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the missing pieces (i found them)

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Tine is tired. So incredibly tired. Work is kicking his ass, to say the least. His head is throbbing after hearing kids cry all day. He loves being a pediatrician, he really does, but he’s been working non-stop for eighteen hours at the ER and the weekends are always the busiest days, specially this one. He’s barely had time to drink a cup of tea.

He checks his clock. The five minutes he took to rest are almost over. Four more hours to go, he can do it.

As soon as he gets home, he’ll cuddle Charlotte, his puppy, and sleep for twelve hours. But first a long shower. He’s been puked on at least thrice today.

He heads over to the ER, stretching his back as he walks. He should get one of those massage chairs or go to the spa, his back is killing him from standing and walking all day. Well, he doesn’t really have time, does he? No spa then.

His next patient is waiting for him. Pete Guntithanon, six years old, stomachache, according to his file. A cute little kid is laying on the hospital bed, getting his head patted lovingly by a tall man. “Hello, I’m doctor Teepakorn. Are you his tutor?” he addresses the man.

“Yes, I’m his dad” he says, straightening out from his bent over position.

“What happened?” Tine asks. The little boy is just there, firmly holding his dad’s hand. The dad is really handsome, he looks straight out of a magazine, with his black slacks and white button down that perfectly hugs his broad shoulders. But this is not the time to think about that. Focus.

“I think he ate too much junk food” the dad says, scratching the back of his head with his free hand. “He went out with his mom and when he got back home, he was already complaining. He puked and had diarrhea as well”

“I see” the doctor nods. “Hello little friend, where does it hurt?” he turns to the kid and asks. The little boy looks just like his dad, it’s kind of terrifying. Same eyes, same mouth, same eyebrows, same hair. Some strong genes he’s got.

“My tummy” he says, pointing at his stomach and pouting. “I puked a lot” his eyes are a bit glassy, but he is calm.

“I’ll press your tummy to see if everything in there is in order, okay?” the kid nods. Tine presses his stomach for a few minutes, checks his eyes and breathing next; everything seems to be in order. “Did you eat a lot?” Tine asks.

“Yes. My mom said I could eat anything I wanted”

“Does your stomach hurt easily?”

The boy nods, still pouting. He’s adorable. At times like this Tine is reminded why he choose to work with kids.

“You have to be careful, okay? If your tummy doesn’t want more food, you have to stop eating. Or else I’ll hurt like now” Pete is looking at him with a lot of attention, taking in every word Tine says. “I’ll give you some medicine, so it doesn’t hurt anymore, yeah?”

“Okay doctor. Thank you” Tine pats his hair and gives him a smile. Polite boy.

He turns to speak to the dad. “He is a bit dehydrated from all the puking and the diarrhea, so we need to replenish his fluids. We’ll also administer some medicine for the pain” the man is looking at him with so much intent, eyes wide open, nodding to everything he says, just like his son. It’s endearing. “Make sure Pete follows a bland diet on the following days. Other than that, everything is fine” Tine says with a smile. “I’ll bring you a chair so you can wait more comfortably, give me a sec”

When he returns, the dad is waiting on the same spot. “Here you go”

“Thank you, doctor,” the dad says. He extends his hand then, offering Tine a handshake, which he accepts. His hand is very big and warm, almost engulfing Tine’s own. “For everything”

“It’s no trouble” They let go of each other’s hands and Tine turns to address the boy. “You have to stay here for a little while, okay Pete? The nurse will come to give you the medicine”

“Okay doctor” the kid extends his little hand, just like his dad did a few seconds ago. It takes Tine some seconds to realize that the boy is offering him a handshake. Tine chuckles a little bit and takes his very small hand. “Thank you for healing me” he says, tone and expression serious.

His heart feels warm at that. It’s amazing how a few words can replenish his energy levels, can make him forget he hasn’t slept in twenty-four hours, the tiredness he was feeling moments ago gone. He loves being a doctor, he really does. And he loves kids as well.

“You are welcome” he says, with his biggest smile. “I’ll come see you in two hours again, so rest for a little while”

____________________

After that, luckily, the influx of people stops. He gave some stitches to a girl who fell from a three, some medicine to a boy with a cold and ate three or four packages of instant ramen and slept for five minutes slumped over a table. Not miserable at all.

When he checks his clock, he sees that a little over two hours have passed, so he goes see Pete. The boy is still where he left him, very much awake.

“Hello again” Tine greets him, checking his IV bag. There’s still some liquid left, but it’s almost empty. “How are you feeling?”

“Better. It doesn’t hurt anymore” the boy says, rubbing his tummy.

