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ain't no other man (but you)

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The first thing to arrive was a laptop. Type had to sign for it. He and Tine, who had returned from the office to shower for the first time in four days, opened the box at the kitchen table, then stared at it in silence for a few minutes before Tine asked, “Is there — like, a card?”

There was. It said For my beautiful tissue man!!!! I am very rich. Please marry me. PS. I love you very much!!!!!! ♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️ , Your Man. 

Type frowned, blinked, then looked at Tine. He asked, “Hey. What the fuck?”

Tine was smiling a little as he shrugged. “I guess he likes you.”

Type, who had let Man drive him home four days ago although he had no intention of dating him or even seeing him ever again, didn’t understand. It was nice that they’d seen each other again. Type was glad to know that he’d been right, that his Tissue Man was good-looking and ... worthwhile. But of course they wouldn’t date. How could they date? What kind of madness was that?

Man was an international celebrity, and Type worked in insurance. Man was beloved by millions of people, and Type had exactly two friends, one of which was his brother. Man seemed to like everybody, and Type didn’t even like his two friends, most of the time. 

Also, Type’s personality kind of sucked. He knew this. He was cranky all the time, and bossy, and overly neat, and disliked ambiguity or uncertainty so much that he wouldn’t watch movies or read books unless he already knew the endings. He didn’t like to talk about his feelings, or indeed, about anything at all. He liked to be left alone in the little world he had made, which was tidy and comfortable and which he ran with an iron fist.

“Man’s nice,” Tine told him, gently. But Tine had recently had his heart ripped out by Man’s best friend, so what the fuck did Tine know? “He won’t — it’s not a joke. He wouldn’t do that.”

Type flinched. “I didn’t say I thought it was a joke,” he snapped.

“Yeah, but you were thinking it,” Tine pointed out. Type didn’t always like that Tine had gotten older and smarter. He didn’t always like that Tine loved him and paid attention to him and was always trying to find new ways to show it, even though Type could barely say I love you without stuttering. It was overwhelming, sometimes, how loyal Tine was. “Hey, you found him, after all this time. And he’s rich! You can have everything you want.”

“Hm,” said Type. 

-

When Type was four, he broke a glass in the kitchen. Both his parents had turned to look at him, frowning deeply. His mother had said, I thought you were more careful than that. He’d thought it was the worst feeling in the world, to be noticed in his failure. He’d cleaned up the glass and gone back to his room and promised himself that he’d never drop another one, never give his parents any reason to notice him except in praise. He’d rather be ignored than — than seen to fail. 

Tine ... wasn’t like that. 

Since the moment Tine was born, he’d wanted to be loved so badly, was always trying to get their parents’ attention. He’d sneak downstairs after bedtime to their parents’ parties to charm and entertain the guests, radiating sweetness that wrapped everyone around his finger. After a while, their parents started trotting him out, showing him off. Sweet little Tine, their sunshine boy.

Type didn’t mind, per se. He wasn’t jealous of Tine’s gift for attracting attention; it made him anxious. He worried all the time, that Tine would mess up, that everyone would see and disapprove and that he’d wilt under it. And he did. After scoldings he’d curl up so far into himself that Type was afraid he’d get lost, and Type never knew how to fix it. He couldn’t make jokes to cheer him up because he wasn’t very funny. And he didn’t know how to be comforting. Sometimes he tried to give Tine little head pats, but he didn’t know if it was effective. Tine cried a lot, regardless of whether or not Type patted him, so his evidence was mixed.

Type was almost thirty now, and he still didn’t know what to do when Tine cried. He still didn’t know how to make him stop putting his dumb, soft heart out in the open for it to get stepped on. He’d stopped going back into the office, spent all his days working from the couch and all his nights lying in the same spot in the dark listening to 2gether and getting more and more upset. Type tried to tell him to just stop listening to it, and Tine said, “He’s me but he’s not me and I’m think I hate him.”

“Okay,” Type had said, and instead of needling him more brought him a bowl of soup that he knew Tine wouldn’t eat.

He still thought there were few worse things than being seen to fail. He still would have preferred it if nobody could perceive him except when Type explicitly allowed them to. He still spent most of his time worrying that Tine was going to burn his hand and then put it right back onto the stove.

He liked his small, orderly life. He’d worked very hard to create it. He didn’t want the mess of someone like Man barging in and throwing it all into disarray.

Love was bad, and the evidence was sitting on his couch.

He sent the laptop back.

“Do you not like Macbooks,” Man asked, when Type finally caved and answered his phone call. He’d ignored him four times in a row but Man seemed to just keep hitting redial. “I can send a Samsung instead. Or a Dell. Do you like Dells? I don’t know what’s good and bad with computers.”

“I have a computer that works fine,” Type told him. “Don’t send me presents.”

There was a brief pause, then Man said, “Oh, do you just want cash? I can send cash but I thought it was less romantic.”

Type pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m hanging up,” he said, and did. 

-

is tine ok? pam said he hasn’t been in the office?

Type frowned at his phone. Man usually texted him nonsense things that Type ignored without reading. He supposed Man wanted to know so that he could report back to Sarawat, who was still on Type’s shit list, and who he didn’t think deserved updates.

