sarawat’s hands in her own. “You’re not going to fuck it up, Wat,” she promised. “He’s going to come, you’ll do a silly, five-minute video, and then you’ll go on some weird, gross lunch date where you stare at him unnervingly and he’ll probably be like, into it for reasons I cannot understand. Then, I don’t know, you’ll talk and fall in love.”
Sarawat gave her a flat look. “That was not very convincing,” he informed her. “You suck at this. Where are Man and Boss?”
“Man and Boss coddle you,” Earn told him dismissively. She kept his hands in hers, tightening her grip when he tried to pull away. “Listen. You fell in love with this boy two years ago on the back of one night. You built all our careers on that love. Not to be, like, romantic on main, but there’s clearly something here. You’re not going to fuck it up with one livestream.”
Sarawat let out a long breath. He nodded, and Earn — apparently deciding he believed her enough — set him free. As she did, the door swung open to reveal P’Dim and Tine behind him, looking as jittery as Sarawat felt.
Weirdly, it settled him. It was like the more nervous Tine looked, the calmer Sarawat was, because he had to be. He had to be reassuring. He gave Tine a little smile and stood, hands going into his pockets to keep them from reaching out and doing something embarrassing.
“This a good time?” P’Dim asked. “I should warn you before you answer that I don’t care.”
Sarawat rolled his eyes. “It’s fine. Earn was just ruining my song.”
“Fuck off,” Earn told him cheerfully. “This must be the famous Tine.”
Behind P’Dim, the tips of Tine’s ears flushed. He gave a little wave. “Uh, hello,” he offered. “Yes. I’m Tine. You’re — Earn?”
“Well deduced,” Earn teased. “Well, I’m gonna leave you kids to be gross and in love. I’ve got other stuff to do, like fling myself from the roof.”
“Please do not, the insurance would skyrocket,” P’Dim said as she passed him. She flung her middle finger up over her shoulder before disappearing into the hall. Tine watched her go with wide eyes, then turned back to Sarawat, who gave into his impulse and reached out to grab him by the wrist, dragging him in close.
Well, it was fine; they had to sell it to P’Dim, didn’t they? He could explain it that way, later. He could explain ... anything later.
Tine cleared his throat. “So ... I’ve never, uh, done anything like this,” he confessed. “I might be bad at it. I don’t want to mess up anything for Sarawat. I mean — Wat. Wat is what I call him. Because we’re. Together.”
P’Dim raised an eyebrow. “Neat,” he said. “Don’t worry. You can’t be bad at it. You just sit there and let Sarawat fawn all over you and when I ask you if you like him say something romantic.”
“Romantic?” Tine squeaked, looking panicked. “Like what?”
P’Dim gave Sarawat a very dry look, but all Sarawat could do was grin. It was cute. Tine was cute. He sat him down in Air’s chair, which was the more comfortable, and then rolled it next to his. P’Dim held up a phone, frowned at it, then said, “... The lighting in here is shit. Sarawat, come help me bring up a couple of the portable lights. Or I guess we could see if one of the makeup artists — ”
“He doesn’t need a makeup artist,” Sarawat snapped. He patted Tine’s knee. “I’ll help with the lights. Tine, wait here.”
“I can help,” Tine insisted. P’Dim didn’t wait for them to argue it out, just turned on his heel. In the elevator, he pressed two different buttons and said, “There’s two up in Studio A and one on the balcony from earlier. Meet me back here.”
Sarawat tossed him a salute. He tugged Tine off at the right floor and ignored whatever dumb thing P’Dim shouted after them as the doors closed. “This way,” he said, and dropped Tine’s wrist.
Now that they were alone, he felt — shy, suddenly. It was easy to play smooth in front of other people, when it felt like he was just on set for some music video. But alone, he ... didn’t want to pretend, really. He knew that Sarawat wasn’t someone that Tine loved yet, but he still didn’t want to be anyone else. He was afraid Tine might fall in love with that other person, and then what? He’d just have to be that guy forever.
After a minute or so, Tine cleared his throat. “Who’s that asshole?” he asked, pointing through the soundproof hallway windows. Sarawat followed his gesture to see P’Mil yelling at one of the interns; as P’Mil began to turn, Sarawat, not thinking, spun on his heel and dove into an open closet, dragging Tine with him.
In the dark, pressed chest-to-chest, Sarawat could taste Tine’s breath. It tasted like toothpaste. Had he brushed his teeth before coming?
“...Uh,” Tine whispered. “What ... are we doing?”
Sarawat winced, grateful for the dark. “Sorry,” he muttered. “It’s — that asshole owns the label. I’m avoiding him.”
“Why? Besides the obvious reason?”
Tine sounded genuinely curious, and was also being very cool about being yanked into a closet, so Sarawat figured he owed him a little honesty. He said, “Well, he sucks, first of all. But, uh. More than that, he ... doesn’t really get it.”
Tine said nothing, waiting, Sarawat guessed, for a little clarification. But he didn’t know quite how to explain it without giving everything away, so he spoke carefully: “All the songs we put out, they’re not really the songs I wrote. I mean, I wrote them. But they don’t sound how I hear them. They have to all be hits, you know? Popular. Easy to digest. So Air has to take what I bring her and turn it into stuff that the radio will like. She’s really good at it. Though I think she hates it, too. It’s just the same shit over and over.”
He felt, rather than saw, Tine tilt his head thoughtfully to the side. His hand twitched against Sarawat’s, which reminded him that he was still holding onto it. Without letting himself think about it, he interlaced their fingers. Tine didn’t say anything. Just let him.
Tine exhaled softly. “It makes you a good living,” he said after a moment, gently. “I mean, clearly it works.”
Sarawat sighed. “Yeah,” he agreed. “But it’s ... I just ... I want to do what I do by heart. Not by duty.”
Tine said nothing. For a long moment, everything was still. Then Tine gave his hand a soft squeeze of understanding and Sarawat let out a breath he hadn’t known that he’d been holding.
“Someone told me once that, um, music ... was supposed to be the sound that your soul made,” he said thoughtfully. “I bet it sucks to have someone take that sound and turn it into something else.”
Sarawat didn’t answer — he couldn’t. He couldn’t do anything but nod, blinking hard in the dark.
You remember, he thought, not sure what to do about it. Not sure how to say anything if he couldn’t say, it was me, who told you. 4am. Red lights. Tine with his hair rustling in the wind, wiping sweat from Sarawat’s face. Sarawat had said music is the sound your soul makes and Tine had said, that’s beautiful. You should write songs or something.
Instead of risking his voice, Sarawat opened the door and peaked out. The coast was clear. He gave Tine a smile over his shoulder and jerked his head, and when he climbed out of the closet, Tine followed.
They managed to get the lights back, but P’Dim hadn’t returned yet so Sarawat volunteered to go find him just as his producer, Air, returned. She watched Tine with a skeptical look for a few moments before apparently deciding she approved of him enough that he could hang out with her while Sarawat went on a hunt.
For lack of anything else, Tine asked her to show him what the buttons on all the recording stuff did. She talked him through some of it, happy enough he guessed to have an interested party.
“We can record you a little if you want, so you can hear it,” she offered, holding out a bag of crisps. Tine beamed, taking a few. He was hungry.
All the same, he shook his head. “No way, I can’t sing for shit,” he confessed. “Or play instruments either. Honestly, I don’t ... I mean. I like literally just one band.”
“2gether,” Air guessed, nodding.
Tine winced. “Oh, right. I meant that I like two bands, of which one is 2gether, obviously.”
Her eyebrows rose, and a little smile dashed across her mouth before she hid it. “And what’s the other?”
“Have you ever heard of Scrubb?”
For reasons Tine could not begin to fathom, Air threw her head back and laughed. “God your brand work is strong,” she told him, inexplicably. “No wonder he likes you.”
Tine managed a smile, but it was a near thing. He thought of Sarawat saying I want to do what I do by heart, not by duty. Tine couldn’t imagine what it would be like, to create something and have it mutilated in front of you, then be forced to inhabit the mutilation over and over and over again. To talk about the mutilation as if it was what you had loved.
And here Tine was, forcing him to do it not just in his professional life, but in his personal life as well. He hadn’t thought about any of this when he’d told Green they were dating; he hadn’t thought about anything. It had just slipped out. He’d told Sarawat it was so that they could get together for his contract work, but that was so — transparently not true. They could have just said they were friends. They could have said anything. But Tine was selfish, and a coward, and didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, and now here he was, hurting everybody’s feelings.
Sarawat was probably still in love with Pam, and Tine was out here ruining his chances for getting together with her by forcing him to be in a now very public relationship with Tine, all so that he could, what, let a coworker down easy?
“I always make him do at least four drafts until he finally shows up with something that the radios will like,” Air was saying. “But his first drafts are always so interesting. Like, totally unmarketable, but interesting.”
Tine snapped to attention. “Do you ever record them?” he asked. “The originals?”
She grinned like he had gotten an answer right on a test he hadn’t known he was taking. Without a word, she grabbed some headphones and settled them over his ears, then flicked a switch.
The music flooded into Tine’s ears, soft at first, melancholy but not — sad. Joyful, somehow. Or hopeful, maybe. He didn’t know. He couldn’t explain it, not even to himself.
I walked a thousand miles in this liar skin
and if you asked me to, I’d walk again
But the truth is, I was never far from home
I’ve carried you like a loom upon my back,
Unwove the words, rewound the track,
I swear to God you’ve never been alone.
Tine ripped the headphones off. Air startled, probably because he’d barely made it a verse in. But he — Tine swallowed hard. Something in his chest was unspooling. His eyes felt hot. He didn’t know what he felt. He’d never — not even a Scrubb song had made him feel — like this. Like something was breaking open, but instead of spilling out something else was pouring in.
He linked his fingers in his lap to hide that they were shaking, but from the way that Air was watching him he didn’t think he’d been fast enough. There was a look on her face he couldn’t read, and as Sarawat and P’Dim stumbled in with a long light between them, he made a desperate face at her, which he hoped she could tell was a plea not to mention anything to Sarawat.
It wasn’t for him, this song, this feeling, it was written for someone else, and that was fine, but Tine felt like a thief for taking it, felt like a spy for seeing what Sarawat’s soul sounded like.
It was a good thing, he thought, that the label made him hide it. It was too — bright. Too bright to look at. Brighter than all the lights.
He let P’Dim arrange them carefully, lights adjusted to his satisfaction, not paying attention to anything other than the song in his head. He was glad he wasn’t asked many questions, was allowed mostly to sit in the chair and study Sarawat’s face. He felt like he’d been told some kind of secret, but he didn’t know what.
“Tine?” P’Dim prompted. “I know Sarawat is very handsome, but would you mind answering the question?”
Tine shook his head. “Sorry,” he croaked. “What was it?”
P’Dim laughed, and Sarawat gave him a concerned look. “I too am often lost in Sarawat’s beauty,” P’Dim said, clearly for the good of the camera. “I asked what you thought of 2gether’s music.”
It would have been easy to give the answer that Tine knew they wanted: that he loved it, that they were his favorite band. But he’d — but he didn’t want to hear the song he’d just heard and then give some stupid answer. It wasn’t just music. It was something else. He didn’t get it yet, but he knew it meant something, something important, to Sarawat. Something holy. Something sacred. Something that he didn’t want to put his stupid fingerprints on.
So he said, as honestly as he could, “I guess ... I don’t really know anything about music. But ... I want to know Sarawat.”
Sarawat’s face did something that Tine couldn’t read, and their eyes met. Dimly, he recognized that they were still on camera, and that Air was saying something vaguely embarrassing to P’Dim. But he couldn’t — he didn’t look away. He wanted Sarawat to see that he had meant it. He wanted to give Sarawat back a piece of what Tine had accidentally taken without asking.
Who are you weaving for? he wondered.
[DIRECTED BY -- ]
Chapter 3: i was waiting for love
Tine managed not to keep from spitting the drink back out, because he was an adult fully capable of ignoring the voice in his head screaming INDIRECT KISS, INDIRECT KISS, INDIRECT KISS. There was no such thing as an indirect kiss after you reached the age of twenty. That was something kids thought about, not Tine. Tine didn’t care. Tine could keep drinking his very delicious drink and not think about the fact that his lips were where Sarawat’s had been.
this is 90 pages and i hate myself
Sarawat did three interviews in three days, and all anyone wanted to talk to him about was his new boyfriend. He tried to steer them toward the new album, even tried once to make them talk about Pam in a bid to shield Tine from the inevitable social media storm that he’d been swept up in. But it was no use.
“I’m sorry,” Sarawat said miserably, sitting on Tine’s terrible, dingy couch while Tine’s phone buzzed incessantly in the kitchen. “I should have — thought this through. I could have guessed that it would be like this.”
“To be fair, it was my idea,” Tine pointed out. “Mostly I just don’t know how you do this all the time. They’ll get bored of me soon, but you have to do this forever.”
Sarawat had been trying really hard to pay attention to what he was saying, but the thing was, Tine was wearing sweatpants and a muscle tee with the sleeves cut all the way down to his belly button, and if that weren’t criminal enough, he had glasses on. Like some kind of — impossibly hot nerd. Like Superman trying to hide that he’s Superman even though who else would have that chiseled chin, you idiot, of course Lois Lane would recognize you?
Also, he was surprisingly ripped for a guy that, once clothed, looked like a breeze would knock him off his feet.
And he smelled good. Sarawat wanted to ... just ... eat him. Gobble him up completely.
(Sarawat was not proud of who being around Tine made him.)
“No one could ever get bored of you,” Sarawat said, keeping his voice even, as if he were observing that Tine had a piece of lint stuck to him. “And yeah, I guess. The press is a nuisance. But it’s a trade-off for getting to make music.”
Tine smiled at him. “Well, luckily for you, I am way more annoying than the press, so as long as we’re doing this I can be the new nuisance in your life.”
“Ha....ha,” Sarawat managed weakly, over the sound of his heart shrieking as his soul left his body and floated up to the ceiling. “Okay, Nuisance.”
“Don’t let anyone at the office hear you say that, they’ll change my nickname immediately,” joked Tine, and Sarawat had to damp down on a fierce surge of possessive envy, that someone else would call him Nuisance, or in fact anything at all. He thought everyone else should have to address Tine as — as — Mr. Teepakorn. No: Mr. Sarawat’s Wife.
“The main problem, as I see it,” Tine was saying, and Sarawat made a new attempt to listen to him and not trace the bead of sweat that was trailing down his neck into the collar of his shirt, “is that unless you’ve got a lot more money squirreled away than I think you have, buying your masters directly from the label is probably not in the cards.”
Sarawat hoped the face he was making conveyed a level of surprise that he did not feel. He shook his head. “Yeah. I mean, no. I can’t afford it. Even if everyone in the band pooled our resources, we couldn’t afford what they’re asking. Which is way more than they’re worth, by the way. Fucking P’Mil just knows we don’t want to walk away without them.”
“Hence this new offer,” Tine surmised, nodding. “For every new album, you’ll get an old one back. It would lock you in for four albums, assuming you want all four originals.”
Sarawat spread his hands wide, to indicate the impossibility of everything. “You see why I need a lawyer,” he said dryly. “I hate the idea of GMMTM owning them. They’re ... mine. They’re a piece of me.”
“They’re what your souls sounds like,” Tine said, sympathetically, and Sarawat tried to identify whether the feeling it solicited in him was pleasure or pain. Maybe both. “I get it. I mean, sort of. In theory. I can’t play music for shit.”
Sarawat tilted his head to the side. “No?” he asked, surprised. “But you love Scrubb so much. I’d have assumed you’d want to learn to play them.”
