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Shattered Sympathy

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“Okay then, I’m going the bring the first person who comes through the door. Watch me.”

“You do that, then. I’ll hold you to that. Don’t dare showing up alone.”

Tin disconnected the call and resisted the urge to throw the phone to the floor. It was tempting, though.

It really was.

Why was his brother like this all the time now?

No, wrong question.

Tin knew why. He just didn’t know why his brother of all people hadn’t  given him a chance to explain himself. He had expected that of his parents, sure, they didn’t care about him. But Tul… Tul had always looked out for him.

Not anymore.

Why had he never even asked him for his own version?

That fucking scandal.

Since these dreadful events, Tin had lost his brother’s trust, and now Tul was taking over his entire life.

Tin tried to block out the memories, but they flooded him before he could do anything.

It was the end of his last semester in Britain again. The humid heat of Bangkok now in September wasn’t so different from England in June this year. Just that it was worse, in Britain, a country built to preserve energy in cold winters and withstand rainstorms brushing over it from the Atlantic – the country wasn’t built for heat; that used to be a once in a lifetime kind of event.

Tin could still see himself, laughing with his friends as they all huddled together in front of the one working ventilator in the study room, finally free from studying, open for anything.

His friends had suggested that they attended an underground party they had heard about, by the river in a clearing in the wood – an open-air dance party, the kind that you could only hold in this weather.

Tin remembered how reluctant he was to go, how they had lured him with the promise of cooler, gentler air and the possibility to unwind and get lost in the flow of the party.

When they had arrived, Tin had seen that it wasn’t really a dance party. Sure, there had been big boomboxes blaring out electronic dance music – but most guests had been sitting around fires smoking weed, looking at the darkening sky, waiting for the first stars to come out with their eyes red and glazed over.

Tin remembered trying to turn away in disgust. He really did, and part of him wished he had. But then, he had spotted a crying girl at the edge of the clearing, barely visible in the waning daylight. She had looked so sad, he had felt compelled to go and ask her if she needed help or comfort.

Ah, this had been the good part, Tin saw that, too. If he concentrated on it, he could still imagine himself feeling the spot where her head had rested against his shoulders, crying her eyes out, stammering incoherently.

And after a while, the blunt she had been smoking had landed in his hand. The cannabis could have caused her to trip badly or maybe it had triggered some kind of trauma.

That was when the police had turned up and raided the place.

Flashes of blue lights, illuminating the clearing, people trying to rush away into the shadows of the trees surrounding them, and escape the net.

But Tin couldn’t run.

The girl had looked at him wide-eyed, pleading, the kind of gaze Tin could never resist – and he had pretended that the blunt he was holding was his when the police had cornered them.

Their hearts beating, sweaty hands clutching tightly onto each other, a mantra of no, no this isn’t happening in his head, knowing it was… happening.

Tin could still feel that, too.

What Tin hadn’t counted on was the media in Thailand getting wind of it.

He was back in the overheated office of the headmistress, stern, disappointed faces in front of him. They had even brought a Thai translator for the occasion, Tin had appreciated the personal touch, to show him the waves his arrest had caused.

There was no way to do damage control, the headmistress had informed him.

Tin still saw the headlines pop up in front of his inner eye.

Heir of the Medthanan group, arrested in Britain while smoking weed.

“Your family is calling you back to Thailand, and you’re banned from returning here for two years. That was the condition they negotiated with the police, in order to keep your record clean.”

Now he was back here, standing in the entrance hall of the IC building at LBC university.

It was a nice touch of his family, not a curtesy but a punishment, that they had negotiated for him to enter university one year early and without a formal high school degree. It was to keep him on his toes, he knew, to control him.

If he stepped out of line again, they would throw him out – and without his family’s support, he would have no money, no degree, and no connections. He was basically nothing without them, and without a high school degree he had even less to show for himself.

His father had given him a disappointed lecture. And he had put his brother in charge of him.

Sometimes, it felt like he couldn’t even visit the toilet without informing a suspicious Tul of his whereabouts and having to take another pointless drug test.

All the freedom he had had in Britain, freedom he could never really make use of… it was gone, before he could appreciate it. Tin was left with only small rebellions against his brother’s tight leash, struggling like a prisoner trying to preserve some dignity.

