Kit doesn’t really remember the day he received his acceptance into the School of Medicine, only that he felt an instant rush of relief and pride when next door, his best friend, Pha, opened his own acceptance letter and messaged him immediately on LINE so they could celebrate together. Kit had immediately requested a video call and grinned his proud, boxy smile without an ounce of shame.
Now, barely even a year later, Pha’s LINE disappeared with him.
Kit still has his and Pha’s old chat log saved on his phone, almost as a memorial. The last messages still remain: Kit asks Pha to send him the link to the lecture he had mentioned in class and Pha obliges. Kit wishes their last real communication had been different, perhaps sweeter or happier — or in truth, just less ordinary. It seems the mundanity of their friendship, or perhaps of Kit himself, couldn’t keep Pha around.
Hell, Kit didn’t even deserve a proper explanation.
For the days following Pha’s sudden departure, Kit lived his days in a slumber; his body ran through the motions of life while his mind was far away, chasing after Pha’s car as it drove further and further from him. The bright, cold classrooms of his faculty felt like a prison. It was a house of memories and shared moments, and his skin itched to even sit in his old seat. His thoughts were always elsewhere, wondering if his friend had eaten that day, if he was taking care of his health, or, when the days were especially long and taxing, if he even missed Kit at all. It was a dangerous question. No matter the answer he settled on for that particular day, often different from the day before, it would always disappoint him.
Pha had always been the more social between the two of them. It was he, in fact, who introduced Kit to the friends and acquaintances they had grown to share a comfortable circle with and who now spoke endlessly of Pha and nothing else.
Kit couldn’t blame them. Not really. He missed his friend and begged the closed LINE chat for him to come back, but to no avail. His texts were never delivered and his pleas were never heard.
When he awoke some weeks later from his living slumber, it was not from a place of acceptance or forgiveness. No, he had awoken to a sharp, penetrating alarm bell. It stopped Kit in his path, in the middle of the pedestrian cross, so he glanced around himself, searching for that sound -- the brightest sound he had heard in a long time. Nong! There it was again. Students pushed past him impatiently but still Kit stood, ears ringing. Nong! He suddenly came to and with one blink, the fog of grief and loss and confusion from his eyes faded. He whirled around to focus on the man standing behind him. He was taller than KIt, but obviously younger from the looks of the slackened tie around his neck. He looked the man up and down, huffing. “What kind of right do you have to call me nong?”
His name was Mark, and since they met, he hardly gave Kit a moment of peace.
For some time, Kit hadn’t been the recipient of much communication. He could go through an entire school week and only message his faculty’s study group and his younger brother, Phai. He was far too busy and studied far too well to lament over a mere lack of texts; he had to remain at the top of his class, of course. But now with Mark’s rather bothersome presence, he hardly had a chance to feel lonely. Kit could expect an early morning text from Mark, followed by at least a dozen messages throughout the day, and one final bid goodnight before Kit retired to bed. It didn’t take long for Kit to begin to welcome these texts. Mark was living proof that Kit wasn’t so undesirable as a person. Mark didn’t run from him as Pha had.
He ran toward him.
“Baby,” Mark called from the shared bathroom. Kit looked up from his textbooks and pulled the glasses from his nose just as Mark turned the corner. He leaned against the doorway to the bedroom — Kit’s bedroom, but after nearly five months of dating, it was just as much Mark’s bedroom now, too — and smirked, toothbrush still in hand. “Ah, you take my breath away. You're so cute that I forgot what I was going to say!”
“Don’t be dumb,” Kit said, rolling his eyes. “And don’t call me baby. I'm not your nong, even though you wish I was.”
Mark winked and moved back to the bathroom. Kit’s stare lingered on the doorway for a beat longer than he’d like to admit. He quickly shook his head and stretched his legs off the edge of the bed, groaning as his shoulders cracked. He grimaced as he stood and tucked his textbook back into his bag, rolling out the knots in his back as he took in the skyline beyond his window.
Long, tan arms wrapped around his midsection and a chin came to rest on his sore shoulder. “You’re hurting yourself,” Mark murmured into his ear, digging his chin into Kit's poor muscles. “I won’t let anything hurt my baby, not even himself.”
“What-” Kit took a deep breath, steadying the staccato of tremors in his heart. “What did I say about calling me baby?”