Tine laughed, putting his papers down and stretched his hands up behind his head. His shirt rode up, revealing a flash of skin. Sarawat wanted to bury his nose in it. One of the interviewers had flashed some of Tine’s more salacious IG photos on screen during the interview and Sarawat had cut off mid-sentence, staring at them. For seconds. He’d done that on national television. How was he supposed to manage to do anything other than stare helplessly at him, here, in the privacy of Tine’s home?
“I tried a few times,” Tine admitted. “I even bought a guitar. But I just sucked. I have no rhythm and the chords never sounded right, they were always kind of ... I don’t know, tinny?”
“You probably weren’t pressing down on the strings hard enough,” Sarawat said without thinking. “Or you bought a guitar with really old strings.”
Tine grinned at him. “I didn’t realize that getting you as a fake boyfriend would mean I’d also get a free music teacher,” he joked. “Oh, maybe you can give me my own private Scrubb concert.”
I will never play anything but Scrubb covers again if that’s what you want, Sarawat thought, but thankfully had the self-control not to say. I will become the world’s number one Scrubb cover band. What he said instead, casually, was, “Sure. If you want.”
Tine’s face lit up in disbelief. “Really? You would? Do you know them? Could you play one now?”
“Not on your shitty guitar,” Sarawat laughed. “I’ll bring mine next time. Give me a list of what songs you’d want me to learn.”
“Oh man. That would be so cool.”
“You — really love Scrubb,” Sarawat realized, in a way that he hadn’t fully, before. He suddenly didn’t think that Tine had been joking when he said they were the only band he listened to.
He thought maybe it was very literally the only band he listened to.
Tine had a sheepish look on his face, like he was worried Sarawat was going to be offended, but Sarawat didn’t care. He’d written three albums worth of songs about Tine, but they hadn’t been for him, per se. They’d been for Sarawat. A place to store the terrible, desperate way he felt about the idea that he’d never find Tine again. Now that he had him, he — well. It just felt different, was all.
“I just think they kind of ... they make everything bigger, you know?” Tine was saying. “If you’re sad, they make it so you feel the — I don’t know, the whole depth of your sadness, the very bottom of it. And when you’re happy, they lift you all the way up, make you happier than you thought you could be. It’s like they show you that it’s okay to feel like that. They make it feel, like. Um. Safe, I guess.” He ducked his head, clearly embarrassed. Sarawat had to busy himself fluffing a couch pillow to keep from patting him on the head.
Sarawat hummed thoughtfully. To be honest, he thought Scrubb was fine. He liked their music. He’d listen to nothing but Scrubb for the rest of his life if that’s what Tine wanted, but left to his own devices he didn’t think they were the geniuses that Tine clearly did.
But then, maybe he didn’t think about music the way that Tine did.
“I don’t know,” he mused, “if music has ever made me feel safe. I think at it’s best, it — shows me something new. Something I’ve never felt before, or didn’t know that I could feel.”
Tine chewed his lip. Like everything else he did, it managed to be both devastating and adorable at the same time. Sarawat let him think, happy to sit and watch the way he turned his hands over in his lap. He toyed with a pen, then said carefully, “I’ve only ever heard one song that made me feel something ... new. I don’t know — if songs always did that to me, I don’t know if I could listen to them very often.”
“What song was it?”
Tine shook his head, cheeks flushing. “I don’t remember what it was called. It, uh. Must have been something I heard on the radio. But it made me feel like I was seeing inside of the person who was singing it. I felt like it was seeing something I wasn’t supposed to see.”
“If they were singing it, they wanted you to see,” Sarawat assured him. That’s all being a musician was, in the end; mining the parts of you that felt things the strongest, and giving the gold you found there away. Passing it around, to share. It wasn’t so bad; it helped to spread the feeling out across many hands. Sarawat had found that it felt better to want something when he was in a stadium full of people who wanted it for him, too. Telling him they wanted him to have it with his own words. “The point of writing music is to share it with people.”
Tine blew out a breath, shaking his head. “I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I don’t know how anybody does. I’d be too embarrassed.”
“Of your feelings?”
“I mean. Yeah.”
Sarawat laughed. “Are you the stoic type, Tine Teepakorn? I will be honest that this surprises me, given your — uh.”
Sarawat tried to think of a better thing to say than, “your face,” and in the end couldn’t, so chose to shrug instead. “Vibe,” he offered, which he guessed came close enough.
Tine grinned, gathering his papers back up. “Yeah, I know. Pear tells me I look like a baby all the time. I’ve just got a young face, I guess. I can’t help it.”
“You don’t look young,” Sarawat disagreed, and Tine, seemingly without guile, asked, “How do I look?”
Before he could stop it, Sarawat heard himself say, “Beautiful,” and was rewarded with a dark flush on Tine’s cheeks, which he hid by pulling the paperwork up to cover his face. Sarawat grinned.
“I — um. The problem is that these other labels are making offers just for you, as a solo artist,” Tine said, in a transparent bid to change the subject from how beautiful he was, his voice muffled behind the contract. “I think you’re probably worth more that way, because they know you write the songs and they can always get studio musicians to backfill you as a band. More value for money.”
Sarawat shook his head, reaching out to lower the paperwork so that Tine had to look at him, to see how serious he was. “I’m not leaving the band,” he said firmly. “I’d rather stay with GMMTM forever than leave them behind.”
“Some of these offers are ... really good,” Tine told him, voice gentle. “Some of them are offering to buy your masters for you, as part of the deal. I think they might be worth considering.”
“No,” Sarawat said.
He didn’t know how to explain to Tine that over the course of his life, he’d only met like, four people that he liked enough to call his friend. That being around and talking to most people was exhausting, that he had to try so hard all the time just to end up coming across as stoic and mean anyway. For some reason, Man and Boss and Earn and Pam liked him anyway. They’d been stuck with him in their university music club’s band, but they’d been stuck long enough that they’d been, whatever, Stockholm Syndrome’d into liking him, as a person.
There were literally millions of people who liked Sarawat, but there were only three that actually knew him, and he’d rather spend his whole career making shitty music with them than one second making music he liked alone.
I’m an incredibly uncool person and I’m afraid to be alone was not something you could say to the guy you were trying to make fall in love with you, so instead of saying any of that, Sarawat just said, “It’s not on the table.”
“Okay,” said Tine, giving in. “Well, then I’ll see what I can make work. But if you’re not willing to leave the band then it’s going to really limit our options.”
“I promise you that my expectations are so low they’re in the ground, Nuisance,” Sarawat assured him. “It will not be possible to let me down further than where I’m already at.”
“That’s the saddest good news I’ve ever heard,” Tine said. He finally caved to the buzzing of his phone and got up to retrieve it from the kitchen. Sarawat watched him flick through it when he returned, a slight frown on his face. As he lowered himself back onto the couch, he sighed, tossing it in Sarawat’s direction. “Well, it looks like P’Dim posted the video. Whether I am blackmailing you for fame or was hired by the label to quiet speculation about Pam seems to be the matter most up for debate.”
His voice was nonchalant, but what was becoming clear to Sarawat was that Tine had no poker face at all. He was upset.
“They’ll — they just say stuff,” Sarawat assured him, picking up the phone and thumbing through the comments. He wanted to fight everyone. Every single person in the world. “They make stuff up about me all the time.”
Tine managed a very fake-looking smile. “It’s fine, whatever,” he said. “I mean, it makes sense. Why on earth would someone like you date someone like me, especially if you had been with ... I mean. Pam is very pretty. And also, you aren’t really dating me, so. They’ve got a point.”
Only because you probably won’t let me do it for real, Sarawat very bravely refrained from pointing out.
Instead, he asked, “Do you ... not know what you look like,” gesturing at the entirety of Tine’s person. He knew he was supposed to be cool and aloof, but the idea that Tine could sit there and think that Sarawat wouldn’t date him because he wasn’t good looking enough simply couldn’t stand.
Tine laughed. “Ah, it’s fine. I’ve set my socials to private anyway.”
Sarawat put the phone aside and reached out to grab Tine’s wrist, to keep him from picking anything else up that he could hide behind. He gave it a firm shake. “Nuisance. Answer me.”
Tine looked down at where Sarawat was holding him, then up at the ceiling, then at some distant spot behind Sarawat’s ear. “Wat. It’s fine. I’m not — I didn’t mean anything by it.”
He seemed so miserably uncomfortable that Sarawat relented, shaking his head with a sigh but releasing Tine’s wrist. “You’re so hot I am literally having trouble focusing on this very important conversation about my entire future,” he told him bluntly, giving up. “I keep thinking about how I want to bite every visible ab muscle and lick that fucking single sweat bead that is still hanging out on your collarbone.”
Tine blinked. He looked down at his own torso and then back up at Sarawat, eyes wide. After a long moment, he joked weakly, “There’s no cameras running. You don’t have to say that stuff.”
Holy shit, Sarawat realized. He didn’t know. He really didn’t know how beautiful he was. Two years ago Sarawat had met someone he thought was so full of life, so in the moment of the music that he had no self-consciousness at all.
But even if that was who Tine had been in that moment, it wasn’t the Tine in front of him. This Tine thought he was—what? Mediocre?
“I don’t say shit I don’t mean,” Sarawat said, sharper than he meant to. But it was upsetting. It made him mad, not at Tine exactly, but kind of Tine-inclusive. “And I wouldn’t say that for the cameras anyway. That’s for you, not them. I don’t give a shit what they think.”
Tine chuckled like this was a very hilarious joke, and Sarawat resolved to tell him at every opportunity how hot he was, until it got through his improbably thick skull. Despite his promise to “play it cool.” This was too important. No one was allowed to talk shit about Tine, not even Tine himself.
Tine shrugged and finally met Sarawat’s eyes again. “Anyway, what is everyone’s deal with wanting to chew on my abs? Is that like a thing?”
“Who else thinks they’re allowed to bite you?” Sarawat demanded. “Where do they live?”
“No, it was just — some comment on IG,” Tine said dismissively, waving his hand. Sarawat had not considered that in unveiling Tine to the world he was also showing him to people, who then would think they’d get to have opinions about him, to have — fantasies. This was not ... what Sarawat wanted. If he had any say, he’d make Tine walk around in a giant paper bag so no one could look at him and think impure thoughts, except for Sarawat, who thought almost nothing else.
He picked up Tine’s phone and dragged Tine into frame, situating them next to each other. On Tine’s IG he tagged himself and wrote I am reserved. On his own, he posted the same photo, but the caption said He is reserved.
He was — Sarawat knew that Tine was his own person, that he could do what he wanted and fight his own battles, but someone somewhere had told him that he wasn’t the most beautiful person in the world, that he wasn’t someone worth claiming and protecting and loving, and whoever that person was, Sarawat wanted to find them and knock all their teeth out.
Even if Tine never agreed to love him, even if all of this ended in flames, Sarawat was going to make him feel wanted, make him feel indispensable. He was going to tell him over and over and over again, until he believed it. Until everyone on the stupid internet believed it, too.
Tine was laughing at the post, but he hadn’t moved from where he was nestled against Sarawat. Good. Sarawat shifted so that both his arms were around Tine’s middle, still holding the phone so they both could look at it. He rested his chin on Tine’s shoulder. Tine was safe, here. Nobody could bother him, except for Sarawat.
“I like you,” Sarawat said, voice quiet.
Tine startled a little, turning his head to look at Sarawat before apparently realizing how close their faces were. When he did, he froze. “I ...”
Shit, Sarawat thought. Too soon. Too fast. Being aloof was hard, when Tine was this close. He said quickly, “I mean, I want it to be obvious. Online. That I like you. That you’re not someone I hired.”
Tine’s expression flickered, then cleared. “Oh,” he said, “right. Yeah. Exactly. Good job.” He moved as if he was going to pull away, so Sarawat tightened his grip and didn’t let him. He didn’t fight very hard, which Sarawat took to mean that he at least didn’t mind being there, which wasn’t the signed marriage license Sarawat wanted but was at least a start. “Well ... I guess if, I mean, I guess I should study up, if I want to convince people that I’m your boyfriend,” he mused.
Sarawat replaced his chin on Tine’s shoulder, now scrolling nosily through his IG feed. “Study up?” he repeated.
“Yeah. Like, learn about you,” said Tine, voice so earnest that it made Sarawat’s heart hurt. “You know, so that if we have to do more interviews I don’t come across like a jerk who doesn’t pay any attention to you. Boyfriends should know stuff.”
Sarawat grinned, and the movement of his cheek brushed against Tine’s. It was soft, obviously. Everything about Tine seemed soft. “Okay. What do you want to know? A question for a question.”
“You don’t have to know about me,” Tine laughed. “Nobody’s going to be asking those questions.”
“I don’t want people thinking I’m a bad boyfriend either,” Sarawat argued. “I’m the best boyfriend. People love being my boyfriend. You’d be very lucky to date me for real.”
Tine was quiet for a beat too long, so Sarawat paused in his scrolling to wait until Tine muttered, “Oh! So, um. So you’ve had. Boyfriends.”
Sarawat tried to read whether the hesitation behind this question was because Tine was jealous of anyone that Sarawat might have dated, regardless of gender, or whether he’d just really believed that Sarawat had dated Pam. But Tine wasn’t giving him any clues.
The cool, aloof thing would be to say yes, he’d had lots of boyfriends, lots of people wanted to date Sarawat because of how cool and desirable he was. But it felt like the kind of lie it would be harder to walk back from later, so instead he said, “I date who I like,” which he thought was a pretty smooth way to say I’ve never really dated anybody because first I was waiting for love, and then because I was waiting for you.
Tine nodded slowly, accepting this. “Well, if they ask, you’ll be my first boyfriend,” he admitted, and his voice has just enough embarrassment in it that Sarawat went back to scrolling IG, to distract him and to keep from asking plaintively whether that was because he’d never met anyone he liked or if it was because he — whether Sarawat’s chances were zero not because of his terrible personality but because of his stupid gender.
“Is that ... going to be a problem?” he asked carefully.
Tine let out a long exhale. “No,” he said. “I mean. I just never ... I was dating somebody for a long time, and then ... I just wasn’t dating anybody. Of any gender. So.”
His tone indicated that he would rather fling himself off his balcony than talk more about this somebody he’d been dating, so Sarawat resisted the urge to find out her name and address and instead said, “Well, that’s very romantic of us, then. Rock music, or jazz?”
“Scrubb,” said Tine, of course. “You?”
Tine shifted a little, so he could see Sarawat’s face better. “AppleHoney or Pepsi?”
“Liar! I’ve seen inside your fridge.”
Sarawat laughed. “Fine. I’m lying. But I don’t want the press to know all this stuff about me. I want just you to know it. So I’ll tell you all the things I don’t like, and you can tell them. Then they’ll believe you but you’ll know the truth.”
Tine hummed thoughtfully, then shifted enough that he could turn and fully look at Sarawat. Their faces were still close, but not as much. “Should I tell you the opposite too, then?” he asked, with a mischievous half-smile. “Okay then. My favorite band is 2gether.”
“You’re mean,” Sarawat told him, sulking even though he knew he was being teased. He jostled Tine in a vague threat of rolling him off the couch.
“I’m a lawyer, being mean is ... our whole job,” laughed Tine, reaching out to grab the back of the sofa so that he couldn’t be dislodged. “Anyway, you should be learning this stuff. I saw your last interview, you were terrible. She asked you how we met and you said, ‘I was waiting for him and then he showed up.’”
Sarawat winced: it had been, admittedly, not his best response. But he hadn’t come up with an answer, because Sarawat was an idiot who had failed to anticipate the extent to which people would want to know the details of his relationship. He hadn’t wanted to tell them anything that resembled the truth, anyway. That was his. It wasn’t even his and Tine’s, yet; he’d tell him one day, but hadn’t, and wasn’t going to tell an army of fans before he’d had the chance to explain it to the man himself.