Tin had kept in contact with the girl from that night. Her name was Jenny and he couldn’t forget her, either. Closing his eyes, he could see her fragile frame, the vulnerability in her eyes as she pleaded with him not to tell anyone it had been her joint – she had looked on the outside like he often felt inside.

They wouldn’t be able to see each other until his travel ban was lifted or he could get her to come to Thailand.

Somehow, Tin was convinced his brother had found out about her, too – the secret messages they were sending to each other, at night under the covers and away from prying eyes, he seemed to allude to this behaviour, sometimes, just enough for Tin to get it.

Tin would defend that oasis, though.

At times, he thought he had found his soulmate in her.

But a criminal like him, even a falsely accused one, wasn’t granted any happiness.

Tul had started to pressure him into going on blind dates, settle down, think of marriage.

“A good wife will tame you,” he liked to tell him, “she will lift this burden that you are off of me. Choose soon, or I will choose for you.”

That was how Tin had ended up yelling at Tul that he would bring the first person entering the IC building to his mother’s stupid charity gala dinner.

Tin didn’t even know what unnecessary cause they were proudly raising money for this time. He didn’t want to attend. He certainly didn’t want to attend with some rich girl making heart-eyes at him, chosen by Tul to torture him further for his supposed transgression.

Luckily, this early in the semester, not many people still frequented the IC building after seven in the evening – Tin had buried himself in the library to avoid going home under his brother’s stern gaze and the reminder to get dressed and attend another stupid gala.

He couldn’t escape. Tul always called, he always reminded him.

But if the door never opened, if nobody came here before it was too late to attend the gala, Tin might be saved.

He prayed to the gods that the door didn’t open-

The sound of shattering glass pierced the calm air of the entrance hall.

Tin screamed and stumbled backwards, when something suddenly came bouncing down the stairs, directly towards him. He couldn’t move, as his heart started pounding fast and his hands clenched into painful fists.

What-?

Only now did he process that what was coming towards him wasn’t some kind of monster… it was just a football…

He exhaled and jumped out of the way of the still fast-moving ball. The relief that it was nothing dangerous didn’t have time to calm his heart, though.

As he turned his head towards the door… shit, the door.

“No, no, no, no… not again! Damn, shit… ah… no, no… what am I gonna do? Why me? Why always me? Where is it? Shit, shit, shit…”

Through the door, cursing under his breath like this without pause, entered a slim guy in the official football uniform of the LBC Sports Science Department. He was soaking wet, water was dripping from his slightly longer fringe hair and the hems of his uniform as he looked around nervously.

Tin decided then and there that he was going to pretend that he hadn’t noticed the guy, that this wasn’t really the first person who had come through the door.

No. No way. No way in hell.

“Hey! You!”

Damn.

The guy had spotted him and hurried over to him.

“Have you seen a football? Or… did you see where it landed? You know, we were just out there training free kicks and I kicked it with a bit too much energy and I didn’t see… I just heard the glass! Right! There must be shattered glass somewhere. Have you maybe seen that? Come on, say something?”

“How can I say something if you don’t stop talking, genius?”

This made the guy pause for a short moment, as if he was feeling guilty.

It didn’t last long, though.

“Oh, sorry. I do that when I’m nervous, I’m just alert, you know. So… have you seen?”

Tin pointed in the direction of where the ball had rolled away.

But just when the guy was about to hurry off to get it, it occurred to Tin that Tul might check the CCTV of the building to check if Tin was telling the truth that nobody had entered the building… or that whatever person he brought really was the first person to walk through the door after he disconnected the call.

This was just something Tul would do.

Just his bloody luck.

He reached out and grabbed the football player by his upper arm, surprising the guy so much with it that he stumbled backwards and against Tin’s chest.

Ugh, he could feel the wetness of the other’s clothes soak into his shirt and trousers.

Tin quickly pushed him away.

“Ey! What was that about? That’s so rude?! What do you even want, rude guy? Arsehole.”

“I-” Tin took a deep breath, vowing to himself that he will never, ever make such a stupid statement, ever again, “I need someone to accompany me to a charity event. Come with me.”

“What?! No… forget it.”

With that, the football player tried to struggle himself free, his gaze already turned back in the direction of the ball.

“I’ll pay.”