“Okay, kitty,” Mark said, pressing a fleeting kiss to his red cheek. “Lean on me the next time you study.”
Kit was helpless to do anything but nod and bite the inside of his cheek, a rather pesky habit he’d adopted to accept Mark’s seemingly endless stream of endearments. Mark said it was cute.
“Oh, yeah,” Mark said, pulling Kit toward their bed and ignoring Kit’s exaggerated protests. Mark opened the covers for his boyfriend and Kit slowly crawled in, unable to meet Mark’s teasing eyes. Mark fell onto his back and beckoned Kit closer with an encouraging pat on his upper arm. After Kit was snuggled securely in Mark’s arms, his head resting on Mark’s chest and his hair tickling Mark’s collarbones, Mark spoke again. “My engineering seniors are taking us to the beach. I’ll be gone this weekend. I’m sorry, kitty! I asked P’Koh if you could come, but he said no boyfriends.”
Mark’s fingers tightened slightly in Kit’s hair. He sighed, an annoyed sort of breath that Mark was not often one to make. “It’s so unfair, kitty! I want to take a vacation with you.”
Kit chuckled and rubbed his cheek against Mark’s chest. “Go have fun, Mark. Maybe now I can finally work in peace.”
The hand that was slowly carding its way through Kit’s hair paused for just one second, two, three, then he suddenly clutched Kit further into his chest, swaying them back and forth. “But won’t you miss me?”
Kit grumbled against Mark’s suffocation and swatted at his arm. “Not now, I won’t!”
Mark breathed gently into Kit’s hair and Kit felt himself soften. He rested a placating hand on Mark’s abdomen and closed his eyes; so often he had to close his eyes when he was serious around Mark. “You’ll message me everyday, won’t you?” he asked quietly.
“P’Kit,” Mark said, his voice a rumble above Kit. He released Kit from his hold and laid them both down against the pillows, and Kit immediately snuggled back into Mark’s warmth. When he opened his eyes, he found Mark staring down at him with a tender smile on his lips. “You don’t even have to ask.”
It’s regrettable that Mark told Kit of his weekend plans on a Thursday, because Kit was fully occupied with his tutoring session when Mark left for his beach trip that Friday night. He brushed Mark off during lunch that day, ignored his pursed lips and wandering hands, and even scolded him for being too affectionate in public. Now, though, a few hours after Mark had left, Kit wished he had accepted Mark’s affection while he was still here — not that he would ever admit that to anyone, least of all Mark.
Kit stared around his room, at the four white walls, the tidy desk and the even neater dresser, and the crisp sheets of his bed, but he couldn’t focus on any one thing in particular. The complete lack of disarray and havoc his boyfriend carried with him bored an ugly hole in the center of his room. Suddenly, Kit’s dorm seemed incredibly unremarkable.
He hated it.
He dropped his shoulder bag onto his desk chair and sat gently on his bed, immediately grabbing a pillow and hugging it to his chest. It was only last night that Mark was here with him, and it was Mark he had hugged, not some flimsy pillow. He pouted and stood, walking to his bathroom to look at himself in the mirror.
“Stop it,” he said, pointing an accusing finger toward his reflection. “You are not a helpless maiden. Stop crying over nothing.”
When his reflection didn’t respond, and in fact did nothing more than emphasize the tired bags beneath his eyes and the lines beginning to form his frown, Kit pushed himself away from the sink to turn on the shower. That would knock some sense into him.
At almost eight exactly, Kit’s cell phone pinged from his bag. P’Kit, we’ve arrived at the resort! Your hubby is safe and sound! read Mark’s message, followed by an animated emoji of heart-eyes. Kit couldn’t help the chuckle that slipped through his lips as he stared almost endearingly at his phone. He smirked before typing out his response.
Good to hear. But this hubby is already missing you .
What? Maybe his boyfriend deserved a treat every once in a while. Kit draped a towel over his shoulders and climbed back onto his bed just as another message from Mark came through. P’Kitty, don’t tease me~! Actually, no, please tease me more! I like this side of you.
I hope you have fun this weekend. Don’t get drunk again, okay? Kit responded, snuggling further into his pillows. He didn't wait even five seconds before Mark replied. There, cushioned so well beneath his covers, did Kit spend the next two hours, content to let the time pass while chatting with his boyfriend. Before he could check the time, Mark excused himself to bed, telling Kit he had an early day with his engineering seniors the next day.