“I’m bad at talking about everything in interviews,” he grouched, pulling Tine back in close so that he wouldn’t have to look at his face. He dropped his chin back on Tine’s shoulder and opened a terrible-looking guitar app on Tine’s phone. Maybe if he pretended this conversation wasn’t happening, it would stop. “I’m notorious for it, which you would know if you were an attentive boyfriend.”
Tine sighed, then relaxed against Sarawat’s chest and knocked his hands away from the phone. “You’re doing it wrong,” he grumbled, and restarted the song. “Well, fine. We should probably work out some answers to basic questions, but I guess there’s nothing that weird about you just telling people it’s private. We should probably be seen together more often, though. You could, um, bring me snacks? At the office?”
“Why don’t you bring me snacks?”
“Because no one is following me around to see who I’m buying snacks for, saraleo. The point is to be seen.”
“The point isn’t to make sure that we’re both well-fed?”
“Not when our relationship is based on a very delicate web of deception, no.”
Sarawat tightened the grip his legs had on Tine’s waist. “Fine,” he muttered. He knew it wasn’t fair to be grumpy that Tine didn’t know Sarawat wanted them to be real boyfriends. Tine was doing his best. Sarawat had to be patient. He had to meet Tine where he was, even if where he was seemed so impossibly far away. “I’ll bring you snacks on Monday. But I’m bringing stuff I like and you have to share.”
Tine snorted. “I look forward to AppleHoney and crisps,” he joked, and gave an admittedly expert strum of his fake guitar.
Air sent Sarawat the rough cuts of his new songs on a Thursday, and in accordance with tradition the whole band listened to them together. They wouldn’t be released for a long time — first there would have to be the last album’s tour, which kicked off at the end of summer, and during which they’d write the rest of the album; then they’d do final cuts, production and mixing; and then the painful marketing photoshoots during which any original feeling in the songs would be drained in favor of nice-looking aesthetics to match whatever was on-trend.
“They’re good,” Earn told him once the last one had finished. She had a look on her face that he couldn’t quite decipher—sad, almost, even though one of them was literally called ‘Happy.’ He gave her a dubious look, which made her laugh and give her head a little shake. “No it’s — it’s my own bullshit. I was thinking that it ... that Pam would have really nailed the vocals on it.”
He gave her head a pat, but didn’t argue. Pam would crush the vocals—he thought it called for her exact kind of airy voice, the lilting way she said things.
“Well, maybe she can feature,” he said. “The fans would love it.”
“Unhinged Lesbians Have Screaming Match Onstage,” Earn said dryly. “That’ll go over well.”
You could just make up instead, Sarawat thought but didn’t say. Who was he to tell Earn what to do with her love life? He was fake dating the possibly-straight lawyer he’d been in love with for two years and met one time. Clearly Sarawat didn’t know shit.
Boss put Earn in a headlock and ignored her struggling to say, “Earn’s just experiencing sad bitch hours, don’t listen to her. These are bangers. I’m seeing a music video in which we are all daisies.”
“Wat can be the sun,” Man agreed. “Like in some terrifying kids’ show.”
“This is a bad concept,” said Earn, from Boss’s armpit. “And also I want to be a fern.”
“Earn the Fern!” cried Boss in delight, setting her free as a reward.
“I think we are getting ahead of ourselves,” Sarawat told them, bringing his hands up and then down in a calming gesture. “We don’t even know how it’ll sound once P’Mil gets ahold of it.”
Man made a face. “I hate that guy,” he grumbled. “The only good thing about him is his stylish and well-tailored jackets.”
“The man has excellent taste in coats, it must be said,” Earn agreed. “Anyway, maybe by the time we have to actually make the final cuts we will be with a new label, and they won’t ruin everything. That’s what Tine is for.”
“Tine is for love,” Man corrected sternly. “His profession is mere happenstance.”
“All things are mere happenstance,” Boss agreed with a solemn nod. “Our perception of life is simply the artificial imposition of causality over a universe of chaos.”
The three of them turned to look at him. He shrugged, then added, “And Man is right. Love is stored in the Tine.” He brought his hands together and gave a little bow.
“Well, I think what this calls for is a party,” Man decided, turning pointedly away from Boss’s antics. “Karaoke night. We’re doing it.”
“Um,” protested Sarawat, but hopelessly, because Man was already on his phone. Sarawat squinted—wait. That wasn’t Man’s phone: it was Sarawat’s. “Man — !”
“Too late, already did it,” Man said cheerfully, tossing the phone. There was a Line message to Tine: karaoke tonight, my place. bring friends if you want. you have to come because it’s gonna be on social media and if you’re not there it’ll look weird.
“You’re a bastard,” Sarawat groaned, slapping the back of Man’s head. “I hate you.”
Earn giggled. She loved when Sarawat was the victim of bullying, probably because she was a heartless monster. “I can’t believe we are all finally gonna get the chance to truly meet the famous Scrubb Guy.”
“You met him at the studio,” Sarawat pointed out. “When we did the video thing.”
“We saw him at the studio. You didn’t let any of us actually talk to him.”
“I wanna know what he thinks of the songs,” agrees Man, rubbing his hands together gleefully.
Sarawat grinned. “He hasn’t heard them. He only listens to one band.”
His bandmates stared at him.
“Like ... literally one band?” Man asked doubtfully. “Like only one band?”
“I honestly doubt he ever even listens to the radio,” Sarawat confirmed. “Scrubb or nothing.”
Earn burst out laughing. “I can’t believe the one thing you knew about Scrubb Guy turned out to be his defining personality trait.”
“A universe of chaos,” said Boss.
It was less that Tine brought friends so much as Tine brought a whole entourage. He stood sheepishly at Sarawat’s door, six people crowded in behind him.
“I’m so sorry,” he said quickly, as the door was still opening. “I tried to stop them. I tried… really hard.”
Sarawat stared. It was four men, including Suit Guy, and two women, one of which Sarawat, with a deep sense of dread, thought he recognized. She waved cheerfully at him.
“Hey, Mr. Grumpy,” said Pear. “Surprise!”
“But,” Sarawat began, but before he could protest further P’Dim was pulling the door open and ushering everyone in with real glee. P’Dim loved making it look like Sarawat was the kind of cool guy who had friends and threw parties, a difficult accomplishment given that Sarawat almost never left his house except to go to the studio.
Tine was pushed through the door with the rest of his crew, but Pear hung back until it was just the two of them. She stopped in front of Sarawat with her hands on her hips, giving him a hard look.
“What are you doing,” she demanded.
Sarawat collected himself enough to manage, “Karaoke. What are you doing? Earn is here!”
Pear shrugged. “Earn’s problem with me isn’t my business,” she said flatly. “I’m here because I’m worried you’re jerking my rookie around. I know Pam trusts you, but she doesn’t know Tine. He’s gentle, okay? And very, very stupid. So don’t fuck with him, or I’ll kill you.”
“Tine isn’t stupid,” Sarawat said defensively. “Don’t say that.”
“Tine is very intelligent and will be a brilliant lawyer,” Pear agreed. “But in terms of his personal life, Tine is, and I mean this, an absolute simpleton. Just a beautiful, vacant idiot.”
Sarawat wanted to argue, but the truth was he didn’t really ... know Tine, not the way Pear did. He tamped down on the rush of jealousy that followed the thought. “I’m not jerking him around,” he promised instead.
“You aren’t using him to get out of a shitty contract?”
“He told you that?!”
“No, he told me that the person he was trying to get out of his contract was explicitly not you. But you can see why I find it suspicious that you show up, want to date him for some inexplicable reason, and then he magically meets some other musician in your exact situation.”
Sarawat winced, dropping his head. “I told Pam not to talk to you about me,” he grumbled.
“First of all, what Pam talks about with me is none of your business. And secondly, when has Pam ever honored anybody’s request not to gossip mercilessly?” Pear asked dryly.
This was a good point which Sarawat conceded with a shrug. “I’m not using him,” he promised. “Look, there’s ... I can’t tell you everything. But I promise, I like him. I really like him.”
Pear considered him for a long minute, then seemed to decide she believed him because she gave a single, sharp nod. Despite himself, Sarawat felt a rush of relief at having passed her test.
“Can you go now?” he asked, and Pear gave him a hard smile.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “I came to threaten you and be amazing at karaoke and I’ve finished threatening you.”
With that, she pushed passed him, into the flat.
Sarawat looked up at the ceiling. “Kill me at any point,” he begged the chaotic universe, and then backed into the flat and closed the door behind him.
2: interlude the first
“Pear,” said Earn, blinking. “What — are you doing here?” She craned her head as if she was expecting Pam to be hidden somewhere.
Pear rolled her eyes and leaned against the kitchen island, consciously not crossing her arms over her chest. Pam always said it made her look like she was out for blood, and she didn’t want to fight.
Well, not right now, anyway. She didn’t think there would ever be a time where the sight of Earn didn’t trigger a kind of defensive instinct to lash out.
“I came for Tine,” Pear said simply. “I want to know what Sarawat thinks he’s doing.”
“I believe it’s called dating,” Earn told her, tone cool. “Whatever Pam told you — ”
Pear rolled her eyes. “Pam hasn’t told me anything.”
“Pam has never heard a secret she didn’t want to spill immediately,” Earn said, but her tone had softened into something more fond than biting. And that was Pam for you, Pear thought; even when you wanted to strangle her with your bare hands, you still couldn’t keep your tone from being fond.
Despite having just said the exact same thing to Sarawat, Pear fought down the desire to argue. Pam was terrible at keeping secrets. It was part of her charm. But it was one thing for Pear to say it, and another for Earn, who’d walked into Pear’s life and taken the best piece of it only to throw it out again in favor of some dude with a floppy haircut.
Apparently Pear’s face was speaking enough of her thoughts that Earn could guess them; she gave a low chuckle and then sighed, slouching against the countertop. In the living room, the sound of Man shouting for everyone to drink filtered through the door. They looked at each other.
Pear wasn’t sure if she’d ever really looked at Earn before. She was pretty. Pear could see why Pam had fallen for her. Pear could see why, years ago, Pam had video chatted Pear from her university dorm room and said, eyes filled with stars, there’s this girl here, Pear. You wouldn’t believe — you wouldn’t believe how cool she is.
Pear had said tell me about her, but she’d known, even then, even in that moment, that she’d lost something. She just hadn’t known what.
“I’m not the reason you broke up,” Pear said.
Earn looked away. “I really can’t state strongly enough how much we don’t have to do this.”
“Well, apparently we do,” Pear snapped. “Because somehow this mess now includes my sweet idiot of a rookie and I don’t want another friend to get his heart broken by a musician who can’t see what they’ve got.”
Earn started, jaw dropping a little. “Look, you don’t know — ”
“No, you don’t know!” Pear interrupted. “You thought her leaving the band had to mean she was leaving you, when all it meant was she didn’t want to sing someone else’s love songs. You picked Sarawat. You chose not to go with her.”
“It wasn’t like that. Is that what she said? I didn’t choose Sarawat, what kind of absolute garbage is that?! Pam knows I — I just don’t like pop music! I don’t want to make it! She’s the one who — ”
Pear held up a hand to stop her. She didn’t want to do this. She didn’t want to give Earn anything, because Earn had hurt Pam, and Pam was Pear’s friend. Pam was kind of Pear’s favorite person in the whole world, actually.
Pam was the person that Pear had loved first. Would love always, probably, though never in the same way for long. It was always shifting between them. It never stayed put long enough to take any one shape.
That’s why it kept finding new ways to hurt, Pear thought.
She took a deep breath. She wasn’t here to fight with Earn, and certainly wasn’t here to help her win Pam back, because Pear was a good friend but not that good. Anyway, Pam didn’t need Pear to defend her honor, and in fact would probably be furious if she found out that Pear had come. So instead of anything else, Pear said simply: “Listen, I promised Tine I would behave. If I get kicked out for getting into a fight about the motivations of a person I’m not even — for Pam, he’s going to stop bringing me my lunch. Also he looks like a kicked panda when he’s upset, I can’t handle it.”
Earn let out a surprised-sounding laugh. “I admit that when I saw him in person I kind of got why Wat’s been so obsessed with him,” she said dryly before holding out her empty glass. Pear obliged her with more beer. They drank in silence for a moment. Pear could feel Earn considering her, and tried to sit still for it.
After a long moment, Earn asked quietly, “Is she — I know I don’t have the right to ask, especially not you. But.”
And that was the problem, wasn’t it? Pear had never been able to properly hate Earn, because she was a thief but she’d treasured what she’d taken. They’d been really happy, for a while. Pear had been glad to see Pam taken care of. Pear had been glad for Earn even as she’d envied her, even as she’d felt robbed, even as she’d avoided hanging out with the two of them because it made her feel bruised.
“She misses ... the band,” Pear said, almost honestly. “But she’s happy. With the new music. She’s working with a team of writers that she really likes.”
“Good! That’s ... yeah. That’s good. We always used to say she’d be better off as a pop star, anyway. She’s got the looks for it.”
Pear snorted. “Yeah, imagine growing up being best friends with the most beautiful woman in the world. I literally only started wearing makeup when we went to different universities because I just didn’t see the point of trying when I’d always be standing next to, like, that.”
Earn let out a long peal of laughter and then sighed, giving Pear a brief smile. “This doesn’t mean we’re friends,” she warned, “it’s just. There’s a lot of boy energy out there. It’s kind of nice to have another woman around.”
Pear grinned. “Agreed. This isn’t a gesture of friendship. It’s a temporary truce to guard us against the testosterone cloud out there. Speaking of, I wonder where Fang has gotten to.” She pokes her head out of the doorway and beckoned Fight over.
She came slowly, eyes wide and round. “Everyone here is so famous,” she hissed, entering the kitchen. “And personally, obviously, I don’t care but how are all famous people so good looki—ah! There’s another one!”
Earn blinked. “Sorry?”
Fang waved her away. “It’s fine. You can’t help how beautiful you are. Oh, is that beer?” She plucked Earn’s drink right from her hand and hoisted herself up onto the counter next to her, draining it.
Pear settled back against the island and took a long drink. Earn, who was listening to Fang tell her about something that had happened outside, gave Pear a gentle kick without looking at her. When Pear looked at her face, Earn was smiling, a very little one.
Sarawat drove him home. Tine told him like twelve times that it wasn't necessary, that he could take a cab, but every time he tried Sarawat gave him a deeply offended look and pointedly exited the conversation. Tine was beginning to suspect that this was Sarawat’s modus operandi when he didn’t want to talk about something.
The party was ... nice. Tine liked Sarawat’s friends, although he found them a little overwhelming. Man kept dragging Tine into hugs and saying tearfully that he “couldn’t believe we found you” and that Tine “was exactly as beautiful as described.” Tine hadn’t talked with Earn much; she and Pear had disappeared into the kitchen with P’Fang and had been scarce afterwards. Tine guessed that was fine; he was glad Pear had a friend here besides him. He’d worried she would do that Pear thing where she decided befriending people was harder than just sitting in a corner and noodling around on her phone.
She was surprisingly shy with new people, for a lawyer.
Phuak, Fong and Ohm got along with 2gether brilliantly, and had abandoned Tine in favor of the karaoke machine as soon as they’d set eyes on it. Tine didn’t know what had happened to Green. He lost track of him almost immediately, and by the time he was leaving Green was nowhere to be found. Maybe he’d slipped out?
“P’Dim drove him home,” said Man, grinning. “If you catch my drift.”