He’s fine, he wrote back shortly. He’s working from home. Leave him alone.

we miss him

Type rolled his eyes. If they missed him so much then they shouldn’t have let their dumb friend hurt him. They should have protected Tine and — and — Type didn’t know. Killed Sarawat, or something.

Whatever. Their feelings were none of Type’s business. He didn’t respond.

-

Two days later, at his place of business, Type received a bouquet.

Of money.

Type received a bouquet of money. There was a set of keys attached to the stems that were labeled with Sarawat’s address and a note that said give these 2 tine.

“Woah,” said his desk-mate, Noomnim. Her eyes were wide as she leaned in, clearly trying to count how much was there. “What dating app are you on?”

Horrified, Type shoved the bouquet into a drawer. “It’s not — that’s not what it is,” he told her quickly. Everyone was staring at him, and he wanted to be dead. This was worse than the time he got a shoelace stuck in an escalator and had to be rescued by mall staff. “It’s ... a joke. From my friend.”

“I gotta get richer friends,” joked Noomnim, but let the subject drop. Type didn’t consider her a friend, necessarily, but she was a person he could bear to be around. She didn’t usually try to talk to him unless it was necessary for whatever task she was carrying out. Sometimes they ate lunch together in silence. It was nice. 

Anyway, now Type could clearly never not-talk to her again.

He slid down in his chair, shoulders hunching up. Maybe he’d quit. Tine was dating a rich musician, he was very sure Sarawat would be willing to pay their rent until Type got a new job. And as much as he found the idea of depending on Tine’s boyfriend for anything abhorrent, he probably would rather be dead than work at a place where everyone thought he was some kind of — of — rentboy.

“This card here that I found says this bouquet is because you won a bet, with your brother?” Noomnim asked loudly, holding up what Type was pretty sure was her own business card. Type frowned at her, confused. “Wow, I can’t even get my brother to commit to stakes where he takes out the garbage if he loses.”

Type blinked, and Noomnim widened her eyes a little. Then he said, “...Yes. My brother is ... a very rich lawyer. Who sent me this bouquet.”

“Because he lost a bet?”

“Yes. Because of that.”

“Well, that’s cleared up then,” announced Noomnim, tossing the card into the trashcan beside her, and then pulled up her headphones and went back to work, eyes focused sharply on her computer screen.

Around them, the rest of the office lost interest, and the low murmur of work conversation picked back up. Type listened, but he didn’t hear his name. He let out a long, slow breath; he looked over at Noomnim, who was looking at him. When their eyes met, she winked.

-

He kept the cash, less because he wanted it and more because he didn’t know how to return it. He tried to give it to Tine to bring back, but Tine refused. He had, against his better judgment, given Tine the keys that Man had sent over after they’d watched the concert. He still thought it was a bad idea, but when had Tine ever let the badness of any of his ideas stop him? 

Anyway, now his happiness was unbearable. Type couldn’t even look at him directly without getting embarrassed. 

“This is between you and Man,” Tine said. “It’s none of my business what you guys do together.”

“Nothing,” Type said firmly. “We do nothing. I do not know that man.”

“What Man do you know?” Tine asked, and then gave him a snotty smile which forced Type to yank him into a headlock and noogie him until he wriggled free. Rubbing his head ruefully, and safe on the other side of the table, Tine grumbled, “Well sor-ry for wanting you to be happy and fulfilled in a relationship! Anyway, I think it’s romantic.”

Type sighed. This was the worst thing about people falling in love: suddenly they wanted everyone around them to also be in love, even when the people around them were perfectly happy living a nice, repressed life where marriage was a vague and distant proposal at best. 

“I’m not a romantic person,” Type reminded him. “I find romance very alarming. Just look at what happened to you.”

Tine frowned. “What do you mean? Sarawat and I are happy. Why? Did he say something to you? Did someone else say something? What was it?”

Type gestured to indicate that Tine’s anxiety was proving his point. 

“Yeah, but that’s just my own stuff,” Tine dismissed, waving a hand and calming down now that he realized Type wasn’t harboring some kind of secret information about the state of his relationship. “Phuak has been teaching me some breathing exercises and communication techniques that he learned in university as people management skills. Honestly, he’d be a great HR representative if he spent even one second attempting to fulfil the requirements of his job.”

“Yes, I know your friends are drains on the economy, you don’t have to remind me.”

Tine rolled his eyes. “You like Fong.”

“Fong is the most tolerable of your little band of idiots, but he breaks the spines of his books so how trustworthy can he really be?”

“Well Ohm — ”

“I understand about thirty percent of what comes out of Ohm’s mouth. What is TikTok.” 

Tine laughed and came back around to Type’s side of the table, clearly believing himself to be out of the woods, noogie-wise. Type let him continue believing this, for the moment. Tine plucked a bill out of the bouquet and smelled it. “You gotta admit, that’s a better scent than roses,” he said, grinning.

Type snatched the bill out of his hand and noogied him again, not letting go this time until they’d toppled over onto the floor.

-

The scooter idled out front of the building, its rider toying with their phone. When Type stepped out onto the street, it honked at him, long and loud. He frowned, until the rider lifted their helmet visor and Man’s face beamed out at him. Then he scowled.

“I’ll give you a ride,” Man offered cheerfully. “And on the way you can tell me all about yourself.”