So Kit plugged his phone into the charger and turned off his lights, happy for Mark’s excitement and looking forward to what would soon be Mark’s long, recounted deluge of his day tomorrow.
When tomorrow came, and Kit woke to the natural light over his eyes, Mark’s usual good morning message hadn’t yet arrived. Kit shot his phone an odd look, but thought nothing of it; Kit was, in fact, nothing if not a gracious boyfriend, so he sent Mark a text first. As Kit prepared himself for the day, choosing to wear a simple pair of jeans and a loose button-up for his outing with Phai, he couldn’t help but notice a distinct and rather unusual lack of texts from his boyfriend. By now, on any other day, Kit would have received a number of messages from Mark, all ranging in importance from real reminders to random thoughts Mark couldn’t keep to himself. But, as Kit reasoned with himself, Mark was on a vacation with his friends. He shouldn’t be glued to his phone while at the beach. Kit himself may have even berated him for it, had he been there.
So, Kit squared his shoulders and tucked his phone in his back pocket. Phai would be waiting for him, and Kit wouldn't let Mark have all the fun this weekend.
“Thank you, P’Thanu,” Kit said, tucking his phone between his ear and shoulder as he juggled the three shopping bags on his arms. “I’ll be sure to share the document with you tonight.”
While nodding along to Thanu’s project explanation, Kit somehow managed to balance his bags and his phone as well as unlock the door to his dorm. He stepped through the doorway and dropped the bags to the floor with a sigh of relief. He made his way further into his room and turned on the lamp near his bed, swathing the dorm in golden light. After an enjoyable, yet long day with his younger brother, Kit was ready to tuck into bed and study for the rest of the evening. “Okay, P’, I’ll see you Monday, okay?”
“Sure, Kit. See you then,” Thanu responded, and soon after, the line went silent. Kit nodded to himself and lowered his phone to glance at the screen. He hadn’t checked his messages in a while, but that seemed to have not mattered, as not a single text was waiting for him.
Where was Mark?
When he tapped on Mark’s chat log, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Kit’s morning message hadn’t even been read.
Mark, did you have fun today? It was rare Kit sent a double text message, but something inside of him compelled him to do so. Perhaps it was worry, because Mark truly never missed an opportunity to text him. But, as Kit scrolled through the gratuitous status updates from Mark’s seniors, Jack and Koh, he knew Mark was probably fine.
He just wasn’t texting Kit.
He looked back at his most recent text to Mark and flinched. Mark, did you have fun today? He rubbed a shaky hand from his forehead to his mouth and bit at his forefinger in worry. “So stupid,” he muttered to himself, gnawing on his skin. “So boring. I’m so boring.”
He spent an agonizing minute glued to his screen, waiting to see if Mark would read his message. His finger began to grow irritated so he dropped his phone onto his chair and walked away, shaking the hair from his eyes. His face felt hot, as if he had been standing too close to a fire for too long.
Hours later, after Kit was showered, tidied, and thoroughly studied out, he resigned himself to bed. Mark hadn’t yet responded, and with every second that passed the hitches in his breathing became more profound, and he refused to remain awake to see where his feelings would take him.
Sleep didn’t come easily that night, but then again, it often never did without Mark at his side.
Kit woke with a start on Sunday morning, stirred from a hazy dream of cozy streets and children’s shared laughter. He found himself alone, once again. Mark was to return this afternoon, but his lack of messages didn’t indicate so. Kit had allowed himself to sleep in, so as the clock neared noon, and there still wasn’t a single text from Mark, he guessed he had maybe a few more hours until Mark was due home.
If he came back to him at all.
Try as he might, studying did not distract him the way he’d hoped it would. After Kit had read the same sentence nearly a dozen times, he slammed the textbook shut and groaned. He grabbed his phone again, drawn to it like a firefly to light. It was truly fitting.
He was obsessed and ashamed. My, what Mark would think of him now.
Kit couldn’t bring himself to send another text. Mark wouldn’t respond, so why would he waste Mark’s time when Mark was so clearly through with his? The thought made Kit’s eyes well with kept tears, but he brushed them aside with a rough swipe of his hand before they could fall. “I always do this,” he whispered as more damnable tears spilled from his eyes. “I always send people running, don’t I?”