Tine assumed the drift was that P’Dim had a car and Green didn’t, so he nodded. “Thanks for having us,” he said sincerely, even though it was Sarawat’s house. It still felt like Man had been the party’s host; Sarawat had mostly just hung around Tine all night, nudging into his space and using him as kind of a big pillow. He’d refused to sing karaoke. When it was offered to him, he’d said, “Karaoke is for people who don’t take karaoke seriously.” Whatever that was supposed to mean.
Tine sang a Scrubb song. Obviously.
Anyway, Sarawat drove him home, and then, inexplicably, followed him up to his door. He ... brought his guitar. Tine wasn’t sure if he just carried it with him everywhere or if he planned to give Tine’s neighborhood a concert from the balcony.
“You don’t have to come in,” Tine told him, gently. “I’m — safe now.”
Sarawat made a face at him. “You’re going to go to bed and not brush your teeth,” he accused, which, Tine had to admit, had been his plan. He was tired. “I’ll leave when you’re in bed.”
This seemed extreme to Tine, but he’d never had a fake boyfriend before — or a real boyfriend, for that matter, he guessed — so he let him inside with a shrug. “Coming back here after being at yours makes it look smaller,” he said, gesturing toward the tiny apartment. “It was bigger before I left.”
Sarawat gave a soft chuckle and rapped a knuckle against Tine’s Scrubb posters. “You are a very unique individual,” Sarawat told him, shaking his head with a smile. “I’ve never met anyone else who literally only likes one band. We’ll be fucked if the media ever finds out.”
Tine winced, flicking the kitchen light on and pouring them both glasses of water. “Yeah, I ... I guess I didn’t really think about any of this when I had the idea. I’m sorry. I’ll bet you’d rather date someone who gets the music stuff.”
The look that flickered across Sarawat’s face was unreadable, but he gave Tine a half smile and shook his head as he accepted the water glass. “No,” he said simply.
“I have a lot of people who get the music stuff. I don’t need you to get it.”
Tine laughed. “Well, sure. But that’s just because I’m not really your boyfriend. If you — I mean, when you really date somebody because you like them, surely you’ll want to be able to talk about that kind of stuff.”
“I like you,” Sarawat said. Tine rolled his eyes; that wasn’t what he meant. Of course Sarawat liked Tine as a person. He wouldn’t be doing any of this if he didn’t. But that wasn’t the same as liking someone. “And anyway, this is better. P’Mil has been hassling me lately. He wants the next album to be more upbeat. He says all my love songs are about wanting something you don’t have. He wants a song about getting exactly what you want.”
Tine let Sarawat bully him into the bathroom. Before he began brushing his teeth he asked, “How can I help with that? I don’t know how to write songs.”
Sarawat let out a soft puff of breath that might have been a laugh or an expression of disbelief; Tine didn’t know which. But a hand came up to gently scratch through Tine’s hair, and Tine met Sarawat’s eyes in the mirror in surprise. Sarawat was smiling, expression soft.
Tine felt ... he felt ...
He spit out the toothpaste and ducked his head to swish some water. Sarawat’s hand dropped back to his side.
“I did write something new,” Sarawat told him. He went to where he’d left the guitar by the door and took it out. “Put on your pajamas. I’ll play you to sleep.”
Tine felt his jaw drop and his cheeks flush. “You — don’t have to,” he said. He wasn’t sure that this was, strictly speaking, something that friends did for each other. Although ... well, Fong let him stay over all the time, didn’t he? When Tine was lonely? And they talked to each other until they nodded off.
This was like that, he guessed. Sarawat’s version.
Aware that Sarawat was watching him, he went to the dressed and stripped his shirt off, replacing it with a soft tee. He hesitated at his pants button; he slept in boxers, usually. But — was that okay? With Sarawat over? Would he think it was weird, or like Tine was flirting with him?
It was important, Tine thought, that Sarawat didn’t think Tine was using the fake boyfriend cover to ... to weasel his way in. It was important that Sarawat knew that Tine wasn’t using him. That he was a professional.
“It’s fine,” Sarawat said, before Tine could say anything. “I’ll even cover my eyes while you get under the covers if you’re feeling shy.”
“I’m not shy,” lied Tine.
“Then why are you just standing there?”
Tine said, “I was debating whether or not to offer you sleep clothes.”
Oh no, he thought. That’s the opposite of what I should have said.
He glanced over his shoulder, and Sarawat was staring at him with a perfectly blank expression. As Tine opened his mouth to backpedal, Sarawat leapt to his feet and practically tossed his guitar onto the couch. “Yes,” he said quickly. “Yes, I’ll stay here, yes.”
“Uh ... okay,” Tine agreed, even though this had not been his intention. But he’d been the one to offer, hadn’t he? He couldn’t exactly back out. “Take any t-shirt you want. And. If you want pants. I’ve got some sweats. I know it’s hot? But. I mean. You don’t have to wear them. You can wear whatever you want. Whatever makes you comfortable. I can wear sweats, too. We can both wear sweats.”
In the time it took him to say all this, Sarawat had already stripped to his boxers and was standing beside him, shirtless, rummaging through Tine’s drawer.
Tine’s mouth felt funny. Also his hands felt funny. Also his brain. Most of Tine’s body felt funny.
Sarawat picked a plain black t-shirt, slipping it over his head without any apparent consideration for the way that Tine had gone quiet and slack-jawed beside him. Without any further direction, he grabbed his guitar and then went ... to Tine’s bed.
“Um,” said Tine. It felt impolite to tell Sarawat he had to sleep on the couch, nor did Tine particularly want to. It was a small couch. He looked at it in dismay.
“Are you coming to bed or not?” Sarawat asked, cocking his head to the side. “How am I supposed to play you to sleep if you’re standing up?”
He patted the spot on the bed next to him. Tine hesitated for another second, but then got in beside him. If Sarawat was fine with it, he figured, then what was the big deal? He’d shared a bed with his friends before. This was totally normal. It was only weird if Tine made it weird.
He curled up on his side and waited until Sarawat started playing. It was soft, but bright. It sounded like ... joyful surprise.
“What song is this?” he asked, yawning.
Sarawat smiled down at him, reaching down to pat Tine’s head. But then, instead of pulling away, his fingers slipped down to brush Tine’s hair out of his eyes. “It’s new. I haven’t named it yet.”
“What’s it about?”
There was a beat. Then Sarawat said, “It’s about finding something you thought was lost. It doesn’t look like how it did when you lost it. But you find that it’s better for its differences.”
Tine closed his eyes. Sarawat's hand was heavy, but not uncomfortable, on his head—like one of those weighted blankets Fong had. It had the effect of ocean noises, or the smell of fresh sheets. He was warm, and the bed was soft. Tine thought he could lie there forever and be really, really happy.
“You should get everything you want,” he murmured, only half aware that he was saying any of it loud. Whatever. He was right; Sarawat should get everything he wanted. He was nice, and handsome, and funny. He took care of Tine, even though Tine had gotten them into this dumb mess. He’d put his life on hold to pretend to be Tine’s boyfriend. He loved his band. He made beautiful music, music that had made Tine’s heart hurt in a way not even Scrubb’s did.
He should have everything in the whole world, Tine thought. Everything the light touched.
Sarawat’s fingers paused in his hair, then moved to stroke down his cheek. He missed the feel of them as the guitar started up again, but the music was nice, too. Just a different kind of embrace.
“I’m working on it,” Sarawat murmured before Tine slipped out of consciousness.
Tine woke with his mouth on something warm, his breath damp on his own lips. He felt ... surrounded. It took him a few minutes to swim through the fog of sleep, chasing instead the warmth of his bed, of whatever was in his bed with him. It didn’t feel like it mattered particularly what it was. He liked it. He wanted to sink back into it and not resurface for a long, long time.
It struck him very suddenly that the warm thing was Sarawat’s neck.
Tine barely kept from jolting back, aware in the same moment of recognition that sudden movements would wake Sarawat, too — Sarawat, whose eyes were still closed, breathing even. He was facing Tine, arms tight around him. They were — Tine had kicked off his pants during the night, and their legs were tangled from ankle to hip. Tine’s own hands were fisted in Sarawat’s shirt. Thoughts still on lag, Tine released his grip and soothed the fabric. He didn’t want it to stretch.
He tried to slow his breathing, aware that his heart was flinging itself against his chest, banging loudly enough that Tine was surprised it hadn’t woken the neighbors, much less Sarawat.
He shifted carefully, tilting his head up to risk a look at Sarawat’s face. It was ... so close. They were so close. Tine hadn’t been this close to somebody in a long time.
That feeling crept back, the one from last night, the surge of — he didn’t know what. Nerves, maybe. But it was normal to feel nervous around new friends. It was normal to feel nervous around new, famous friends who were pretending to be your boyfriend. Right? Wasn’t it? He’d feel this way even if it were Fong, or Ohm, or Phuak. He’d feel exactly like this, if they were in his bed, if their face was this close. Quasi-kissing their necks. Definitely. Yes. It would be just ... like this. Warm and soft and — it felt stupid to think it. Tine didn’t want to.
“Am I handsome when I sleep?” Sarawat asked, without opening his eyes, and this time Tine did startle.
“I wasn’t looking at you,” he lied, badly.
Sarawat cracked open an eye and smiled down at him. When he tilted his head, Tine could taste his morning breath. When his lips moved they brushed against Tine’s forehead.
He wanted to die of this feeling, this unbearable feeling that he couldn’t name.
“Because that’s ... it’s rude to look at people when they don’t know you’re looking.”
“I can’t look at you when you don’t know I’m looking?”
“You can do whatever you want,” Tine said, not thinking.
Sarawat’s eyes dropped down from his face. “Can I touch your boobs?”
“What?” Tine squeaked. “No!” He felt acutely aware that neither of them had moved, and that he didn’t particularly want to. But then, Tine had always been a touchy-feely guy. He hugged Fong all the time. He’d even hugged Green on his birthday last year. So this wasn’t ... new.
“That’s a shame, they’re really nice,” teased Sarawat, and before Tine could ask what he meant, continued, “I’ll take you to work today. I didn’t like how suspicious Pear and Green were at the party last night. We have to make sure they know that we’re in love.”
Tine buried his head in Sarawat’s chest before remembering that’s what it was, and not just a normal, warm pillow. “We don’t have to tell them that,” he muttered without looking up, embarrassed now not just by the idea of telling his coworkers that he was in love with Sarawat but also by the fact that he was now nestled against him like it was true. “That’s a lot. We’ve only been fake dating for like a month.”
Sarawat snorted. “If we were dating for real, you’d be in love with me,” he decided confidently. “One kiss from me and you’d be ready to move in.”
“So that’s what kiss till you drop means,” joked Tine, somewhat weakly. He was trying not to ask if that’s what had happened with Sarawat’s other partners. How many there were. What they were called. Friends should know these things about each other, he thought.
Sarawat rolled over, so that he was above Tine, elbows on either side of his head. He was looking at Tine like — like it wasn’t a joke. Tine knew none of it meant anything, that Sarawat was just messing with him, but he couldn’t help the way his breath caught in his throat, the resurgence of the ... the embarrassment? Well, he’d never been this close before, to a guy like Sarawat, who was objectively very handsome, whose hair was kind of mussed, whose eyes were dark. It didn’t mean anything that Tine could observe these things. Tine had eyes.
“Do you want me to show you?” Sarawat asked, and before Tine could answer, swept down to — to —
Blow a raspberry on Tine’s neck.
Tine squirmed away, laughing, pushing up against Sarawat’s chest to escape. Sarawat held firm for a moment then gave up, rolling off. Tine rubbed at his neck, which still tingled, and to hide the heat he felt in his cheeks, pushed himself up and out of bed. He reached blindly for his pants from yesterday and pulled them on, keeping his back to Sarawat.
A glance at the clock told him he’d stayed in bed too long; with Sarawat driving him he wouldn’t be late, but it would be close. Pear hated lateness.
“Only one of us has time to shower if we’re going to make it on time,” he said apologetically, giving Sarawat a half-shrug. “Since I have to be in an office with other people and you can go home, I vote it’s me.”
“If we showered together we’d cut the time in half,” Sarawat pointed out cheerfully, but he was pulling his own pants on as he did it, so Tine figured he was joking and flicked him off with an eye roll.
“Help yourself to any food in the kitchen,” Tine instructed, and then grabbed a towel from the pile of clean laundry he hadn’t yet put away and left Sarawat to his own devices.
If Tine had thought that Sarawat would simply drop him off, he was quickly disabused of this notion. Sarawat parked the car and insisted on walking Tine inside, hands linked. He installed Tine at his desk — in front of everybody! — and gave him an affectionate head pat before telling him to “wait there” before leaving as if it weren’t ... Tine’s own desk. Tine wasn’t gonna go anywhere, but because he wanted to stay put, definitely not because he wanted to obey Sarawat.
“It’s not that I don’t love this surprising turn of events for you, SB,” Pear told him, coming over to his desk and leaning her hip against it, arms crossed, “but it would be worthwhile to remember that this is a place of business and not a college dorm.”
Tine buried his face in his hands. “He’s — a very intense person,” he managed weakly. “I think he thinks he has to ... like ... prove to people that he likes me.”
It was sweet, in its own way, Tine thought. Clearly Sarawat had clocked that Tine felt kind of weird and bad about the way that 2gether fans thought their relationship was a lie and wanted to make him feel better. But he didn’t have to. The fans were right, after all; the relationship was a lie. Who cared if Tine felt insecure about it?
Pear raised an eyebrow. “Have you considered the possibility that he thinks he has to prove to you that he likes you?” she asked. “Because, and please take this in the unkind spirit in which it’s intended: you have the emotional intelligence of a chocolate cream wafer.”
“Hey,” Tine protested weakly. He didn’t know how to argue with her on this point without giving the truth away. “Make it a strawberry cream wafer at least.”
When Pear didn’t answer, Tine raised his head; she wasn’t looking at him. He followed her gaze back to the door, where Sarawat was coming back inside, a blue drink and a bag of prawn crackers in his hands. The door was being held open by Pear’s two o’clock; they were chattering at each other in low voices, both smiling.
They looked good together, Tine thought. Things seemed easy between them — Pam was saying something that was making Sarawat laugh hard enough that he was clearly having difficulty not spilling the drink in his hand. Something in Tine’s chest clenched its fist. It was ... guilt, he decided. Sarawat had to pretend to like Tine, and come to his law firm, where Pam was, every day at two. He kept accidentally putting Sarawat in these situations, didn’t he? When all Sarawat had wanted was a lawyer to get him a better contract, something Tine still wasn’t even sure he could do.
“You’re early,” Pear told Pam as they arrived at Tine’s desk. “By, like. Five hours.”
Pam made a cute face at her. “Yes, but that’s because I heard Tine was going to be here, and he’s caused such a hoopla among my friends that I felt I really had to come see him. And anyway, I was right to do it, because look who I found buying the world’s worst and most useless attempt at breakfast for his boyfriend!”
“I love hot prawn crackers,” Tine told her, feeling oddly defensive on Sarawat’s behalf as he snatched the bag from Sarawat’s hands and tore into it. Actually, he felt more or less neutrally about hot prawn crackers, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that Sarawat had bought them for Tine, and he wasn’t going to sit here and let anybody make him feel bad about it.
Sarawat looked smug. “I also got you your terrible blue drink,” he announced proudly, setting it down on Tine’s desk. He waited until Tine’s mouth was on the straw to add, “I tried it on my way back up. It’s terrible.”