Type pinched the bridge of his nose. “Listen,” he said. “I know that you think that we had — whatever — a moment, a long time ago. And clearly, letting you give me a ride back from Sarawat’s was a mistake, because now you’ve gotten it into your head that we’re ... ” He made a gesture that was meant to indicate the word dating, which he refused to say out loud, in front of his neighbors. Man nodded patiently. “So let’s just agree not to bother each other again, okay?”

Man drove forward a few feet on his scooter. “Loving you is bothering?” he asked, with evident confusion. “Anyway, you remembered the moment, too. You recognized me. So it wasn’t just me who thought it was a moment.”

Type could acknowledge to himself that he had misstepped in admitting that he remembered Man. Only, he’d been so surprised. Things like that didn’t happen in real life, not to people like him. To people like Tine, sure. But Tine was Tine; Type was Type.

He’d convinced himself over the years that Man hadn’t been as handsome as the memory, hadn’t been as charming or as kind; but then there he’d stood, in Sarawat’s apartment, with his dumb face and his big smile and the — the openness of wanting to know Type immediately. Wanting to love him.

Type grit his teeth. The thing was: Type wasn’t what Man remembered. Type didn’t know what he’d said or done during their exchange that had convinced Man that Type was — whatever he clearly thought he was. Nice. Cute. Giving. Literally anything other than a grouchy introvert who wanted to be left alone most of the time.

The beauty of Tissue Man was that he was a dream that could never disappoint Type, and, more importantly, that Type could never disappoint.

But here he was, at Type’s apartment, on his scooter, and Type didn’t know how to say don’t you know I’m nothing like you? without it sounding really, like ... sad.

“I didn’t say it wasn’t a moment, I said it let’s leave it as a moment,” Type snapped. 

Man cocked his head to the side. His eyes narrowed, studying Type like you’d study an equation. Type shifted, uncomfortable under the attention. The moment he did, Man smiled.

“Ah,” he said.

Type frowned. “Ah?” he asked. “What, ‘ah’?”

Ah,” Man repeated. “Okay. I won’t take you to work.”

Type opened his mouth, then closed it again. “ ... And you’ll — stop? The presents?”

“Oh, no, I’m gonna keep sending presents,” Man told him blithely. “You can keep returning them if you want. You’ve got my address.”

“But why!”

Man got off his scooter. Type narrowed his eyes, suspicious, and readied himself to back away if Man tried to do something embarrassing, like hug him. But instead Man came to the curb, keeping his hands in his pockets, and said plainly: “Because one day I’m going to send you something that you like, and you’ll keep it, and then I’ll know something about you other than your preferred brand of tissues.”

“You don’t have to send me presents to know things about me. Just ask,” Type said before he could think about it. Man’s face transformed into something that shined, and Type had to fight to keep from slapping his own forehead. “No,” he corrected quickly. “No, that’s not what I meant — don’t look at me like that. Don’t ask me about myself. Don’t talk to me.”

“Well, which is it?” Man asked. “Send you presents or ask you?”

“Neither!”

“Okay, but assuming that neither isn’t an option.”

“Isn’t neither an option?”

“It feels unlikely, but I’ll keep you updated on the situation as it develops.”

Type blew a long breath out. He felt — it was imperative that he did not smile. Just because Man was funny did not mean Type could smile; that would only encourage him. He considered whether he’d rather receive what he assumed would be four thousand text messages a day or suffer through another Money Bouquet incident.

Fine,” he snapped. “You can text me. I will answer one question a week.”

“A day,” Man bargained. “One a day.”

“Three times a week, final offer.”

“Deal,” Man said, and held out his hand. Type shook it. Man quickly shifted his hand so that their fingers were linked, but let Type shake him off immediately, seemingly unbothered. “Have a good day at work! I love you.”

“No you don’t,” Type informed him, and then turned on his heel and marched away, not turning around even when Man honked after him and shouted, “I LOVE YOU MORE TODAY THAN I DID YESTERDAY,” which didn’t make any sense.

-

what is your favorite food?

Joke with a fried egg.

i’ll send you some. what’s your favorite place?

I like it homemade, and that counts as your second question.

-

“This is not what I meant,” Type sighed, opening the door.

Man beamed at him. “I won’t stay,” he said. “I just don’t trust couriers. They spill things.”

Behind Type, Tine leaned over the back of the couch to see who was at the door. “Oh, hey, Man. Is Sarawat with you? I thought you guys were in a writing session all night.”

Man craned his neck to see over Type’s shoulder. “I got kicked out,” he said cheerfully. “Earn and Sarawat were in a very serious mood and did not appreciate my contributions.”

“Were they good contributions?”

“What is ‘good’?” Man mused. “Art is so subjective.”

Tine came up behind Type and gently nudged him to the side, giving Man enough space to come in. “You brought food! Excellent, we were just fighting about what we were going to have for dinner. Breakfast for dinner is fun. Why don’t you stay and eat it with us?”

“I would love to do that,” Man said cheerfully, giving Type a smug look. 

Type glared at him. “I’m not hungry,” he lied.

“More for me,” Tine said with a shrug. He ushered Man into the kitchen, and Type returned to the couch where he’d been going over some paperwork that he hadn’t managed to finish at the office.