“That’s great” Tine says with a smile, only now realizing that the dad is fast asleep, resting his head on the space Pete left on the bed. “Your dad fell asleep” Tine points out. He looks so much younger like that, without the deep worried crease from earlier adorning his features. He must be around his age, Tine thinks.

“Yes, he was up all night looking after me” Pete says, softly caressing his dad’s hair, careful not to wake him up. The sight makes Tine’s chest ache. They are both so cute, it’s always heartwarming to see families love each other so much.

“He must be tired then. We’ll let him rest for a little while, ok?”

“Thank you, doctor” the boy says with a small smile. His face then lights up, “Doctor do you like puppies?” he asks, pointing to the dog pin in Tine’s scrubs.

“I love puppies!” Tine exclaims excitedly. “I have a small puppy; her name is Charlotte. Do you like puppies Pete?”

 “Yes, I do. But my dad and I live in an apartment, we can’t have one” he says a pout. “But we are moving! so dad said I can have one in the new house!” he exudes so much energy. Tine wishes he had at least half.

“Well, until you have a puppy of your own, you can have my pin” Tine says, taking the small thing off his hospital scrubs and pinning it on Pete’s shirt.

“Thank you so much doctor! I will never lose it!” he says excitedly but quietly, so to not wake up his dad. He’s looking at the pin with so much awe. Kids need so little to be so happy, they are amazing.

“I’m going now. When you dad wakes up tell him to talk to the nurse, ok?” the boy nods. “It was very nice meeting you, Pete. Don’t eat too much and be good, yeah?”

“I promise on this pin, doctor” he says with the biggest smile ever.

____________________

Next Friday Tine finally, finally, finally (how many times can he say finally for the message to come across?) has a free day. It’s been a hell of a week.

Tine, at thirty-two, is the youngest practicing pediatrician at the hospital, which is why he’s almost always appointed at the ER. He’s thankful, though, for the countless opportunities he’s had. He’s young and already has his own house and car (he’s paying both, but the contract has his name… it counts for something right?). He’s privileged he can live this comfortably.

The only downside of his career is the lack of time. All he does is work. He barely has time to call his mom, much less visit her, since she doesn’t live near. Every time they talk, though, she nags him about getting someone and starting a family, he’s old enough, she says, he’ll be old and alone, she also says. Tine has to admit he feels a bit lonely sometimes, but he has his friends and Charlotte and that has to be enough for now.

He fell asleep at nine p.m. last night, right after his shift ended. He filled Charlotte’s plate with food and some fresh water first. Priorities.

Which is why he wakes up very early the next day, used to sleeping so little. Charlotte is sleeping on his chest and her fluffy tail is ticking Tine’s nose. That’s what woke him up. He rubs her back softly and she wakes up, turning around and licking his face.

“Good morning baby” he says with a small laugh. “I missed you too. I’ll try to come sleep at home more often” she licks his face again, as if she understands his words. Cute.

After having breakfast, he goes back to bed. A small commotion outside wakes him up around nine a.m., which is weird, since his neighbors on the left are an elderly couple and on the right there’s an empty house.

Tine is curious, so he peeks through his living room window and sees a moving truck parked outside.

That’s nice, having new neighbors. That house has been empty ever since Tine moved here four months ago. He’ll bake a tray of cookies for them later.

____________________

He spends the rest of the morning on that blissful state between awake and asleep, Charlotte bundled up right beside him. His tummy is still full from breakfast, and there’s nothing for him to do, so he just stays in bed.

His mom calls around twelve, demanding him to get out of bed and do something productive. He knows he doesn’t have to do what she says but that woman has a way of just knowing things even when she’s not here physically… he’s not taking any chances.

He showers and takes Charlotte out for a walk, which only lasts for fifteen minutes. Summer it’s in its heyday, long days and short nights, the sun making it impossible to be outside at this hour.

When he passes by his new neighbors’ house on his way back, the truck is gone. They must be settled already. He is going to start baking, then. He hopes he has enough groceries.

Tine, if he says so himself, is an amazing cook, but a much better baker. His mom used to bake something different every week. His brother, Type, was not really interested in learning, so she taught Tine instead.

He can bake everything, from a small cookie to a big fondant cake. Too bad he doesn’t have time to do so. It’s one of the things he likes to do to de-stress.

The cookies are ready in record time. He made a lot, since he doesn’t know the size of the family. He is curious to meet them. He also made an apple pie. All to himself.

He waits until the cookies are a bit cooler and puts them on a simple bag with a pretty ribbon. He is a bit nervous. Meeting new people makes him feel that way.

He is standing in front of his neighbors’ door, feeling the urge to just turn and run. Is it too late to go back to his place? What if they’re not nice? He should’ve brought Charlotte… you can never be mean to a cute puppy.

Tine takes a big breath and knocks. A few seconds later, the door opens, a man he has definitely seen before standing in front of him.