Tine managed not to keep from spitting the drink back out, because he was an adult fully capable of ignoring the voice in his head screaming INDIRECT KISS, INDIRECT KISS, INDIRECT KISS. There was no such thing as an indirect kiss after you reached the age of twenty. That was something kids thought about, not Tine. Tine didn’t care. Tine could keep drinking his very delicious drink and not think about the fact that his lips were where Sarawat’s had been.
“Yeah, nothing like a nutritious meal of prawn crackers and sugar water to start your day,” Pam said dryly. “Wat, is this how you take care of your boyfriends? Did I teach you nothing?”
Tine went still, trying to keep his face neutral. What did she mean by that? Teach him nothing when? When they were dating? Had they dated, after all? Had Sarawat lied about it, to make Tine feel better, or maybe because it hurt to talk about?
Pear snorted. “You’re standing on some very shaky high ground right now, babe,” she told Pam. “Acting like you ever brought me anything other than candy bars and beer.”
“Yeah, but that was different! You weren’t my girlfriend. As your friend, I’m allowed to enable your worst habits.”
Pear clutched at her chest as if she’d been hit with a bullet. “Wow. Okay. Don’t be gentle with me about it or anything.”
Pam gave her a look that spoke to years of a friendship that Tine had absolutely no insight into, and then she pointedly turned to focus on Sarawat instead. “I took a taxi here, so you can drive me home. I just wanted to see if the rumors were true, that you really did find Scr—”
Sarawat clapped a hand over Pam’s mouth, giving Tine a quick glance. “Yep,” he said quickly. “Anyway, we have to go now, Pam. I’ll drive you.”
And then, without any further explanation, he reached out and patted Tine’s head again, in front of Pear and Pam and everybody. “I’ll pick you up this afternoon,” he told Tine. “Wait for me here. Okay?”
Tine nodded, at a loss about the abrupt change, and forgetting to tell Sarawat that he usually took the bus home. “Okay.”
Sarawat gave him a little smile and ruffled his hair, then grabbed Pam’s wrist and dragged her out. Pear and Tine blinked at each other, then at the door, then at each other again.
“That was weird, right?” Pear asked. “You agree that was a weird interaction we just saw?”
“I thought it was weird,” said Green from his desk. He was sitting with his chin in his hand. “And I was only half paying attention to it.”
“Liar,” Pear accused without turning to look at him. “Don’t act like you weren’t watching this whole conversation like it was one of your BL dramas.”
“If you’re trying to make me feel guilty it won’t work, because you have to be capable of feeling shame to feel guilt,” Green informed her blithely. “Anyway, I’m just impressed that Tine was able to not only get a boyfriend, but get that boyfriend. I mean talk about an impressive first try.”
Tine flapped his hands at both of them to make them go away. “Can we stop talking about this please. I have work to do.”
“If you don’t want the office talking about your love life, don’t bring your love life to the office,” Green advised, but then held his hands up in a gesture of surrender when Tine glared at him. Pear sighed meaningfully at him, but nevertheless pushed herself off his desk and tapped her finger on the pile of paperwork sitting by his computer.
Tine made a face. “By noon,” Pear said mercilessly. “And don’t look at me like that, you’re the one who said you wanted to do work and not talk about your boyfriend.”
“Can I change my mind?” Tine asked hopefully, eyeing the stack of paper.
Pear’s smile was sickly sweet. “You cannot,” she said, and then turned on her heel and went back to her office. Green gave him a sympathetic shrug, and Tine, with a groan, opened the first file and got to work.
The thing about being Sarawat’s fake boyfriend, Tine realized over the course of the next couple of weeks, was that it was remarkably similar to being Sarawat’s real boyfriend. Which was hard to explain to Type, who had returned from his retreat to be very unimpressed at what Tine’s life had become in the interim.
“I was gone for a month,” Type said. “One.”
Tine made a face. “I don’t know why you keep saying it like that,” he muttered, instead of arguing. They had argued about it the first night Type came home, after he’d turned his phone back on to what was apparently many hundreds of text messages asking whether it was true that his brother was dating the frontman for one of Thailand’s most popular indie bands. “None of this is my fault. It happened by accident.”
“You ‘accidentally’ started dating a rock star?” Type asked, raising both his eyebrows so high that they disappeared into his hairline. “You ‘accidentally’ posted an interview with him to an account which has more than a million followers? You ‘accidentally’ let him pick you up every morning and drop you off every day? You ‘accidentally’ — ”
“Please stop putting air quotes around the word accidentally,” Tine interrupted. He scrubbed at his forehead. “And also the answer to all of those questions is yes.”
Type delicately pinched the bridge of his nose, as if everything about Tine’s life was exhausting to him. Tine didn’t know why he couldn’t just let it go; it wasn’t like Tine brought Sarawat around all the time. In fact, he made a point not to let Sarawat and Type hang out, in part because he was afraid they would fight, and in part because he was more afraid that they would get along, and it would be deeply embarrassing for Tine.
Either way, the important thing was: Type had agreed not to tell their parents, on the conditions that Tine do no more than one public interview a month, that if asked on-air whether he had any siblings, he lie and claim to be an only child, and that there were absolutely no sleepovers or indeed, any visits past 10 p.m.
This had seemed reasonable to Tine but untenable to Sarawat, who blithely ignored the curfew rule and began manufacturing a series of increasingly improbable reasons why he couldn’t bring Tine back home on various evenings. First his tire was flat, then he had no money for a taxi, then his horoscope told him that if Tine went home he’d die in a terrible accident.
i don’t believe in horoscopes, Type had said over Line.
sarawat does!!!!! answered Tine.
nobody in the entire world has a worse little brother than you, Type told him, which in Type-speak was permission, so Tine had sent back a series of heart emojis which his brother had ignored for two hours and then replied with a thumbs down emoji.
“You just have to get used to him,” Tine told Sarawat, showing him his phone. “Type’s love language is silence, basically.”
They were in the studio — Sarawat had taken to bringing Tine with him on the weekends. They’d have lunch on the roof and talk about contract stuff, sometimes, although Sarawat seemed increasingly disinterested in Tine making any progress and in fact sometimes actively steered the conversation away. Tine guessed it was because he didn’t want to get his hopes up. My expectations are so low they’re in the ground, Nuisance. As long as Tine didn’t work on it he could still pretend that there would be a perfect solution where he got everything he wanted.
“I don’t know how two brothers can be so different,” Sarawat mused. “My brother is just like me except smaller.”
Man stopped plucking notes on Earn’s bass. “Nonsense,” he declared. “Phukong is nothing like you. He’s like ... if you and Tine had a baby. That would be Phukong.”
Tine had gotten used to the way Man talked, so he didn’t blush. Sarawat made a thoughtful face. “I don’t know. He always follows me around and tries to do all the stuff I do.”
“That’s because he wants you to like him, idiot,” Air said. She was sitting next to Earn, feet in her lap. Tine thought she was supposed to be there to keep them focused, but she wasn’t trying very hard. “When you leave the room he’s a totally different person.”
“I wonder if Type is a different person when I’m not there,” Tine mused. It was hard to imagine. Type was so much himself, and had always been that way, even when they were kids. Tine had a really distinct memory of Type at age nine informing their mother that he felt he deserved a bedtime an hour later because he wanted to use that time to improve his reading comprehension skills. Tine shook his head. “No way.”
Boss, who was hanging upside down from a pull-up bar that he’d installed in the doorway, crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s different when you’re the older brother,” he said. “The real question is: are you a different person when Type isn’t around?”
“Well,” he mused, “I guess he did go away for a month and in that period I went from being a pretty unremarkable person to dating a rockstar.”
“You’ve never been unremarkable,” Sarawat told him in a tone that brooked no argument, looking up from where he had been scribbling notes on a sheet of music paper. His friends made cooing sounds, which Sarawat seemed to have no problem ignoring but which made Tine squirm, a little.
Sarawat was so — open, with his affection. It was hard, sometimes, to tell where the real affection ended and the fake boyfriend stuff began. It all blurred together. It all felt nice. Tine was increasingly aware that it felt, maybe, a little too nice. That he had to be careful not to get confused.
He made a face. “Geez,” he muttered. “Stop.”
“It’s my job to make sure nobody talks shit about my boyfriend, Nuisance,” Sarawat returned. “Are you asking me to be a bad boyfriend?”
“But I’m your boyfriend,” Tine reminded him. “I’m talking about me.”
“So it’s different!”
“This is so embarrassing for both of you,” said Earn.
“Shhhhh, I’m enjoying it,” Air hissed. “This is the best TV I’ve seen in weeks.”
Sarawat shoved Man off his chair, but was looking at Air while he did it, Tine guessed to indicate that he was shoving her by proxy. She poked her tongue out at him, unrepentant. Man seemed unbothered, and simply made himself comfortable on the floor. Boss, whose head was going purple from being upside-down, dropped down next to him. Man wordlessly offered him an opened bag of banana chips, which he accepted.
Tine understood, watching them like this, why Sarawat had said that leaving the band wasn’t an option. Of course it wasn’t. How could he leave them behind, when they loved each other like this? Sarawat could no more leave 2gether than Tine could have left Fong.
“Okay, I’ve got the bridge, I think,” Sarawat said, handing the papers over to earn. “Don’t read it out loud.”
Air’s eyes skimmed over it. Earn leaned forward to look, and Air shifted so that their heads were pressed together over what Sarawat had written. Earn said, “Aw,” when she was done, giving Sarawat a soft look. Air took longer to react. She closed her eyes, head moving as if she was listening to what was written in front of her. Sarawat watched her closely, clearly invested in her opinion. He wanted her to like it.
Tine held his breath. He didn’t know why.
After a moment, Air opened her eyes. “The baseline needs to be bouncier,” she decided, “but — it’s good. It’s nice to see you branch out lyrically.”
“P’Mil wants a happy song,” Sarawat muttered, glancing away. He was — being shy, Tine realized with shock. Unshakeable Sarawat, sheepish beneath praise. “I guess ‘write what you know’ only gets you so far.”
Air waved a dismissive hand. “Just because many artists draw on what they know doesn’t mean it’s the only way to make art,” she said. “The most beautiful thing art can do for us is teach us about things we don’t know, and explore them. Isn’t that right, Tine?”
Her gaze swung to him, sharp and knowing, and he thought about the look on her face when he’d taken the headphones off after listening to the first verse of ‘The Odyssey.’ “I — um, I guess,” he muttered. “I don’t know. I’m really not an artist.”
“But you like music.”
“I like Scrubb.”
The entirety of 2gether laughed, except for Sarawat, who just smiled and gave a small shake of his head. Air looked impatient with this answer. “Well, fine. But surely you haven’t had every experience that they sing about, have you? And yet they still make you feel something. Because they’re talking about the sensation, not just the particulars of the experience.”
Tine understood suddenly that Air was being serious, that she wanted a real answer. So instead of making a joke, he tried to really think about it. She was right, he guessed; it wasn’t so much what they were saying as how they were saying it. He thought back to being at his one and only Scrubb concert, two years ago, and how he’d been so sad when he’d arrived but that the energy of the show itself had lifted him, how the music had made him feel like it would be possible for life to go on, even though he’d had his heart stomped on.
He said carefully, aware of being in a room full of music professionals: “A couple of years ago, I went to this Scrubb concert. And I was really sad. But ... being there, the music, I think it kind of — opened up the doors, you know? It’s like even though none of the songs were about things I knew, they were still ... holding my hand, kind of.” He blushed, dipping his head. “Sorry. That’s stupid.”
“It’s not stupid,” said Air.
“It’s art, bitch,” agreed Man. “We should get Tine to do our testimonials.”
Tine laughed. “You know, it’s funny, I haven’t really thought about this in a while, but at that concert I actually met this person? And we ended up hanging out the whole night. He was really cool. I really ... I hadn’t had that kind of connection with someone in a really long time. I think maybe it was like, the music? That made it possible for me to be — I don’t know. Open to it. Does that make sense?”
Nobody said anything. They were all staring at him.
“What?” Tine asked.
“What happened to him?” Earn asked slowly. “The, uh. Guy you met.”
Tine shrugged. “I lost him,” he said. He did wonder, sometimes. “We went our separate ways at the end of the night and didn’t exchange Lines or anything, so.”
The band and Air turned to look at Sarawat, who was busily examining his fingernails. Tine felt a flush of ... embarrassment, maybe. He’d shown too much, and worse, he’d been bad at it. Sarawat was an artist. Tine’s dumb attempts to be deep were probably boring to him. “I bet he wasn’t as hot as me,” Sarawat said, without meeting anybody’s eyes. “If you met me at a concert, you’d remember.”
“I’m sure I would,” Tine agreed dryly. The weird energy in the room had dispelled a little, but not entirely. He thought maybe it was a faux pas to talk so lovingly about one band’s music when another band was in the room. “But only because you’d follow me home and watch me brush my teeth.”
“I would have! But you — ” Sarawat cut himself off. “I mean. If it had been me. Yes. I would have.”
He looked around imploringly and then made such a dramatic pouty face that Tine couldn’t keep himself from snapping a picture of it. He hesitated for a moment, then thought: fuck it. He was supposed to be trying to convince people that they were really dating, wasn’t he? Boyfriends were allowed to post pictures like this. It would be weirder if he didn’t. He added a quick caption and posted the photo to his IG story.
Earn’s face was buried in her hands. “I can’t handle this,” she said. “You guys are so dumb. Oh my God. Oh my God.”
“Shut up,” said Sarawat, glancing at Tine.
“No, she’s right,” agreed Air. “It’s like — it’s so bad but I can’t look away. How does this kind of thing even happen?”
“Stop. Talking,” Sarawat threatened through his teeth.
“Welcome to the chaotic universe,” said Boss, and dodged when Air threw her shoe at him.
4: interlude the second
Because she was the best friend that any of these idiot boys could hope for, Earn dragged everyone out ot a bar after the session wrapped. She let Boss and Man take charge of ordering the beer and convincing Tine to drink it while she and Air bullied some strangers out of their table.
“Just so we’re on the same page, what we learned today is that Tine also remembered Scrubb night, but seems to have no idea it was Sarawat, right?” Air asked, picking at the food that the departing group had left, which was disgusting. Earn slapped her hand away before she could put any of it in her mouth. “What? I’m hungry!”
“You don’t know those people!” Earn hissed. “Maybe they didn’t wash their hands!”
Air made a face at her but obeyed, pulling away from the food. Earn pushed it meaningfully to the side of the table in the hopes that a server would come collect it. “And yes. That is indeed what we learned today.”
“Amazing. I wouldn’t have believed that kind of thing happened in real life if I hadn’t witnessed it myself.”
Earn’s reply was cut off by the boys’ return, many bottles of beer between them. Sarawat and Tine settled across from her, pressed together far more tightly than they needed to be. Earn accepted a beer and drank every time that Man and Boss proposed a toast — at a rate of about six per minute — but didn’t say much. She was watching Tine.
He was handsome, obviously. That was no surprise. And she got what Sarawat saw in him; she could see, even, how he might have met him and been so dazzled that he’d hold onto the idea of him for as long as he had. He wasn’t Earn’s type, of course — Earn liked people who were confident, who knew who they were, who would challenge her on stuff. But Earn and Sarawat were really different people, and she could see why Tine would be a good fit.
The fans mistook Sarawat for being cool and aloof because that was how he came across when he didn’t know you. But Earn did know him, and she knew that “cool and aloof” was just how Sarawat’s introversion manifested. He loved who he loved and he didn’t much care about anyone else, but he was also so full of love for the people that he chose. It frustrated Earn when the media called Sarawat cold. He wasn’t. He was just ... picky.