He would just ignore them, he decided. He didn’t have to participate in this. Or he could leave — his room was quieter. He’d get more done.

He stayed put. When Man brought him a plate, he hesitated for a moment, then gave in and accepted it.

The joke was ... really good. He was irritated about how good it was. Chewing furiously, he went back to his work and pointedly did not say thank you or attempt to engage in the conversation. Tine and Man chattered happily at one another, about the upcoming album and Sarawat and something that Tine’s boss — with whom he had a very casual relationship, in Type’s opinion — had posted on IG. 

They left him to his work; other than reaching out once to brush something from the corner of Type’s mouth, Man didn’t try to engage him. He focused instead on Tine. Which was good, Type thought. Obviously Tine was with Sarawat, but it was good that Man could get to know him better, because then he’d see the contrast between them. He’d see that he should be going after someone fun and extroverted, like Tine. If Tine was sunshine, Type was a heavy overcast on a good day.

Type brought his plate to the kitchen and cleaned it. He felt agitated. He didn’t know why. 

“Need a hand?” Man asked, coming in from the living room with his and Tine’s plates. Of course Tine let him clear them; Tine was such a youngest child. “I can dry?”

“No,” Type snapped, then forced himself to soften. “I mean, no, thank you. You’re a guest.”

“I am an interloper at best,” Man teased. “Come on, let me help.”

“I don’t need help.”

“I know you don’t. I want to help anyway.”

“Look, I’m not like Tine,” Type snapped, finally. “All right?”

Man blinked. “I know that,” he said, tilting his head slightly to the side, like a confused dog. Type resisted the urge to reach out and pet him. “You don’t even look like him.”

Type hip-checked him because his hands were too full to hit him. “I’m serious. I know this has all been fun and games but I — ”

Man stepped forward, plate clattering onto the counter. His facial expression was more serious than Type had seen it. “It hasn’t,” he said, voice almost sharp. “No. Stop.”

Type blinked. 

Man was shaking his head, glancing at Type and then away, biting his lip. He looked ... nervous. Type hadn’t known that Man could get nervous. “I know I — I know that I’m just kind of this idiot guy. I play the guitar and I can’t do math, but I’m not joking. Okay? Just because I’m not as smart as Sarawat — ”

“That’s not what I meant,” Type said. He felt a whinge of something in his stomach that he didn’t like. “I didn’t say that.”

“ — it doesn’t mean I’m not serious, sometimes. About some things. About you.”

Type bit down on the instinct to say well, don’t be. Instead, he diligently replaced the glass he had been washing in the sink and turned to face Man head on.

“Look. What I am trying to say is that I’m not — it’s not going to be any good, for you, all right,” he grit out. Why was this so hard for Man to grasp? Why did Type have to do all the work? “It’s not ... whatever the whole thing with Tine and Sarawat has made you think, just because we — just because there was a moment a long time ago. But you’re not getting what Sarawat got. That’s. I’m.” He gestured at himself, and then at his preternaturally clean kitchen, and then shrugged. “This morning I spent forty-five minutes cleaning the bathroom tile with a toothbrush. It’s not a compulsion. I wanted to do it. I find it relaxing.”

“I don’t mind clean bathrooms,” Man told him, but he had this look on his face that Type couldn’t read. Something sort of soft. He reached out slowly, and Type let him, because he knew well enough at this point that fighting Man off was a waste of time. Man took his hand. “I don’t want someone like Tine.”

Despite himself, Type bristled. “Well, why not?” he demanded. “What’s wrong with Tine?”

“Nothing. I just don’t want him. I want you.”

“But why,” Type demanded, throwing his free hand in the air. “I’m mean! And I’ve got — weird ears!”

Man clapped his hands over Type’s ears. “Shhhhh!” he hissed. “Don’t let them hear you say that.” He stroked his hands carefully around their rims, as if soothing them. Type felt paralyzed by the tenderness of it. By the care. 

Nobody had ever ... well, Type hadn’t ever needed anybody to. He was self-sufficient. 

“I don’t think you have weird ears, and I don’t think you’re mean, and I don’t think that if you loved me it would be like how Tine does it,” Man told him quietly. “I just — I thought about you for a long time, but I didn’t know what to think. And now you’re here. And I want to find out. You don’t have to ever like me, but can you let me? Find out about you?”

Type wanted to shrink so far into himself that he disappeared. Man was looking at him with such plain interest. Type didn’t know how to be interesting. He didn’t know how to be anything other than exactly what he was.

Man stroked down his ear again, smiling a little. “I like them,” he murmured.

Type closed his eyes and pulled away. Well, fine. He supposed this was a journey Man had to take for himself. Without looking back, he picked up the discarded glass and said, “Fine. You can — fine. But don’t blame me when you’re disappointed.”

Man hummed, not arguing, and shifted to stand beside him, accepting the glass to dry when Type held it out.

-

Okay, thought Type: if Man wanted to know him, then Type would let him. He’d be the most Type he could be, and then Man would see that he was a mean bastard who required too much effort and leave him in peace. 