“Doctor Teepakorn?” he says, as surprised as Tine feels.

“Pete’s dad?”

“Ummm, yeah” the man says as he scratches the back of his head. They stand there for a few seconds, just staring at each other. Neither knows what to say. It’s very awkward.

Pete’s dad is still as handsome as he was at the hospital, but he looks more homey now, with his messy hair and cozy clothes. He still looks straight out of a magazine.

Tine feels like he should have put some more effort in his outfit. He is sure as hell he doesn’t look as good in his worn-out t-shirt and ratty sweatpants. If he’s being honest… he was starstruck by this man, the other day. He kept looking around the hospital to see if he was back with his son. Not that he wanted the kid to be sick

A small figure appears at the door, saving them from having to speak first. “Who is it dad?” when the boy sees Tine, he gasps, his mouth forming a cute “o”. “The doctor that likes puppies?”

“Yes, that’s me” Tine affirms with a small laugh. “My name is Tine, I’m your neighbor” he says, pointing with his thumb to his house. “It’s nice to see you again”

“I’m Sarawat”

“I’m Pete” they say at the same time, looking at each other and laughing.

“Hello Sarawat, hello Pete” they are wearing matching tie-dye t-shirts. They look so alike, it’s cute to see. “I brought some cookies, to welcome you guys to the neighborhood”

“Thank you so much, I love cookies” Pete is jumping up and down, clapping his tiny hands in happiness. Then he remembers something. “Doctor Tine look” he says, pointing at his shirt. “The pin, I still have it” he does. The small puppy is pinned on his shirt.

“You do? That’s amazing”

“I promised I wouldn’t lose it” his expression is very serious. How can he go from being a little overhyped kid to a small serious man in just seconds? “Dad says not to promise something if I won’t keep it”.

“That’s right” Tine says, patting Pete’s hair with his free hand.

“He hasn’t taken it off ever since he got it, you really made an impression” Sarawat is still nervously scratching the back of his head, barely making eye contact with Tine, who gives him a bashful smile. They’re both a little flustered. Two awkward guys. Fantastic.

“Doctor Tine” Pete interjects, taking Tines index finger between his tiny hands. “Can I see your puppy now?” with those eyes he’s giving Tine, he’s not sure who is the puppy.

“Pete, it’s rude to impose, Doctor Tine might be busy” his dad scolds, and Pete’s face falls.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to”

“It’s ok. I’m not busy, today is my free day, actually” Charlotte would like the company. Tine is totally not thinking about how he would like this handsome guy and this adorable little boy’s company. Tine feels daring suddenly, so he bursts the first thing that comes to his mouth. “Do you want to come eat lunch at my place?” he offers. Sarawat’s ears turn red. “I mean… you guys don’t have chairs and a table” he says, pointing to the empty living room behind Sarawat, “and… you know… I do? And Pete can play with Charlotte”

Sarawat doesn’t answer right away. He’s just staring at Tine, impassive expression on his face. Tine tries to look at his eyes, maybe they can hint what he is thinking, but there’s nothing there, just a carefully crafted blank expression.

Pete is expectantly looking at his dad. Tine is about to open to backtrack his offer, but Sarawat beats him to it, nodding his head yes.

 “I’d love to. We’d love to” he says with a small smile.

____________________                       

Charlotte was kind of shy at first, hiding behind the couch, not used to other people. “Hey baby, come here” Tine calls. She trots to him and he picks her up, holding her in his arms. “These are new friends. This is Sarawat” Tine says, closing the distance between them. Sarawat extends his hand, so Charlotte can smell him. Then he pats her head very softly. “And this is Pete” Tine crouches down so they are at the same level. Pete extends his hand, Charlotte smells it, and then licks it. “She likes you!” Tine says to Pete. “You can play with him, Charlotte”

Pete is beaming when Tine puts the puppy on the floor and she goes to him. “She likes me dad!” he exclaims, jumping up and down on his spot. Sarawat is looking at him with soft eyes. His enthusiasm is so cute.

“I’ll be in the kitchen” Tine says, tapping Sarawat’s shoulder. “You can stay here, if you want”

“I’ll help” the other man says, following him to the other room.

Tine investigates his pantry. Well. There isn’t much variety. His freezer is no better. “How about…” he should have thought this through better. It’s kind of embarrassing how he has enough baking ingredients but not enough to put a simple meal together, “a stir fry with noodles?” he says, sending Sarawat a small smile over his shoulder. “I don’t have much groceries, sorry. I’m not at home that often”

“Anything is fine, really. Pete and I are not picky”

That’s a relief. Kids don’t like vegetables that much. “Great” he says, placing the ingredients on the counter.