Kit rested his head on his desk, indifferent to the papers now scattered and creased beneath him, and held back his sad sniffles as best he could. He wanted to fall through his desk and return only when it was safe, when his best friend and boyfriend came back to him. In his blurry line of vision, his phone sat as still as it had nearly all weekend. He stared, daring it to light up or vibrate or something. Of course it didn’t.
He shrunk further and further into the desk and into himself. He felt as though he was sleeping again, though he was wide awake — painfully so. He let his eyes slide closed, a tear dropping to blot like ink on the worksheet below.
From somewhere beyond him, a doorknob jiggled. Kit, too lost in a pitying, cloudy daze, only registered the noise was coming from his front door when he peeked up through his folded arms and found his boyfriend stepping through the doorway. Shocked and utterly unprepared, he leapt from his desk and whipped around, away from Mark. He tried desperately to clear the water from his eyes and blotchy cheeks.
“Woah, P’Kit,” Mark said, dropping his bags to the floor with a loud thump and rushing forward. He grabbed Kit’s sweatshirt sleeve and tugged insistently on it. “Why are you crying?”
“You’re back,” Kit said, taking a step away and cursing his shaky voice. “I hope you had fun this weekend.”
Mark took hold of Kit once more, with a firm hand on his arm. “Come here, P’Kit,” he said, pulling gently on his sleeve. “I know you’re not crying because you missed me that much.”
“No,” Kit sniffled, finally turning to face his boyfriend. Goodness, he looked even more handsome than when he had left him last Friday night. How was that fair? While Kit suffered all weekend, and often forgot to even wash his face, Mark radiated light and warmth, shining with a renewed brilliance that only hours spent in bright sunlight could grant. His hair fell onto his forehead and lacked the distinct gel he usually used. Kit thought he looked softer this way. More approachable. “I missed you more.”
“Aw, my baby,” Mark crooned, pulling Kit close into a hug. He cradled Kit’s head to his shoulder. “I missed you, too. Is that really why you were crying?”
“I just,” Kit inhaled, “couldn’t solve a tough homework problem.”
Mark hummed. “I don’t know if that’s right…”
Kit took a steading breath and stepped away from Mark’s embrace. He rubbed an impatient hand over his red cheeks. “Well, it is. It’s not important.”
“Anything that involves you is important to me, P’,” Mark said, head now titled in confusion. He sat down on Kit’s bed and patted the empty space next to him. “You can talk to me about anything.”
Kit looked away. “But you wouldn’t respond if I did, so what’s the point?”
“I,” Mark started. He paused, as if thinking over his next words carefully. He came to no real conclusion, so instead he continued, “I’m not sure I’m following, P’.”
Kit’s tense shoulders slackened, but only just. He still couldn’t meet his boyfriend’s eyes, though he could feel them boring a hole into his head. He couldn't find the words to speak. His mind felt muddled and fuzzy, slow to start, so he continued to pierce the floor with his stare. But Mark didn’t relent; he took Kit’s waist in his two hands and forced him to sit on the bed alongside him. When Kit’s shocked gaze met his, Mark only quirked an eyebrow. His sharp look almost demanded obedience.
“Stay here and talk to me,” Mark said. ‘Why wouldn’t I respond to you?”
Kit pulled his legs to cross beneath him and looked down at his hands. “You didn’t respond to me this whole weekend.”
“Oh, yeah,” Mark said, lifting himself from the bed to take his phone from his back pocket. “Look at this. P’Jack threw me into a pool and ruined my phone.”
Kit took Mark’s phone into his gentle hands. He turned it over carefully, as if it could disappear in a puff of smoke at any moment, and surveyed the water-logged and insistently blank screen. He passed the poor thing back to Mark and sighed, color filling his cheeks with shame. “Oh,” was all he said. So much for top of his class.
Mark glanced him over, his lips a thin line. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you worry.”
“I wasn’t worried,” Kit said quickly. He wanted to smack himself almost immediately when Mark frowned. He couldn’t help his gut instinct. A terse breath passed between his lips. “Okay. I was really worried, but at the same time… I knew you were okay. I knew nothing bad had happened to you or your seniors, but when you didn’t message me back… I just felt…”
“I felt nauseous. But I'm not sick. At all.”