He resolved to treat Man the way he treated Tine, which was the person who probably knew him best. He’d made a deal to respond to the questions, so he did, in as few words as possible and on his own sweet time. He instituted a strict no-texts-after-6pm rule for no reason other than he knew Man was often busy in the studio during the day and preferred to text at night. He let himself be as bitchy as he felt like being, whenever he felt like it. 

Man didn’t seem to mind. He seemed to find Type’s demands weirdly charming. He had taken to calling him kitten all the time, which Type found irritating, and every time he complained about it, Man just sent him cat emojis in reply.

He was dogged, Type could give him that. Clearly he’d never met anyone that hadn’t succumbed to his charm. Probably he had boy- and/or girlfriends stashed all over the city. Type understood; Man was handsome, and surprisingly insightful, and ... well, he was funny. He was so funny that Type sometimes had to show Tine the messages he’d sent, just so he could justify why he was laughing alone on the couch.

“It’s weird seeing you like this,” Tine said, staring at him. 

Type frowned. “Like what?” He put his phone away, without replying to what Man had sent him that had made him laugh.

Tine visibly hesitated, then said, “I dunno.”

Type snorted and reached out to tousle Tine’s hair, because he knew it annoyed him.  “Once again your piercing analytical mind sees things the rest of us could never hope to perceive.”

“Fuck off,” Tine laughed, shoving him away. “I mean — you’re like — I don’t know, you’re Type. You hate the internet, and here you are, exchanging memes.”

“We don’t exchange them, he sends them to me and I allow him to continue doing it because it’s better than receiving bouquets of money at my place of business,” Type reminded him. “Don’t read into it.”

Tine rolled his eyes and went back to his papers. Type let him think he’d won, because sometimes, as the older brother, you had to let younger brothers have a small victory. It was important, for their growth. And anyway, Type didn’t want to get into it. He didn’t want to explain that he was allowing Man to text him only so that he’d realize what a waste of time it was. The idea of explaining this to Tine made him feel ... bad, in a weird and indescribable way that he chose to shove way deep down and never look at.

Don’t read into it, he repeated, to himself this time. 

-

2gether left for the European leg of their tour a couple of weeks after Type agreed to let Man text him, and if he’d thought it would mean a lessening of attention he severely miscalculated. Tour seemed to involve long stretches of the band laying around their hotel annoying each other and the Teepakorns by turn.

In fact, Type felt like he heard from Man more now than he had before he went away, in part because now that they were in different time zones, Man refused to acknowledge the no-texts-after-6pm rule, and in part because Sarawat was constantly videochatting Tine. They watched movies together over the phone, ate together over the phone, fell asleep talking on the phone. Often the rest of the band was there for their movie dates, crowding into the screen or passing it around.

Type made a point not to join these calls, but often they happened over dinner, and what was he supposed to do, not eat?

“Type! You look very handsome and intelligent today,” Man said. “Guys, doesn’t he look both handsome and intelligent?”

“I’ve never seen a handsomer or more intelligent-looking young man,” the one called Earn agreed. “Hey Type, are you single? Because I’ve got a friend I think you’d like.”

Type waited for Tine to turn the camera on him, and then very deliberately put his headphones on. 

Tine laughed, as did Earn onscreen. “Was it something I said?” she asked, not sounding too bothered. Type turned his music on and did not hear the answer.

-

Over lunch, Noomnim leaned in and said, “When does he get back?”

Type raised his eyebrows. Their whole quasi-friendship was based on not talking to one another. He didn’t understand why she was breaking his covenant. “When does who get back?”

“The bouquet of money guy you’re in love with, obviously,” she clarified, rolling her eyes. “He’s the one that keeps making you check your phone like a giddy teenager every five seconds. I assume he’s on a trip somewhere and you’re keeping the love alive through the fine art of sexting at work.”

“Excuse me?” Type protested. “I don’t — do that.”

She gave him an extremely dry look and mimed looking at her phone before pressing it to her chest and fanning her cheeks. “It’s cute. But also very embarrassing for you.”

“Maybe we should stop eating together,” Type told her sternly. “Clearly you’re getting too comfortable.”

Noomnim took a large bite of her lunch and wrinkled her nose at him. “Fine, I won’t ask,” she muttered. “You can buy my silence by not making me have to go back to eating with Tharn. That guy is so emotional and all he ever wants to do is spent the whole hour talking about how cute his boyfriend is. Like, don’t get your tears in my noodles, they’re already salty enough.”

Type snorted. 

Still chewing, and not looking at him, Noomnim went on, “But just so you know. I think it’s good. I mean, if you get all lovey-dovey and gross about it then I’m friend breaking up with you, but you’re the only one with a decent sense of humor around here, so. I’m glad you’re, whatever, having a nice time.”

Type stared at her, not sure what to say. For one thing, she’d said they were friends, which was good to know. And for another — “You think I have a good sense of humor?”

“Well, yeah,” she said, surprised. “You’re very funny.”

“I’m funny?”

Noomnim reached out to flick his ear. “What, are you fishing for compliments or something?”

“No,” he muttered, batting her hand away. “I just didn’t think ... I mean. No one has ever told me I was funny before.”

Noomnim shrugged. “Yeah, but most people in the world are boring and annoying,” she pointed out. “So who cares about them? I’m right. Now stop being needy at me and eat your noodles.”

Type ducked his head to hide the flush on his cheeks, and did.