She felt a stab of guilt, that she’d accidentally put him in the position of having to choose, even nominally, between two of the few people he’d picked. She knew that Pam didn’t leave the band because of Earn, but when Pam left the band she’d also left Earn, and it had made things ... tricky, for the other band members. Earn knew that.
They thought they were so sneaky about still talking to and seeing Pam, but all three of them were the worst liars she’d ever met.
Also, she’d never asked them to choose. But she understood why they felt like they had to, anyway. It’s not like she’d handled the breakup well. It’s not like she was any more capable of having a conversation about Pam than she’d have been if the breakup hadn’t gone hand-in-hand with Pam setting off on her own.
Why won’t you come with me? Pam had asked, and Earn had said, How can you even ask me that?
She shook her head. She had to stop. She couldn’t keep doing this. Pam was gone, and that was that.
She needed some food. That would help.
Earn stood and went to the bar, flagging down the bartender for a menu and looking it over. She knew Man would want something spicy and Boss would want noodles, and Air would eat some of everyone else’s food so she should get double portions of everything. Sarawat would be mostly concerned about Tine, probably, but he really liked soup so if she got some of that with prawn crackers it might be —
Someone knocked against her shoulder. When Earn looked up, she was met with Man’s face, who was grinning down at her.
“I want something spicy,” he said.
“I know that, asshole,” Earn answered.
He craned his neck to look at the menu with her. “And for Boss we should get — “
“Noodles. I’ve done this before.”
He ceded by blowing a raspberry at her. “Okay, okay. I just wasn’t sure if you remembered or if you were over here crying about Pam.”
Earn narrowed her eyes at him. “Shut up. I’m not crying about Pam.”
“It’s okay if you are. I cry about Pam all the time. Wat is so much meaner now that she isn’t there to lighten him up during recording.”
Despite herself, Earn laughed. “He’s such a bastard,” she agreed.
They looked back at the table, where Sarawat was taking a photo of Tine. He was laughing. He looked happy. It hurt Earn’s heart, how happy he looked.
“This might hurt him,” she murmured, despite herself.
Man gave her a knowing look. “It doesn’t always hurt,” he said. “Love, I mean.”
“Just most of the time,” Earn agreed dryly. “Statistically speaking, in any one person’s life, love is mostly failure. It only sticks the one time that it sticks. All the other attempts fall to pieces.”
Man hummed thoughtfully. He was still watching their table, where Air and Boss were tossing ice cubes at one another. “Do you know why I never made fun of Wat, about Scrubb guy?” he asked after a moment, finally returning his gaze to her.
Earn shook her head, waiting. It wasn’t often that Man was serious, which was why she always tried to honor the mood when he was.
“Back at university, I met this guy. I mean — ‘met’ is kind of a stretch. We sat next to each other at a lecture. It wasn’t even my lecture. I went because one of the girls from music club paid me to go and take notes for her so she could go see some band play. Anyway, I sneezed, right? And the guy next to me gave me a tissue.”
Earn waited, but that seemed to be the end of Man’s story. “Um,” she said, not sure what lesson she was supposed to draw. “Okay?”
“I never forgot that guy,” Man explained. “Obviously I’ll never meet him again. I’m not holding out hope for it, or anything. But I did tell myself: I won’t date anyone until they make my heart do what it did when that guy gave me a tissue.”
“Man,” Earn said, voice soft. She reached out to touch his shoulder, but he shook his head
“You loved Pam,” he told her. “And it ended. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t love her or that it wasn’t valuable. Just because something ends doesn't mean it was a failure.”
“Man,” Earn said again, and this time she did tear up. Man dragged her in for a hug, patting her head. She nestled in and accepted the embrace, half-listening to Man put in their order and half-thinking that Pear had been right, standing in Sarawat’s kitchen with the light soft on her face, saying I’m not the reason you broke up. Maybe it hadn’t been about Pear, or the music, or Pam’s solo career, or any of that. Maybe it was just because one or both of them was holding out for a tissue.
“Don’t blow your nose on my shirt,” Man warned, and Earn, in deliberate disobedience, to honor his love of Tissue Man, did just that.
Everything got blurry very quickly, but Sarawat was pretty sure that Tine drove him home in Sarawat’s car. He spared a moment to wonder whether Tine was sober enough to drive, but when he asked, Tine informed him flatly, “I have to be in court tomorrow, I’m not gonna show up hungover,” so he guessed Boss and Man’s ploy to get him drunk hadn’t been quite as effective on Tine as it had been on Sarawat.
“You remember me,” Sarawat told him, pleased. “I knew you would. I hoped.”
Tine gave him a confused look. “You’re sitting right next to me,” he pointed out. He pulled into Sarawat’s parking space and then went about helping Sarawat out of the car. Sarawat leaned more heavily on him than he needed to, strictly speaking. But he liked being this close. He liked Tine taking care of him, even if he grumbled the whole time.
They made it up to Sarawat’s apartment without incident, but when Tine tried to drop him on his bed and leave, Sarawat grabbed his wrist and dragged him down on top of him, wrapping his arms around Tine’s shoulders and holding him there.
“Stay,” he commanded.
Tine huffed into Sarawat’s neck. “I have court tomorrow morning,” he reminded him.
“Stay,” Sarawat said again. “Please. I want you to.”
Tine sighed, pushing himself up. Sarawat let him go just far enough that he could see his face. “You’re very drunk,” he accused, but gently, almost ... Sarawat was drunk, but he didn’t think he was imagining the fondness in Tine’s expression. “I’m Tine, not — anyone else.”
“Of course you’re not anybody else,” Sarawat said. “Who else would you be?”
“No one. That’s what I’m saying.”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
Tine laughed. “Now I’m confused.” He sighed, glancing at the clock beside Sarawat’s bed and then making a face. “I guess ... if I stay here I’ll get more sleep. I’ll have to borrow clothes in the morning. I can’t wear this to court.”
Sarawat thought he did a pretty good job of keeping his face from betraying the flood of extremely intense desire to see Tine in his clothing. He was definitely smiling. He couldn’t help it. It had been a good night. He was drunk, and his friends had been there, and everybody liked Tine, and Tine seemed to like everybody, and things were just — thinks were going to be good, he decided. They were going to be great. He was going to get everything he wanted.
Without thinking about it, he craned his neck up and pressed a kiss to Tine’s mouth.
Sarawat ... also froze.
Oh no, he thought. He felt suddenly very sober, holding perfectly still.
But Tine — Tine was also holding still, which was to say that Tine wasn’t pulling away. Sarawat, figuring that he could always blame it on being drunk later, pressed closer. Tine’s mouth opened, just a little; but when Sarawat licked into it, he pulled back, eyes wide and panicked.
They looked at each other. You remember me, Sarawat thought again, but this time with a small sense of bitterness. Tine remembered, so why couldn’t Tine remember? Why was Tine allowed to look at him like that and not — and not —
“Sorry,” said Tine, inexplicably.
Sarawat shook his head. He reached up to clutch at the front of Tine’s shirt. “I don’t want to break up,” he said, which he felt really encapsulated all the other things he thought he was supposed to say, like that he was joking, or that he wasn’t joking, or that he never wanted Tine to be anywhere except for here, right here, like this, with him.
He gathered Tine back up against him and Tine came, unresistant. Sarawat could feel his heart pounding, could practically hear the gears of his brain. He patted his head to quiet the thoughts. They could deal with this in the morning, he decided. That was a good idea. All of this had actually been such a good idea.
“I think you’re confused,” Tine murmured. “You’re going to be so embarrassed in the morning.”
Sarawat sighed. His eyes felt so heavy. He just wanted to rest. But he didn’t want Tine to think it was possible to regret him, regret anything about him. “No. I meant to do it then. But you got into the taxi. I wrote all those songs instead. You told me to.”
Tine didn’t say anything, so Sarawat assumed he understood, and he let himself drift off to sleep.
Chapter 4: it was missing you, odysseus
As it turns out, the problem with ending Sarawat's contract issues is that it means ending their relationship, and Tine ... doesn't want to.
But Tine wants Sarawat to have a happy ending, so he does it anyway.
varnes: what if i actually publish tine's pov as ch. 4.1 and then publish the actual end as 4.2? i'm worried putting ALL the conflict & resolution in one chapter may take away from the ~impact
handclaps: it would work but also make me sad
handclaps: but that seems to be your thing now
varnes: cool. i'm doing it.
You told me to, said Sarawat’s voice in his head. Tine was trying to focus on what was happening in court, but he just kept hearing it, over and over. You got into the taxi. I wrote all those songs instead.
It was — no.
It couldn’t be. Of course it couldn’t. Sarawat would have said something. That first night, or any of the nights after. He’d have said, oh, you met a guy at a Scrubb concert? Me too. What a coincidence.
But he hadn’t said any of that, so it couldn’t be him. Or if it was, on the infinitesimally small chance that it was him, he must not remember. And why would he remember, it wasn’t like anything had happened. It wasn’t like they’d — it had just been two guys hanging out. Not really worth holding onto.
“Can you focus,” Pear hissed at him. “I’m looking at your notes and they are absolute crap. Look, you’ve written ‘normal friend stuff’ here. What does that even mean? How are we going to do a rebuttal with this?”
Tine winced, erasing it quickly and giving her an apologetic look, trying once again to focus on the task at hand. P’Fang was making her opening argument. She was saying something about how privacy and profit were ... were ...
And another thing, Tine’s brain hissed, he didn’t even remember kissing me! Of course he wouldn’t remember some night two years ago if he couldn’t even remember what happened less than twelve hours ago. Tine put his fingers to his lips, to stop them from tingling.
They’d gotten up slowly. Sarawat had grumbled a bit when Tine reminded him that he needed to get to court, but he’d lent Tine some clothes that were worth more than Tine’s apartment and made him breakfast. There had been no indication that Sarawat was aware that anything at all had happened; and in fact, all he said about last night was to lament, after looking at his IG, that he’d announced a single he hadn’t finished writing yet. P’Dim was going to be mad at him. Then he had hustled Tine into the car and driven him to work and patted his head and that was that. No mention of — anything.
No mention, and no kiss goodbye either, which obviously was fine, it’s not like Tine wanted a kiss goodbye. It’s just that a kiss goodbye would have indicated that Sarawat knew that kissing was, apparently, something they were doing now. If Sarawat had kissed him again, Tine could have said, “Hey, we shouldn’t do that because we’re only fake boyfriends,” and Sarawat could have said, “Oh right, I was confused because I was drunk and now I’m confused because I’m hungover,” and then they could have shaken hands and been done with the whole thing, but none of that had happened and now Tine couldn’t even do his job because he kept wondering whether Sarawat had — why Sarawat had —
He’d been drunk. He’d been confused. It wasn’t Tine, it was just loneliness, probably. It was missing whoever it was he wrote all his songs about. Tine and his mouth just happened to be there.
Fong always said that drunk people told the truth. But Phuak always said that drunk people made things up.
“This case is about digital privacy,” Pear reminded him, pointing to where he had written WHAT DO DRUNK PEOPLE TALK ABOUT? instead of ... whatever he was supposed to have written. With a sigh, she snatched the pen and pad out of his hands and took over note-taking. “That stupid band ruins everything. You’re going to type all these up later and you better be able to recite them from memory.”
Tine buries his face in his hands. Now, on top of everything else, he’d upset Pear by being a shitty lawyer. He couldn’t do anything right today. He couldn’t do anything right most of the time.
Pear refused to look at him, but she reached over and gently patted his leg with the hand that wasn’t taking notes.
Tine didn’t get back to the apartment until late. Sarawat couldn’t pick him up because he had to get ready for a show, and Tine had to stay and type up Pear’s notes anyway.
It was an interesting case, at least. A YouTuber was suing one of her sponsors for unlawful use of her videos in one of their marketing campaigns.
“You’re quiet,” said Type, and sullenly pushed some noodles at him.
“I’m thinking about YouTube sponcon,” Tine told him honestly. “It’s one of the cases I’m helping with.”
Type snorted derisively, but with the benefit of years of Type experience, Tine knew that the snort was directed not at Tine but at the concept of sponcon, and probably YouTube generally. Maybe just the internet as a whole. “Well, it’s good to see you thinking about work for five seconds and not spending all your time wrapped up in That Man.”
Tine rolled his eyes. “You’re aware that you’re not my dad, right?” he asked. “And that I’m twenty-five? Even if you were my dad, I’d still be allowed to date.”
“When I have children they can date when they are forty-five, first of all,” Type snipped at him, but the look he gave Tine was relenting. “Sorry. I just. I worry. About you.”
The words sounded chewed on, like Type was physically forcing them out.
“You do?” Tine asked, surprised.
Now it was Type’s turn to roll his eyes. “You—the last time that you got invested. Like this. It really ... you’re very delicate.”
“I’m not delicate.”
“Tell that to the post-breakup hospital visit I had to lie to our parents about when I found you collapsed on the sidewalk because you’d passed out from experiencing sadness.”
Tine’s face flushed, and he looked down at his noodles. It was true that the Teepakorn brothers were not exactly known for their ability to process emotions healthily or with any kind of perspective.
Thinking about it now, it seemed so small. That breakup. That loss. He felt kind of grateful for it, and to her. He’d been taught a little about love, its risks and rewards. And now, with Sarawat, he could...
Tine shook his head. No, not with Sarawat, the thing with Sarawat wasn’t —
But his lips had been soft. Tine hadn’t pulled away. He hadn’t wanted to. He had wanted to stay, and make sure Sarawat was safe, and wake up to his stupid face, his bitching about needing an iced coffee. He’d wanted to listen to the songs he was writing. He wanted to listen to them more than Scrubb.
“Oh no,” he said, out loud. “Oh no.”
“Oh for God’s sake, did you not even know?” Type asked incredulously, putting his fork down. “You’ve been basically living with him for weeks!”
“I thought it was ... I didn’t think that I — oh God. I’m gonna be sick.”
“Don’t pass out again,” Type warned him. “You’ll get blood on the floor.”
Tine knocked his forehead against the table. It felt bad, so he did it again, because he preferred that pain to the pain of the realization that he had, like the exact kind of idiot he had always been, fallen for the one person he wasn’t supposed to.
“This seems like a strong reaction to realizing you like your boyfriend,” Type noted, with some concern.
Tine wanted to tell him the truth, but he couldn’t bear to see Type’s face when he did. He couldn’t bear to hear what an idiot he was when he already knew. So instead, he waved a vague hand and stopped hitting his head against the table. “I just. I didn’t mean to,” he said miserably.
Type looked carefully at him, then sighed. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, as a family we have a habit of feeling ... things at the exact wrong time. There was this guy in college I gave a tissue to once that I still think about sometimes. My advice is to just repress it as far down as you can, never think about it, and then one day marry for money.”
Tine blinked. “That’s ... bad advice, I think?”
“I didn’t say it was good advice, I said it was my advice. Didn’t you just hear me say I’ve got an ongoing crush on some guy who needed a tissue? Consider your sources. I thought you were supposed to be a lawyer.”
Tine took an extra large bite of noodles. “Fuck off,” he said, making sure to open his mouth wide and spit a little bit of sauce in Type’s direction.
It turned out Pear hadn’t been kidding about memorizing her notes (“I want line number recall, SB”), and P’Fang had asked them to to do some more research anyway, so Tine didn’t have much time to dwell on the problem of being in love with his fake boyfriend for the next couple weeks. Which was fine by him. He was coming around to the Type Teepakorn “repress and forget” method of coping.
And if he — well, if he spent more time at Sarawat’s in the meantime, if he let himself kind of forget that it wasn’t real, as long as they were in public, it was fine. He could pass it off as committing to the act.