Mark reached up to brush a stray lock of hair from Kit’s forehead, cupping his cheek briefly — a touch of warmth — before letting his hand fall. He held Kit’s hands in his lap and encouraged Kit to look up at him with a calm upturn of his chin. “Why did you feel nauseous?”
Kit shrugged and another rosy sniffle slipped his lips before he could stop it. “I’m not sure,” he muttered, eyes darting nervously between Mark and their joined hands with a vigor staunchly opposed to his stiff posture. “I felt like you didn’t want me anymore, and you didn’t care enough to tell me yourself.”
Mark nodded slowly, but he still looked rather thrown, so Kit felt compelled to continue, despite his brain begging him to do the opposite. “I know how this goes, you know? Someone may say they love you and that they won’t leave you, but… they might. It’s scary.”
“It’s really scary,” Kit held on. His shoulders shook, just once. “So I thought you were cutting me out of your life, too.”
“P’Kit, what do you mean ‘too’?” Mark said. His thumb was rubbing slow circles into the back of his hand and Kit forced himself to focus on the soothing motion instead of his rabbitting heart.
Kit chewed the inside of his cheek again, and Mark raised an arm to pinch his face. A soft scolding. “I don’t want you to leave me, like Pha did.”
The thumb on the back of his hand stilled, then tightened. He withdrew himself from Kit with surprising force and dropped his head to his hands. His feet drummed on the floor, an angry pit-pat-pit-pat that echoed in the otherwise quiet room. Kit exhaled. “Mark, are you o-”
“So, it wasn’t enough for Pha to hurt Wayu?” Mark said. His voice was strong, but curt and clipped. He huffed a disdainful laugh between his clenched teeth. “He had to hurt my baby, too?”
He stood suddenly and began to pace through the room, shaking his head and holding the bridge of his nose. “What a complete asshole. So selfish, so careless. Does he even know all the damage he’s done? How many people suffered because of him?”
“Hey,” Kit called weakly from the bed. “He’s still my friend.”
“Is he?” Mark rounded on his boyfriend. His flushed cheeks and quick, enraged breaths startled Kit for a moment; of course he’s seen Mark passionate and angry, but never this furious. Kit stumbled over his words.
“I, um. I don’t actually know.”
The sight of his boyfriend, usually so centered and cool, now timid and quiet, seemed to shock Mark back to normal. He knelt on the floor in front of Kit, resting his hands on Kit’s knees. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have jumped up like that.”
Kit shrugged. Mark tapped on Kit’s knees to bring his attention back to him. “What Pha did to you and to Wayu was not right,” he said, offering Kit a sad smile. “It’s not the way a friend acts to another friend. And, before you say anything, I know. I know your friendship with Pha is complicated right now.”
Through the window, the sun began its slow descent to the horizon. The golden rays cast gently over Mark’s face as he continued to look earnestly into Kit’s eyes.
“I won’t ever leave you like Pha did,” Mark said.
“You can’t know that,” Kit muttered, pursing his lips in that unsure, agitated smile Mark had grown to find rather endearing.
“No, I do know that,” Mark said firmly, hands tightening on Kit’s knees. “I know that I’m not going to leave you, not ever. I promised you that we’d grow old together, and I always keep my promises.” He just had to throw in a self-indulgent wink there. Kit scoffed quietly, but Mark could tell the light was returning to his eyes, just a bit, just enough to reassure Mark.
“I wish I knew you felt this way sooner,” Mark said. “If I had known, I would’ve been more careful with my phone and… with your feelings.”
Kit shook his head. “No, Mark,” he said, finally resting one of his own hands on top of Mark’s. “I don’t want you to tiptoe around me, or worry about me, or even text me all the time. I trust you and I know you would never hurt me.”
He paused. “I don’t know what came over me this weekend.”
“I’m no expert,” Mark said, “but this same thing happened with Wayu. He just showed it differently. I think Pha hurt you more than you know.”
When Kit opened his mouth, in his telltale signs of protest, Mark frowned and continued. “And that’s okay, baby. I only knew Pha through Wayu, but he actually hurt me, too, you know? It’s okay to be affected by the wrongful actions of others.”