-

What is your biggest fear?

Jellyfish.

What is your biggest fear, metaphysically?

[...]

Type wrote and deleted “failure,” four times.

Still jellyfish, but this time on land, he said.

There was a long pause, and then Man said, ok but if ur not gonna answer then it doesn’t count as my second question.

Type sent the handshake emoji.

-

It’s failing, he sent, at 3am. He’d woken up from a dream he couldn’t remember. Or maybe not failing. Maybe letting down.

He put the phone facedown on the comforter. When he woke up in the morning, there was a text from Man that said: thank u.

-

Type knew that 2gether had gotten back to Bangkok because Man texted him fourteen times with date ideas and Tine had disappeared from the flat with a big overnight bag. Type was snacking on durian chips and debating how to tell Man that they weren’t going to go on any dates when the door rang, and he knew without answering it who it was.

“I didn’t say you could come over,” he said, opening it. He didn’t let himself look at Man’s face because he was afraid he would ... have a reaction. To it. Instead he studied the button on Man’s shirt, which was coming undone.

Man beamed at him. “I know. I don’t have to stay long. I just wanted to see your face.”

Type sighed. He could feel his neck heating up. “Well, you’ve seen me. Welcome back. Bye.”

He went to close the door and Man stopped it with his foot. “Wait! There was something else.”

Type obligingly re-opened the door, and waited. “Yes?”

Man hesitated, and Type slipped up and looked at him. He was biting his lip. After a moment of deliberation, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a little sticker. It said LEAVE ME ALONE on it in English. “I, um. I saw this, and I thought you could put it on your computer for when you work in the café. I know that you don’t like it when people try to talk to you. It’s kind of dumb.”

Type took the sticker from him. It was plain, but the words were written clearly with a Thai translation at the bottom. Without thinking much of it, he laughed; it was funny. He’d put it on his personal laptop. It probably wouldn’t work, but then when people tried to talk to him he could just tap it without saying anything.

When he looked up, Man was staring at him.

“What?” Type asked, frowning. His brought his hand to his mouth. “Do I have crumbs? I was eating.”

“No,” Man said quickly, looking away. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to — sorry. I just haven’t ever made you laugh before.”

Type made a face at him. “Don’t be stupid, of course you have,” he protested. “You make me laugh all the time.”

Man’s eyes snapped back up to his, jaw going a little slack. “I — do?”

Type thought back, to all the times he’d laughed at what Man had texted him; all the times he’d shown his phone to Tine or Noomnim; all the times he’d gone to bed smiling. Hadn’t he — hadn’t he told Man he was laughing? Hadn’t he let him know that he liked the messages, that he was having a good time?

Something shivered in Type’s stomach. 

“Yes,” he said, voice firm. He stumbled a little over his words, but it was important, he thought. The idea that Man thought — that he didn’t know. “Yes, you make me laugh. All your text messages. I’m always,” he swallowed, “I’m always showing them to people.”

Man’s expression was unreadable. “So no dick pics, got it,” he said, looking away, but there was a flush high on his neck. Type kind of wanted to stroke it.

Oh, Type thought. He cleared his throat. “Not unless you want me to post it on Facebook,” he said sternly, and let himself smile again, made sure it was big enough for Man to see.

“Kinky,” Man joked, but weakly, and his hand went up to his neck, covering the flush.

It hit Type all at once: that he was glad to see him. That he was really, really glad. That he wanted to invite him in and listen to him talk about nothing and be stupid and silly and make Type laugh. He wanted Man to cook for him and he wanted ... 

Oh NO, Type amended, and then said: “I have to go,” and closed the door. When Man knocked again, he didn’t answer.

-

Type put in for a few days off and left for the retreat immediately. He didn’t tell anyone but Tine, because someone had to water the plants and he didn’t want Tine panicking and calling their parents if he just disappeared. 

The retreat would be what he needed, he thought. It would calm him. It always did. He liked not having to talk to people, not having to put up with anyone or be put up with. It felt cleansing. He could just — clear his head.

Clearly what was happening was that he’d been ... shaken. Yes. Man had shaken him, with his big heart and his dedication to getting Type to like him. No one had ever paid that kind of attention to Type before, so clearly he was just confused. But confusion was no reason to throw himself into anything.

But the days passed more slowly than usual. He couldn’t relax. He kept thinking of things, stuff Man had sent him, or the way his neck had flushed when Type had smiled. He kept wondering whether Man had texted him. Whether he was worried. Should Type have told him he was going? 

But he never did. That was who Type was. He did what he wanted. If Man wanted to date him then he’d have to get used to that, too.

Only — well, he could have mentioned it. He’d told Tine, hadn’t he?

But that was different. Tine was his brother. Man was ... Man. Type didn’t respond to his texts half the time anyway. He probably wouldn’t even notice.

And if he did, if it upset him, that was good, probably. Because then he’d leave Type alone. And he’d fine someone better for him. And that’s what Type wanted, wasn’t it? That was the whole point of this entire exercise.

His stomach twisted, thinking of it. Of Man somewhere else, with someone else. He knew it would be better, but he — but — 

Shit, he thought. He liked him. He liked him. Type never liked people. Type barely liked Tine most of the time! And how dare Man just waltz in and be — funny? And handsome? How dare he take the tissue, all those years ago? Type didn’t ask for him. Type had been doing fine on his own. 