He tried not to be alone with Sarawat too much, afraid that he’d forget himself and cross a line. Playing up the boyfriend thing in front of Sarawat’s friends was one thing; he didn’t want to make him uncomfortable in private.
“Why can’t I come?” Sarawat was whining now, pouting at him from the driver’s seat. He’d driven him to Ohm’s because they were going to do an all-night prep session before the last day of the trial. “Your friends like me.”
“Everybody likes you, it’s terrible,” Tine agreed. “I don’t get it. You’re so mean to everybody but they follow you around anyway.”
Sarawat shrugged. “You don’t follow me around,” he pointed out, sulking.
“You’d get bored of me if I followed you around,” Tine laughed, and opened the car door. Sarawat grabbed his arm before he could move; when Tine looked up at him, surprised, his face was serious.
“No,” he said flatly. “I could never get sick of you, not if I saw you every second of every day.”
Tine wished he could figure out a way to stop blushing when Sarawat said stuff like that. He knew he meant it, but meant it not the way Tine wanted him to. They were — good friends. It was just Tine’s stupid feelings that kept trying to ruin it.
He patted Sarawat’s hand gently. “I’m going to be late,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Will you come to the show?”
Tine hesitated. “Not tomorrow. I’ll be exhausted. I’ll come to the one next week, okay?”
Sarawat frowned, but nodded. “Come over. After you’re done. You sleep better there, it’s quieter. Your neighborhood is too loud.”
Tine gave Sarawat’s hand a squeeze and then let it go before he could do something stupid, like kiss it. He was good, Tine thought; he was grumpy and he didn’t like strangers and he loved people so hard. He always tried to take care of everybody even though he didn’t want anyone to notice him doing it.
Sarawat lived in a quiet neighborhood because he was an intensely private person who liked to be alone; but he’d given Tine a key and let him crash there whenever he wanted because it was close to the office and because it helped Tine sleep. He was always trying to make sure the people he loved got everything they wanted, even if it meant he had to give things up.
Tine got out of the car. “Okay,” he promised. “See you.”
“Be good, Nuisance,” Sarawat told him with a little smile. “Don’t flirt with anybody. Every time you flirt with someone else, I get to touch your boobs once. That’s the rule.”
“Go home, Pervert,” laughed Tine, waving him away. He knew without looking that Sarawat waited to pull away until he was inside, Ohm flinging one arm around Tine’s neck and using the other to wave goodbye to Sarawat behind his back.
“I’ve got snacks,” Ohm promised cheerfully, “and, even better, Fong brought beer. I tried to get that fucker Phuak to come but he said, and I quote, ‘I chose not to become a lawyer on purpose,’ and then made a date with the new girl in accounting.”
“Is he allowed to do that?” Time asked, nodding to Fong and accepting a beer as they made it into Ohm’s actual apartment. “As an HR representative?”
“Definitely not, but when has Phuak ever paid any attention to the job he’s supposed to be doing?” Fong said. “Right: I’ve got everything organized—P’Fang gave Ohm very clear instructions about how she wants to structure the argument, but basically she’s been arguing on the basis of moral integrity and consideration for compensation, which she says is ‘too pathos, not enough logos.’ It’s our job to find — what did she say? It was English.”
“The smoking gun,” Ohm pitched in, and pretended to shoot them both.
They got to work.
It was a lot of reading, but also a lot of watching YouTube videos. Their client was a beautuber who focused on costume makeup. Her complaint was that she had agreed to appear in a series of ads, but the company had used additional clips from her channel without her authorization, essentially profiting off of unpaid work--and she had granted Creative Commons licensing, so there wasn’t any copyright case.
Ohm thought she was in the right; Fong thought she was pushing it. Tine didn’t have an opinion: she was their client, so he’d do his best to make sure she got what she wanted. Anyway, she seemed nice.
“The difficult thing for the ethical argument is that those videos are freely available,” muttered Fong. “She’d already made them; it’s not like they asked her to do anything extra without paying.”
“Yeah, but by that logic companies have no reason to agree to any kind of contract at all,” Ohm pointed out.
Tine hummed thoughtfully. “It’s almost a privacy issue,” he mused. “I mean, they’re using her personal, confessional videos to push a product, and they’re not compensating her for it. It’s not quite… I mean, it’s like someone using photos from Facebook for an unauthorized endorsement, because you haven’t cleared them to be shared with a bigger audience--it’s the consent thing, I think. What’s that bit from the Personal Data Protection Act? It’s kind of a weird invasion of privacy if you ...”
Tine stopped breathing. Something had clicked in his brain but he didn’t know, yet, what it was.
“It’s — her image,” he said again, more slowly. “It’s her face. And she … she never agreed for it to be used this way… because there’s no … she didn’t get consideration for … she said they could use it in one way but they’re using it in another.”
“Is that in the contract? She told them they couldn’t use her other videos?” Fong asked, reaching across him for one of the folders and flipping through it. “If it’s in the contract, that’s definitely a breach. But I don’t think she’d made any specific prohibitive stipulations, that’s the whole ...”
Tine tuned him out, thinking instead of Sarawat in the car, offering his apartment. Tine pulled the keys from his pocket and toyed with them, brain whirring. Sarawat lived somewhere that nobody could get in who wasn’t invited. Lived somewhere he didn’t have to be seen unless he chose to, because there were three things he loved: music, and the band, and being left alone.
Tine had read over Sarawat’s contract with GMMTM so many times that he could see it when he closed his eyes. He knew exactly where it was, the clause he hadn’t known he was looking for until now: all promotional images shall be generated by GMMTM and its contractors, conditional to approval by Guntithanon. These images shall constitute the entirety of Guntithanon and 2gether’s obligations with respect to promotional images. GMMTM will not use any images otherwise generated by Guntitathon or the members of 2gether for any purpose, including promotion of 2gether. Should this prohibition be violated, the entirety of the contract shall be considered null and void as of the date of the violation.
“I have to go,” he said, standing so abruptly that a stack of papers fell off his lap.
Ohm blinked. “What?” he asked. “But—”
“I know. I’m sorry. I have to go.”
Tine looked at his watch. It was four in the morning. “Pear’s.”
“What?” said Ohm again, but Fong was already climbing resignedly to his feet.
“I’ll drive you,” he said. “Pear lives downtown, but there aren’t any buses yet.”
Tine nodded, swallowing thickly. His hands were shaking. He—if he was right. If he was right, then he ... then Sarawat ... his thumb hovered over his Line app.
My expectations are so low they’re in the ground, Nuisance.
He put the phone to sleep and back in his pocket. He wouldn’t say anything yet. Not until he was sure.
“What the sweet fuck are you doing here at four-thirty in the goddamn morning?” Pear yelled at him, her face covered in a green facemask and hair rucked up where she had haphazardly shoved her eye cover off.
“Bye,” said Fong, the traitor, shoving him out of the car and driving awa, rather than face Pear’s wrathy.
Tine reached into his back pocket and pulled out the folded-up copy of Sarawat’s contract that he’d been carrying around with him. He pointed to the clause in question. “I could be wrong,” he admitted. “I mean, it seems like — such an obvious issue, I must be wrong, right? But doesn’t this prohibit all use of personal images?”
Pear snatched the paper out of his hand. “What the fuck case are you even — oh. This is Sarawat’s contract.”
“You said the musician you were working for wasn’t Sarawat.”
“I know. I lied. I’m sorry.”
“For the record, I knew you were lying, don’t think for one second you got away with it. You’re a terrible liar. Why are you telling me now?”
Tine pointed again at the clause in the contract, and then pulled out his phone. He’d pulled up a Reddit thread for the band on the car ride over and now scrolled down to one of the comments, which linked to an old billboard for one of the early albums. It featured Sarawat in front of a house somewhere, looking carelessly at the camera from behind dark sunglasses.
“This is from his IG,” Tine said. “The picture.”
Pear opened her mouth, then paused. “How did you even find this? It’s from, like, five years ago.” She paused again, looking at whatever sheepish expression Tine knew his face must be making, and sighed. “Oh, Tine.”
“I was bored. I was just scrolling. I happened to notice it,” Tine lied, badly.
So what if Tine wanted to look at photos of Sarawat? He was allowed to. Lots of people did. It’s not like he was the one who made the comment in the Reddit thread! He just saw it, that was all. Was it a crime to see things?
Pear pinched her nose. When her hand came away, it had green residue on it. She made an irritated sound and beckoned Tine to follow her into the house, eyes still on the contract. He obeyed, closing the door behind him and kicking his shoes off at the door and sitting down on her couch. Pear disappeared into the bathroom; Tine heard the faucet running, and when she re-emerged her face was clean of the sleep mask and her eye cover was hanging around her neck.
The contract was hanging limply in her hand. For a long moment, they just looked at each other.
Then Pear said only: “Tine.”
Tine felt something unspool in his chest. “I’m right, aren’t I,” he said. He might cry, he thought. He didn’t know what the feeling was that was unravelling in his chest, joy maybe, or relief, or also — also something else, something he couldn’t look at yet.
Pear nodded, then gently set the contract down on the couch beside Tine and squatted down in front of him, slowly, like she thought he would startle and run away. She took his hands in hers. “You’re right,” she told him. “You did it. Tine, you did a really good job.”
“But,” Tine prompted, wanting to recoil but not able to. Pear’s grip was too firm.
Her expression was soft. “But this is — really big, complex stuff. You can’t be in control of it. Especially because you are, technically, publicly dating the musician involved. I promise you can still be involved, and I’ll make sure your name is included on it, I promise you’ll get credit. But the firm isn’t going to let you lead.”
She said it so carefully, so apologetically, that Tine laughed. What did he care about credit? What did he care about anything except that he had done it, that he had found a way to get Sarawat all the things he’d wanted and thought were out of his reach? He wanted Sarawat and the band to get out of their contract; the best person for the job should be leading it. Tine was still a baby lawyer. He had spotted the right answer, but it wasn’t just a matter of yelling, “Gotcha!” and running away. There would be a whole process. Obviously he wasn’t going to be trusted with it. He wouldn’t trust himself with it.
But Pear could do it. Pear could get them out of the contract, could get them new terms with full creative control, could get them back their masters, maybe, even. Tine wanted them to have the whole world; he didn’t care who gave it to them, as long as at the end of the day, they had it in their hands.
“I don’t care,” Tine said, laughing again, giddy. “The important thing is that we win, not that — I don’t care about that. But I want to tell him. I mean, them, obviously. The whole band. Can I do that?”
“Yeah, you can,” Pear told him, and then, in the gentlest voice he’d ever heard from her: “But ... Tine. If the firm takes on this case, you can’t ... GMMTM is a pretty big label, and 2gether is their most valuable signee. They’re going to fight us really hard. We’ll have to go slow, and make sure there isn’t any appearance of impropriety. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
It took Tine a long moment, but when it struck him, the joy that had been bubbling in his chest went suddenly flat.
“Oh,” he said.
Pear squeezed his hands. “I’m sorry. I know how much you like him.”
Tine shook his head; he couldn’t tell her. Or he could, he supposed — maybe it would even help the case, if he did. If GMMTM accused them of anything, they could say that the dating was a cover story. That it had never been real. The fans would be happy, probably; they’d never really believed that someone like Sarawat could love someone like Tine.
It would be good, he thought. Yeah. It was for the best. It’s — this was the point of the whole stupid thing, wasn’t it?
This was what they had wanted.
“No,” he said, but his throat was tight and he knew his face showed that he was lying. Showed how much he was lying. “No, it’s not — it’s. That’s okay. That part will be okay.”
Pear sighed, giving a shake of her head but releasing him anyway. “Boys,” she grumbled as she stood. “Well — I have to get ready. Take the day off. You’ve earned it.”
“But P’Fang’s case,” Tine protested.
Pear gently shoved at him until he got off her couch and to his feet, herding him to her door. “We can take it from here. You look like you’re about to pass out. You won’t be of any use in court anyway.”
He nodded, already holding out a hand to get a taxi. As one pulled up, Pear watched him get in and then rapped on the window. When he rolled it down, she leaned inside and said: “Hey. You did a really good job. I’m proud of you, Super Bright.”
Tine was alone in bed by the time he woke up, which made sense because it was nearly three in the afternoon. Sarawat had been dead asleep when Tine had crept in. Tine was surprised to realize that he was wearing sleep clothes, because he knew he hadn’t changed into them when he’d crawled into the bed, too tired to do anything other than curl up against Sarawat’s back and immediately lose consciousness.
There was a note on the nightstand that said Stop sleeping in your outside clothes!!! There is food downstairs. Stay until I’m back from rehearsal. I’ll be mad if you don’t. -Sarawat
Tine leaned back against the pillows and stared up at the ceiling. Downstairs, he could hear someone moving around, which he guessed meant Sarawat had finished rehearsal and was back already, but maybe not long enough to have come and removed the note.
Tine could tell him now. He could go downstairs and break the good news, and set Sarawat free.
“You’re awake,” Sarawat said, appearing at the top of the stairs with a tray of food. Tine sat up, rubbing at his eyes and managing a smile.
“With my keen perception I have noticed I am not wearing what I went to bed in. You shouldn’t undress people while they’re sleeping, Pervert,” Tine teased him.
Sarawat shrugged, unrepentant. “I can if my boyfriend insists on sleeping in his clothes,” he said. “They were making the bed dirty.”
“Oh,” Tine muttered, wincing. “Sorry. I didn’t think.”
Sarawat set the tray of food down in front of him and then climbed onto the bed, close enough that their knees were touching. He nudged Tine’s shoulder. “I was kidding, Nuisance. You just looked uncomfortable.”
Tine turned to answer, but his retort dissolved in his mouth. Sarawat was looking at him with such naked fondness. He’d cooked for Tine. He let him sleep in his bed, even in his dirty clothes. He was always looking out for Tine, always taking care of him, and now, finally, Tine had done something to return the favor. Now Tine could say thank you in a way that would matter.
But he — but the moment he did, he’d also have to give up this moment, and all the other moments like it. And he knew that he had to. He wanted to. It was more important that Sarawat got out of his contract than that Tine got to keep pretending like they were boyfriends. He was being selfish, taking more than Sarawat was willing to give, constantly mistaking his kindness for something more.
Because the most likely thing, Tine thought miserably, was that Sarawat did remember.
He had been trying not to think it. But now, staring down at the end to all of Sarawat’s problems and the beginning of all of Tine’s, he had to consider the most likely possibility: that Sarawat remembered Scrubb, and remembered the kiss, and he was pretending not to because he was trying to be kind. He was trying to let Tine down easy.
Tine would tell him. He would tell all of them, and then he would let Sarawat go, because it was the right thing to do.
But he had, he thought, earned a day. Just one. That wasn’t so much to take. One day to pretend for a moment that all the things he had were in the shape of the things he wanted. He’d take one perfect day, and then he’d put it in a little box in his memory and lock it and keep it, perfect and pristine, to be looked at once a year. A new Anniversary.
“I want to come to the concert tonight. Can I?” he asked, around the lump in his throat.
Sarawat looked surprised, but his eyes wrinkled, pleased. “You’re not too tired?”
Tine shook his head. “I want to see you. I want — will you play a Scrubb song for me?”
“We already made the setlist,” Sarawat laughed, running his hands through Tine’s hair. “But I don’t think they’ll mind if we make a little change. The band will be happy if it’ll get you there. They like you.”
“I like them too,” Tine said. “I like all of you. I really like you.”
Sarawat blinked, then looked away. Tine thought maybe he saw a soft flush to his cheeks, and he knew it was because Sarawat didn’t reciprocate and didn’t know how to say so. But this was going to be Tine’s perfect day, so instead he let himself believe it was because Sarawat was happy. Because he wanted Tine to like him, and didn’t feel burdened by it.