“Can I admit something to you?” Kit asked softly, rubbing the back of his neck. Mark nodded, smiling encouragingly. “I miss my best friend.”
The room was silent. When the quiet stretched on for a second too long, though it mustn’t have been more than a moment, Kit’s eyebrows pulled together in worry. But before he could retreat back into himself, as he is so wont to do, Mark stood from his place on the floor. He climbed to the headboard of the bed, leaned against it, and beckoned Kit closer. Kit shifted over, meaning to sit beside him, but Mark pulled at the hem of his sweatshirt, a pleading look in his eyes, and Kit, with a pinched nose and pleased smirk, moved to sit between Mark’s legs. He sighed and relaxed against Mark’s chest, trying to ignore Mark’s quiet, little coos in his ear.
“I know you miss your best friend,” Mark said, wrapping his long arms around Kit’s middle. “That’s okay, too.”
“But… but I’m still so angry at him,” Kit murmured. Mark hummed. “Now I’m acting like a crazy, clingy person, because of him.”
Mark tutted, a chuckle escaping despite his best efforts to stifle it. “You might think you’re acting clingy, but I don’t think so. I think you could be more clingy.”
Kit snickered. “Like you?”
“Yes, like me!”
Kit reached to his neck to lightly graze his fingertips against the metal gear of his necklace. He suppressed the pleased sound building in his throat, a soft twinkle of a laugh caused only by the lightness he now felt in his heart. Mark looked down at him fondly. His baby.
Kit turned his head to catch Mark’s eye before shying away. “Mark, you’re really strong.”
Mark’s protective grip on Kit slackened in surprise. His eyes widened, almost comically so, and his lips parted in wonder. Kit shrugged again. “You took care of Wayu for so long,” Kit said. “And you take care of me, too. You’re strong. I don’t think I could have done it.”
Kit still couldn’t meet Mark’s mystified gaze, but he persisted. “So thank you. Thank you for carrying our burdens all this time. Thank you for carrying my burdens.”
“Oh,” Mark said, leaning down to rest his chin on Kit’s shoulder, nuzzling in and tickling the fine hairs on Kit’s neck. A sidelong glance out the window presented a sunny and open day, a day far from over, and when he looked back over to Kit’s hopeful eyes, he thought perhaps this lovely day could be remedied yet. He smirked and nuzzled further in Kit’s shoulder, reveling in Kit’s short bursts of giggles. “Don’t thank me yet. I still left you all alone this weekend. That was pretty rude of me, don’t you think?”
Kit harrumphed and nodded, crossing his arms across his chest. “Yes, you did. I might have to issue you a citation.”
“No, P’Kit,” Mark whined. “I already went through boyfriend probation, and now you want to give me a citation?”
“Citations,” Kit corrected, but his words didn’t hold the same bite Mark was so accustomed to. Kit’s gaze wandered to the window, just as Mark had a second before. He wrestled himself from Mark’s grasp and shook his head, ridding himself of the anxious gnats in his mind. When he looked back to his boyfriend, still nestled firmly against the headboard and contemplating him with an affectionate glint in his eye, Kit decided. He grabbed Mark’s phone. “Let’s go get this fixed, okay? Then I’ll buy you dinner.”
“Wow, really?” Mark said, jumping from the bed and taking the room in two full strides to wiggle excitedly in front of Kit. “In that case, let’s go to the curry place down the road!”
Mark dropped his hand lightly atop Kit’s head and ruffled his hair, just enough for Kit to glare that cute, simpering frown at him. Mark chuckled, thoroughly enamored. “Ah, I missed my baby,” he said, smiling. “I missed you scolding me.”
“I’ll really give you something to miss, then,” Kit muttered. Mark jutted his lower lip but otherwise ignored him, and began to prattle off what he’d like to eat for dinner. He dug through his backpack, which had laid strewn in the entryway ever since he’d arrived back home.
“I love you, Mark,” Kit said softly. Mark turned around quickly, pouting.
“Won’t you say that to my face every now and then, P’?” he fussed. Kit only smirked.
“I…” Kit started, and Mark rose to feet. His hands clasped in front of him hopefully. “I’ll think about it.”
“P’Kit, no, no, no!” Mark whined, but Kit was already a step out the door. “P’Kit, I love you, too!”
Kit stopped in front of the stairwell and hid a smile. He knew that now, more than ever.