Type got kicked out of the retreat early for shouting, “FUCK OFF, MAN,” in the middle of dinner.

-

The texts he had were these:

u ok? 

ok i’m going home .... hope everything is all right!!!

good morning :) 

i saw a cloud that looked like a fat baby today do u want to see a pic

sarawat is writing a song about us its called “tissues”

so what happened yesterday

type?????

ok i know u usually only respond to like 3% of these but can u just send me an emoji so i know ur alive

type

i know everything i say sounds like a joke but i’m not kidding this time the thumbs down is fine

????????

is it because u want me to leave u alone? 

i know i said i’d stop w the gifts u can give me the sticker back i really didnt mean anything by it i just saw it and thought it was funny

type pls answer me

i’ll never text u again if u don’t want me to just say so

i went by ur place and no one was there????? what’s going on???????

type im rly worried what did i do

ok. well ... i’ll leave u alone i guess.

And then nothing.

-

Type didn’t text him when he got back. Man didn’t text him again, either. This was probably for the best. Type’s plan had worked. And that was ... great. He was happy, honestly. He got loads done at work. He deep-cleaned the apartment three times in a week. He started reading a new book, the title of which he couldn’t ever remember and the content of which he had no idea. But he was reading it.

Yes. This was good. This would be very good. He could put aside the dream of tissue man forever now, and focus on other things, like remembering what the title of this book was.

Tine took to hanging out more. He thought he was being subtle, but Tine had not a single subtle bone in his body, so Type knew he was being babysat. He didn’t need to be babysat. He was fine. He was thriving, actually. Their house had never been so clean.

And then Man wrote: talked 2 tine he said ur at a retreat w/out ur phone. guess u forgot to tell me, haha. it’s ok, i know u don’t have to tell me stuff. i was just worried. but have fun. i miss u.

Type jerked his head up to glare at Tine, who was sitting at the kitchen counter and very obviously texting. 

“You told him,” Type accused, pointing his finger at Tine and holding the phone out as evidence. “I told you not to!”

Tine stuck his jaw out, stubborn. He folded his arms over his chest. “Yeah, well, if I didn’t tell him, it was going to all get really stupid. I was helping.”

“Well, don’t,” Type snapped. “I don’t need your help.”

Yes, you do!” Tine returned, voice rising loud enough that it startled Type into silence. Tine wasn’t usually a yeller. He mostly just sulked whenever anyone was made at him. “You’re — I know that you’re my older brother, and you’ll never let me take care of you like you take care of me. Maybe I ... maybe I should have tried earlier. I just, I let you, and maybe that was wrong. I don’t know. But you’re my brother, and I love you, and we’re supposed to be a team. And this is the only way I know how to take care of you.”

Type gaped at him. 

“He makes you happy,” Tine went on, voice quiet. “I’ve never seen you as happy as he makes you. I can’t figure out why you’re ruining it on purpose.”

Type opened his mouth, and then closed it again. He had no idea what to say. He hadn’t known that Tine felt ... like that. That Tine thought of him much beyond that Type was his brother and he was really particular about cleaning. 

But he guessed, if he’d had to pick someone, Tine was ... probably ... his best friend. Which was kind of horrifying to think about, but Type’s options were limited; he didn’t like a lot of people, and Noomnim couldn’t be his best friend because they worked together. 

“Um,” he managed. “Well that’s. A lot to process.”

Tine rolled his eyes. “It’s really not. You just don’t have any other friends so you don’t know how it’s supposed to work.”

“I have other friends!”

“Name one friend.”

“Noomnim.”

“She doesn’t count, she works with you.”

“We hang out!”

“When?”

“Lunch!”

“Lunch ... during work?”

“Well. That just happens to be when it’s convenient.”

“Bring her over for beers once and I’ll count her as your friend,” Tine said. “And stop avoiding the subject or I’ll spit in your mouth.”

Type huffed a small laugh. There was the Tine he knew. “I’m not avoiding it. I don’t know what to say.”

“Say I was right, and you’ll call Man,” Tine instructed, grinning. “Say I’m the best brother in the world and I don’t have to dishes for a month.”

“I’ll say that I subsidize your housing and you’re on thin ice,” Type told him, and chucked a pillow at him, which Tine caught and then snuggled. 

His expression got serious. “I know there’s a lot that goes on in your head that I don’t know about. But you like Man, and you don’t usually like people, and he wants to make you happy, and I think you should let him try.”

Type cut his gaze away. He was struck with a memory: he’d been eleven, and Tine was seven. Type had been teased by some of the neighborhood kids for being fussy about something, he didn’t remember what. He was sitting in their room playing forlornly with a stuffed elephant, and Tine had come in. He’d sat down across from Type. When Type had said I don’t need friends anyway, Tine had taken the elephant out of his hands and crawled into his lap to be snuggled. 

I’m your friend, Tine had said.

Type looked back to where Tine was watching him. 

“You’re a good brother,” he said.

Tine grinned. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I’m the best.” He came over to wear Type was sitting on the sofa and plopped down next to him, plucking his phone out of his hands. “Do you need help writing a message?”