“Are you crazy? A pervert? What the fuck is wrong with you? Let me go!”

Tin wasn’t even thinking of letting go. He didn’t want to take that annoying little white monkey with him to the charity event any more than the other guy clearly didn’t want to come – but he didn’t have a choice now.

“Yes, obviously. No. I made a stupid promise. And no.”

“What?”

Tin tightened his grip around the other’s arm and looked at him smugly.

“Keep up, will you? I’ll spell it out for you: Yes, I’m obviously crazy. No, I’m not a pervert. I made a stupid promise, that’s what’s wrong with me. And no, I won’t let you go. But I will make it worth your while, that I promise.”

“You really are crazy.”

“Obviously.”

“No. I won’t come. And besides, why should I believe the promise of a crazy person?”

“I just told you. I made a stupid promise, that’s why I’m asking in the first place. If I’m keeping that promise, why wouldn’t I keep the one towards you?”

Tin could practically see the thoughts processing behind the slim guy’s forehead. He even stopped pulling against Tin’s grip on his arm momentarily, though he started muttering incomprehensible words to himself, until he looked up at Tin again.

“Okay. But I will set the price.”

Tin rolled his eyes.

Of course, such a poor, unsophisticated person would be a money grabber – but, well… if there was one thing Tin didn’t lack in his life, it was money.

“Name it.”

“You lend me money at no interest, so I can pay for the damage that my football caused, because you see, I already had to replace my phone two weeks ago because it fell into the toilet and I’m broke now. I won’t be able to afford to pay for that window as well, and if I tell Mae about it, she will ground me again and I won’t be able to play football… but they are still picking the members of the first team and I really want to make it, so… if you could just lend me the money… I’ll pay you back.”

Now it was Tin who had a hard time processing all of this… he wanted him to… lend him money? Not… pay for the damage in his stead?

How did that happen?

“Oh, and most importantly… after this event of yours, I won’t have to see you, ever again. You tell me where I have to transfer the money to and you’re gone from my life. That’s the price.”

“That’s very cheap, isn’t it? Maybe I’ll consider buying your services again.”

The glare on the boy’s face reminded Tin of a puppy, he tried to look threatening, but he just… couldn’t. Now that Tin had had time to see him properly, he had to admit that he looked kind of cute… if you put him in a bathtub and gave him a good scrub, before dressing him in something… other than the muddied and dirty football uniform.

“You can’t. Didn’t you listen, crazy arsehole? The real prize is that this is a one-off thing. One event, I’ll go, you lend me the money, and adios.”

“Who knows? Maybe you will like it there? I’m sure you haven’t been to a gala dinner before.”

The boy just shook his head.

“Just… out of curiosity…” Tin tilted his head, “why do you insist on a loan, if you don’t want to see me again. Why not ask me to pay for it?”

“Look…”

The boy struggled against the grip of Tin’s hand again, and this time, Tin let go of him. He watched him flex his limbs automatically, after he had his movement restored, and Tin half expected the boy to use the opportunity to run.

He did no such thing.

“You are obviously in some kind of trouble, or you wouldn’t ask someone who has just smashed a window in the IC building of all buildings to accompany you to such an event. You clearly didn’t want me to ask, but I think it is nice of you to keep your promise, whatever that was. My Mae always tells me it’s wrong to take advantage of people in distress. But I really need a way to pay for that window without her finding out, so…”

Was that boy stupid? That was… why?

Or… Did Tul send him? Was this his brother’s idea of a joke?

Tin toyed with the idea, but quickly came to the conclusion that it wasn’t likely. The boy would surely embarrass himself, and possibly Tin, at the charity event – Tin kind of counted on it – and Tul wouldn’t want this to happen. It would reflect badly on him as well, and Tul had started to get closer and closer to Tin’s mother, his stepmother. Tin had noticed that, too, recently. Tul wouldn’t want to risk that.

“Let’s go, then?”

“Shouldn’t I go get the ball first?”

Tin shook his head and preventively got hold of the boy’s arm again.

“I’ll send someone. They’ll also collect your things for you at the changing room. We don’t have much time, the event starts in an hour.”

The football player hesitated for just a moment, before he shrugged and motioned him to go ahead.

“I’m Can, by the way.”

“Tin.”