“Eat your breakfast,” Sarawat said.
The day went like this:
Sarawat seemed perfectly happy to remain in bed for the rest of the afternoon, curled up around Tine and watching television. They talked about nothing. Sarawat was working on the song he’d posted on IG; he’d been right, P’Dim was mad at him. But Sarawat thought he could weasel his way back into his good graces by writing it to be about P’Dim and — to Tine’s surprise — Green, who were apparently dating now.
“You bring love everywhere you go,” Sarawat teased him.
“I don’t think I had anything to do with that,” Tine answered doubtfully. “But that’s good. I guess Green doesn’t flirt with me as much anymore. I hadn’t really noticed.”
“Good,” grumbled Sarawat. “Other people shouldn’t flirt with you. Just me.”
On a different day, Tine would have rolled his eyes, but this was his perfect day, his last day, so instead he had reached out and tentatively patted Sarawat’s head, a gesture which had so surprised Sarawat that he’d gone perfectly still. Tine had said, “Okay. I won’t let them anymore.”
“Okay,” Sarawat had echoed, voice faint.
They’d made dinner together in the kitchen, Sarawat annoying him by refusing to let him taste anything until it was done, and they ended up in kind of a wrestling match over the last dumpling. Sarawat played him a couple verses of “I Loke You.” Tine had thought it was beautiful, better than any Scrubb song, and when he said so Sarawat had literally popped a string off his guitar. It had made Tine laugh.
“What? Aren’t you always saying that since you’re my boyfriend, you should be my favorite singer?” he asked.
“Yes! But you always say that you love Scrubb more than you could ever love any person!”
Tine shrugged. “Well, guess I was wrong,” he said, and before Sarawat could answer he pointed at the clock and reminded him that he had to get ready for the show.
Tine borrowed some of Sarawat’s clothes to wear, because he hadn’t brought any with him, and they drove to the venue. Tine held Sarawat’s hand the whole way, because he wanted to and wouldn’t get the chance again. Sarawat let him, but kept casting glances his way, like he thought that Tine was playing some kind of trick on him.
The band seemed happy to have Tine there, when they arrived. Man had picked him up in a big hug and swung him around a little, much to Sarawat’s annoyance, and Boss had offered him some of the snacks he was eating. Earn had given him a big smile and said, “Finally! We thought maybe you refused to see anybody that wasn’t Scrubb.”
“Sarawat said he’d play me one of their songs,” Tine explained, and Earn had laughed so hard she’d doubled over.
The crew had them swept the band away to get ready and Tine had gone out to the VIP section to watch. He’d texted Pear to ask about the case. She said arguments had gone well, and to tell her when he was ready for her to reach out to the band in an official capacity. After tonight, he’d written, and then put his phone away so he wouldn’t have to look at her response.
The show was good.
It was ... so good. They were amazing, Tine thought; he didn’t know why he’d never realized before, how amazing they were. Their energy and interplay on stage was fun to watch, all of their personalities dialed up. Even Sarawat seemed different, happier — he kept glancing over to where Tine was and smiling. He even joked a little onstage, to the delight of the entire stadium. They loved him. Everybody loved Sarawat.
Tine loved him.
“This next song is for a very silly person,” Sarawat said into the mic, looking over in Tine’s direction. “He never listens to me when I tell him things, but he listens to Scrubb, so maybe he’ll pay attention now.”
I’ve been paying attention for the whole show, Tine thought in protest, but then they started to play and he had to sit down, dropping his head into his hands. It had been a mistake to ask for this. Scrubb was a three hundred and sixty-four day band, and he’d been wrong to think that this day would be one of them.
“I don't care if you have someone else or how the reality is, I don't know, I just have you in my heart,” sang Sarawat, and Tine felt his eyes get hot. He stared at the floor. He hoped nobody was filming him. He hoped nobody knew he was there. He pulled the hood of the sweatshirt he was wearing up over his head, drawing his knees to his chest, thankful that in the lights Sarawat couldn’t actually see him. He didn’t know how he would explain.
“I'll do everything, I'll try every way to make you feel warm in your heart with me,” Sarawat sang before Earn took over, voice overlapping: “It doesn't matter if you have someone else, just look at me, just that, I'm happy inside already...”
Tine felt a hand fall onto his shoulder, and he startled, looking up. It was —
“Pam,” he said, voice cracking. There wasn’t any hiding that he’d been crying; he didn’t try.
She smiled at him, soft and sad. She looked like maybe she’d been crying too. She lowered herself beside him and laid her head against his shoulder. He didn’t know what to say. “Earn used to sing me this sometimes,” Pam said finally. “And I really — I don’t regret going off on my own but I wish she had come.”
Tine nodded. He didn’t know what Pam knew, or didn’t know, about his arrangement with Sarawat. He didn’t know what he could tell her, but she gave him the grace of not asking why he was crying. Instead, she said, “You make him really happy, Tine.”
He felt his mouth pinch miserably, fighting against a new wave of tears. “I’m not what he wants,” he told her. “I mean. Not in the long term, I’m. This is just for now.”
Pam was quiet. He was grateful that she didn’t try to argue with him. They sat together and listened to the rest of the song. When they were finished, they launched right into the song that Tine had been named for: Super Bright.
“Did he write this for you?” Tine couldn’t resist asking. But he — but soon he wouldn’t have the right to ask, and he wanted to know.
Pam huffed a laugh and shook her head. “Wat loves me a lot,” she said, “but as a sister. He’s never wanted to be with me, Tine, and he doesn’t do things he doesn’t want to do. He dates who he wants to date, and nobody else.”
Tine offered her a weak smile, knowing what she was trying to say and not willing to tell her how mistaken she was.
“They call me Super Bright at work,” he said instead. He blinked hard, trying to get past the teary part. “Isn’t that funny?”
Pam’s expression was unreadable when she answered, “It’s honestly hilarious. I don’t think Pear even knew how funny she was being when she picked it.”
And, because in the cocoon of the lounge, Sarawat’s voice wrapped around them, Tine felt like the rules had all been suspended, he asked: “Are you in love with her?”
Pam blew out a long, slow breath. Her eyes were pinned to the stage. “No,” she said eventually. “Or — not enough. Maybe if, a long time ago, we’d figured it out, maybe I could have been. But we didn’t, and then I saw Earn. And I ... in that moment, I just knew that I’d never see anybody for the first time and feel like that ever again. Even if I’d never seen her again, I’d have held onto that moment. I’d have thought of her every time I met somebody new, and I would have been sad, because it wouldn’t have felt like it felt to see her, wearing her dumb uniform, restringing a bass.”
Tine thought back to Type saying there was this guy in college I gave a tissue to once that I still think about sometimes. Type had seen someone for the duration of a lecture and it still haunted him; what was it going to be like, for Tine, who knew what Sarawat looked like when he slept?
“How do you — ” he swallowed the word survive. He knew it wasn’t his place to ask. He knew that what Pam had lost and what he was going to lose weren’t the same thing.
But Pam seemed to hear the question he hadn’t finished, and gave a miserable shrug. “I’ll let you know if I figure it out,” she said, before climbing to her feet. “Don’t tell anyone I was here.”
“Don’t tell anyone I was crying,” Tine answered, and they shook on it.
After, in what was apparently tradition, the band went back to Sarawat’s house. Tine let himself be swept up in their energy, and the energy of the show; he sat in the backseat of Sarawat’s car between Boss and Man and let them fawn over him in a bid to make Sarawat annoyed.
“You said you wouldn’t let anyone else flirt with you,” Sarawat grumbled. “Today, you said that. Did you forget already?”
Tine gently extricated himself from Man and Boss, but said, “They don’t count. You know they don’t mean it.”
Sarawat huffed and Earn laughed at them, pouring chips into her mouth directly from the bag.
Tine wanted to say something to her, something to remind her that she was loved by someone, that she could have the thing she had lost back if only she was willing to ask for it, but he didn’t know how.
At the house he waited until their after-show meal was delivered and then, sitting all four of them on the couch, stood up and said he had an announcement to make.
They all stared up at him in obedient silence, and Tine’s heart felt heavy and sharp, laden both with the gladness of knowing that he had helped them and the sorrow of knowing that, in helping, had lost them.
He took a deep breath. Goodbye, he thought, mentally folding up the day and putting it into a box. It was just his, now. He’d always have it, no matter what else happened, no matter how far away the band and Sarawat got. Connected by a golden thread, Sarawat had sung earlier; yes, that was it. He’d always have it, forever, tied up in its box with gold.
“Well?” Man prompted. “Are you pregnant?”
Sarawat hit him. Tine laughed, and said: “No. It’s better. I solved your contract problem. I can get you out of it. All of you. Your masters, creative control, everything. Your own label, if you want it.”
All four band members froze.
After a long, long silence, Earn said in a whisper: “...What.”
“I’ve been looking into it,” Tine explained. “Sarawat didn’t want to tell you, because he didn’t want you to think he was leaving the band, or get your hopes up. But.” He gave Sarawat a little smile. “I guess you can know now. No more need to ... to lie, about anything. Or cover it up. There’s a clause in your contract, about using personal images for marketing. It’s a lot of legal stuff, but basically, GMMTM breached a specific prohibition, which means that you ... it’s kind of like a get-out-of-jail-free card for you. And Pear said she’d take it on, so — so you’re going to be okay. You can do everything on your own terms. It’s ... guys, you’re free.”
“Free,” repeated Boss, slowly. “Even the masters?”
“We think we can get them for you. They’ll fight it. And maybe not the very first one, because of when the breach happened. But all the others.”
“Full creative control?” asked Earn. “Full — no more photoshoots where I have to look sexy? Or wear hats?”
Tine laughed. “Not unless that’s your creative vision,” he promised.
He braced himself and looked, finally, at Sarawat.
His face was — it was — Sarawat was looking at him like Tine had brought the sun down from the sky and was holding it out between his hands. He was looking at Tine like he was the best thing in the whole, entire world.
I love you, Tine thought at him. I hope you know how much you’re loved.
It was at that moment, their gazes locked, that Man leapt from the couch and launched himself at Tine before picking him up and throwing him over his shoulder, shouting joyously. Earn and Boss followed, all of them patting Tine’s head and passing him back and forth for bear hugs; Man was crying a little, Tine thought, and Earn was beaming so widely that she was showing all her teeth. Boss had picked Sarawat up and was shaking him indiscriminately.
Eventually Tine was put back on the floor, and the band fell onto one another, hugging and jumping. They were all talking at once, about the music, about a new label, about what they’d do, whether Air would come with them, what this meant for the current album; Tine quietly backed away. This moment wasn’t for him.
He put Sarawat’s spare keys on the kitchen island as he let himself out; he wouldn’t need them anymore.
He made it all the way down to the street and was halfway into a cab before Sarawat caught up with him, calling his name. He closed his eyes for a moment. He had hoped to avoid this. He had hoped he could hand the band off to Pear and nurse his wounds in private.
But he owed it to Sarawat to say goodbye, he guessed. Since Sarawat was here. Since he had come.
“Where are you going?” Sarawat asked, breathless, his smile so wide it hurt to look at. “Nuisance, you did it. You — ” He broke off laughing, giddy. “You’re a miracle. You’re my miracle.”
Tine hoped he was managing to keep an even expression. “I wanted to give you guys your space,” he said. “It felt like a private moment.”
Sarawat shook his head. “I never want my space from you,” he said, and Tine closed his eyes again.
“You don’t have to do that anymore,” he muttered, looking first at the sky and then down at the road. Neither had any relief for him. “Now that ... now that we’ve figured out the loophole. You don’t have to pretend. In fact, we — Pear says we have to stop ‘seeing’ each other anyway, to avoid the appearance of anything, um, inappropriate. During the case.”
Sarawat paused, his smile freezing. “What ... do you mean?” he asked slowly.
“It can’t look like you’re sleeping with one of your lawyers,” Tine said. “Pear said it’ll hurt the case. GMMTM might use it against you.”
“I don’t care.”
Tine huffed, rubbing at his eyes. He wasn’t going to cry. “Well, I care,” he said. I’m not going to be the reason you get so close to having everything and then lose it, he thought, but he knew Sarawat would dismiss this because that’s what Sarawat did for his friends; he gave them the things they wanted at his own expense. So instead, Tine made himself shrug. “It’s unethical. I would lose my job. Wat, I really like my job.”
When he looked back up at Sarawat, Tine was struck suddenly with a memory: two years ago, after the Scrubb concert. They’d been standing at a crosswalk. The light had been red, making both of them glow.
He knew, now. For sure. It had been Sarawat. Whether or not Sarawat remembered didn’t matter; Tine knew. Tine knew. Sarawat had saved him then, let him know that he could put his heartbreak away, and then two years later he’d saved him again by inadvertently giving him a case that was going to make Tine’s career and, even more inadvertently, giving him something to love better than he’d known that he could.
Type had given someone a tissue; Pam had seen a girl with a bass; Tine had stood on a street corner with a man whose name he hadn’t known and touched his cheek and been too stupid and too afraid to do anything else. Now that same man was in front of him again, bathed in the same light, looking at Tine with eyes that knew him, that had cared for him, that had taken care of him.
It was goodbye, it had to be goodbye, Tine knew exactly how much this had to be goodbye, but he thought: I’m going to do it better this time.
“I know who you are,” Tine heard himself say. “Two years ago. I went to a Scrubb concert. I know you don’t remember. It’s okay. I met you there. And you were — and my heart held onto you this whole time, without even knowing it.”
Sarawat took a step toward him. “Tine,” he murmured. His eyes were huge, hand reaching out toward Tine, who stepped back and away.
Tine shook his head. “Thank you,” he said. “You’ve done so much for me, and I’m — Wat, I’m so glad that I can do this one thing for you. That I can give you something back. I want you to have a happy ending, do you understand? One where you get everything you want.”
“Tine,” said Sarawat again, but Tine cut him off, because he didn’t want to hear anything kind, didn’t think his heart would survive.
He reached forward, grabbing Sarawat by the front of his shirt, and dragged him into a kiss. Sarawat, after a stunned moment, reacted by drawing Tine in as closely as he could get him, mouth opening. Tine tightened his grip on Sarawat’s shirt, letting himself be kissed, kissing back. He tried to memorize every feeling in it, all the places where they touched. Sarawat’s hand on his cheek. It was kind of him to give Tine this. Maybe a few months ago Tine would have been too proud to accept it, but now he felt only grateful.
A perfect day. He’d gotten one whole, perfect day, and it would be enough, he thought. It would get him through the rest.
He pulled away and gave Sarawat, whose face was still blank with shock, a small smile. “Goodbye, Pervert,” he murmured, and got into the taxi, not looking up as it pulled away from the sidewalk. He didn’t want Sarawat to see him cry. He didn’t want to burden him any more than he already had.
When he finally caved and looked back before the first turn, Sarawat was still standing frozen on the street. Overhead, the traffic light was bathing him in gold.
Chapter 5: warm in your heart with me
I loved your sharp mind, and your kind heart
The eyes I recognized right from the start
The goddess did not shoot me til I roamed anew.
The melodies were maps I hoped you'd follow
Melodies broke open by the words I'd swallowed,
The Goddess held my hand walked me home to you
She held my hand, she walked me home to you
She held my hand, she walked me home to you
Home to you
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
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.
th-th-th-that's all, folks!!!!!
(there's no sex in this bc increasingly that just didn't seem like it was The Vibe. maybe there will be a series-canon sexy one shot later. who knows. i must follow my whimsy as it leads me. but TRUST ME ON THIS: THEY BONED.)
(sarawat cried. tine did not, but only because tine fell asleep immediately.)