Type made a face and grabbed his phone back, biting down on the instinct to deny that he needed help at all. Instead, he asked carefully, “Um, you know Man, right?”

“Yeah,” laughed Tine. “I’ve heard of him.”

Type rolled his eyes. “No, I mean — you know him. You know what he likes. What he would ... what would make him, um, feel better.”

Tine hummed thoughtfully, resting his head on the back of the sofa and squinting up at the ceiling. “Honestly, it’s hard to say. I think if you just said like, hey, sorry I didn’t text you? That would go a long way.”

“That’s not very romantic,” Type pointed out, frowning.

“You’re not a very romantic person,” Tine reminded him. “You find it alarming.”

That was a fair point, but: “Well, he is, he’d like it.”

Tine didn’t say anything, and when Type looked up at him, the expression on his face was — proud, maybe? Which Type found very embarrassing. Tine said, “Well. You could try gifts?”

-

Type brought flowers. Real flowers, not cash ones. The card said I am sorry I did not tell you I was going on a retreat. It was rude. From, Type.

He stood nervously outside of Man’s apartment holding them, smoothing down the front of his shirt every two seconds until the door swung open. Man stood in shorts and no shirt, his hair wet, gaping at him. Before he could say anything, Type shoved the flowers at him. 

“These are. Well, I bought them. For you,” Type managed.

Man blinked, first at Type’s face and then down at the flowers. He didn’t move, so Type gave the flowers an impatient little shake, and Man took them. He read the card, then looked back up at Type. His expression had not changed. 

Right. Clearly this was not going to be one of those things where the gift was self-explanatory. 

Type cleared his throat. “I — have been worried,” he said. 

“About ... me?” Man’s voice was quiet. He was staring down at the flowers. 

Type took a deep breath, blowing it out hard enough that it ruffled the petals, and admitted, “No. I mean — yes, recently. But I meant that, for — uh, that the reason that I, you know, have been ... well, not exactly, easy to — I mean, the reason I’ve made things so difficult is because I ... am. Difficult. I’m a difficult person. And I thought you should know that.”

“Type,” Man said slowly, cocking his head to the side, “I know who you are.”

“No,” Type told him, speaking quickly so that his embarrassment wouldn’t catch up with him, “no, I don’t think — I was worried, you see, that you’d find out. And that in finding out you, would ... go away. So I thought it would be better, if I — if I didn’t try, or, or, or, get my hopes up. Because I was afraid to try and fail.”

Man put the flowers in the umbrella stand by the door, stepping in close. Type let him, not stepping back. Man’s hand came to reset on Type’s wrist and he stared down at it, determined to get it out, just to say it once, and then — and then whatever happened, happened. 

“I told myself that I didn’t want you to like me but that’s not what it was, it was that I was afraid you wouldn’t like me, because I know I’m — fussy, and not very sociable, and you’re — you’re not like that. Everyone likes you, because you’re, because of how funny and good and interesting you are. So I tried to be the worst version of me because I thought that if I chose not to be liked it would feel better, but it didn’t feel better, I don’t like it when you don’t text me, I don’t. I didn’t have a good time at the retreat. I — left early. I missed you.”

“But you didn’t text me when you got back,” Man pointed out, voice gentle, thumb tracing a pattern on Type’s wrist.

Type nodded. “I. Was worried,” he said, again. He felt helpless trying to explain it.

Man didn’t say anything, so Type braved a look at him. He was looking at Type, expression broken open: fond and glad and soft and — “I like your face so much,” Type blurted, unable to help it, and when Man laughed, it was a warm sound. He drew Type in, slowly, carefully, but Type put up no resistance, had none left.

Man nudged his nose against Type’s, one hand on his cheek. “You should know, about me. Once you say I can stay, I’m very hard to get rid of.”

Type nodded against him. He brought his hands up to fist in the soft band of Man’s shorts, holding tight. “Good,” he said, “that’s — yeah. That’s good. I want you to,” and then, because a hundred years ago he’d given Man a tissue and never stopped thinking of him after, because he’d tried his best to be his worst and Man was still here anyway, because Man liked him, liked his personality, because he couldn’t believe he hadn’t yet, Type pressed in as close as he could get and kissed him.

-

We should get beers some time. After work. As friends, Type texted. Also, you were right.

I'd like that. And also yeah, obviously. About what? Noomnim texted back. 

The money bouquet guy. Type looked over at where Man was still sleeping, curled up against Type’s side, nose in his armpit like a big dog. He was cute. He was so cute that Type wanted to wrap him up in a blanket and sit on him. I AM in love with him. 

Noomnim sent him a gif of someone pretending to vomit and then, right after, an emoji of a heart with sparkles. The worst thing about falling in love was that Type thought yeah, that’s what it feels like. He nestled down into bed and gathered Man up against him, nosing softly into his hair. 

“Am I that cute?” Man mumbled, without opening his eyes.

“Yes,” Type said simply. He wouldn’t always feel this — torn open about it, he knew. It would fade. But for now he felt so full of sunshine he thought he must be lighting up the whole room, all on his own.

Man smiled. He slowly blinked awake, studying Type’s face. “I’m messy,” he warned. “Both literally and metaphorically. My personality.”

“That’s okay,” Type said, and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “As it turns out, I like a little fuss.”