“Let me help” the other man offers.

Tine feels the need to tell him not to worry, that he’ll do it, but he has the inkling suspicion that the other man’s offering so he has something to do other than stand on his place like that Mike Wazowski meme, hence, Tine gives him a knife and a cutboard.

They work in silence, only Pete’s laugh audible in the background. “He really likes dogs, doesn’t he?”

“He does” Sarawat says, smiling a little. “We used to live on a really small apartment and, you know, pets aren’t allowed there” his chopping technique is impeccable, Tine thinks, looking discreetly. Every pepper is the same size. He has really pretty hands as well, maybe he is a hand model. Those exist, right? He should stop staring. “I hope we can adopt one now”

“I’ve had Charlotte for about six months” she was so tiny back then. “It makes me sad that I can’t be that often with her but she’s the one who keeps me company when I’m home” he would like to be with her all day. Thankfully he has a big yard where she can play when he isn’t home.

“You… you look very young. How long have you been a doctor for?” Sarawat asks.

“Thanks. I’m thirty-two” Tine’s cheeks are blushing a little bit. He hopes Sarawat can’t see it. “I take my skin care routine very seriously” he jokes, trying to feel a little bit less flustered. That was lame though. He knows he looks younger, why is he reacting like this, then? “I finished my pediatric residency last year”

“I see… Do you like it? I mean… what you do?”

“Yes, I love it. Kids are amazing” he really does. Uni was hard, his residency was hard, work is hard. But if he could go back in time, he would do it all over again. They are silent after that again, but it feels less heavy than before.

“I’m thirty-three, by the way” Sarawat admits, some minutes later.

Tine’s guess earlier had been right, then. “You look so much younger” and he does. He looks like a college boy, with his outfit.

“I also take my skin care seriously” he says in a flat tone.

It takes Tine some seconds to understand that the other man is joking. He wasn’t expecting it, since Sarawat looks like a very serious person and he said that in a very serious tone, so it takes him a few seconds to react. The laugh that erupts from his chest is so ugly, he’ a bit embarrassed. Sarawat’s laughing under his breath, very pleased with himself, Tine can tell.

They are interrupted by the small pitter-pattering of Pete’s bare feet, entering the kitchen. “Hello, do you need help?” he offers, looking at his dad.

“We are fine, son, you can go back to play with Charlotte”

“Okie dad”

Tine is looking at his retreating form, smiling. “He’s so polite and well behaved”

“I try my best” Sarawat says, making eye contact with him for some seconds. Tine is sure he does.

____________________

They are sitting on the table, eating. Tine has a very small table, so they’re all close to each other.  Tine is used to eating alone and quickly, so he’s enjoying the company. Pete is talkative, unlike his father, who is concentrated in eating.

Sarawat mainly chopped vegetables, claiming he’s a very bad cook, but with his help they were able to put something together very quickly.

“Doctor Tine, do you heal everyone at the hospital?” the little boy asks, curiosity clear in his eyes.

“Yes. But mainly kids” if they are short on people, he has to attend everyone who comes in. If not, he only focuses on children.

“Why kids?”

“I like helping them and making them feel better” in high school, Tine wasn’t sure whether he wanted to become a pre-school teacher or a medic. It was hard to decide, since he loved working with kids and loved medicine. He chose the latter for economic reasons, if he’s being honest.

Pete hums, chewing on his food. He is not picky, just as Sarawat said. “You were nice to me. Some doctors are grumpy sometimes” he says with a small frown. “I also want to be a doctor when I’m a grown up. But a puppy doctor!” his enthusiasm is contagious.

“A veterinary” Sarawat corrects.

“Yes dad, a veterinary”

“That’s amazing, Pete, helping animals is great”

“Thank you, doctor” the kid is really well spoken for his age, Tine notices. He still calls him doctor, as well. Tine is not used to it; nobody calls him that outside the hospital.

“You can call me Tine”

“Okie Tine” Pete smiles at him, big and shiny. A mini sun.

They focus on eating for a little while. Sarawat still hasn’t said much. If Pete wasn’t here this would be a little uncomfortable. “What grade are you on, Pete?” Tine asks.

“I’m on first grade” he looks proud of this.

“Do you like going?”

“I love it! I love learning. Dad says it’s important” he looks at his dad for affirmation, and the other man nods.

Tine nods as well. “It is very important.”

Tine hated studying, which makes his choice of going to med school kind of stupid. He barely had time to do other than studying until a few years ago. Or months? he doesn’t remember. All those years passed in a blur.  

“I like playing the piano as well. My dad is teaching me” he points at him, who looks up from his food. “When I’m a grown up I want to learn guitar, just like my dad”

 “You play?” Tine asks. That explains the nice hands. He is a musician.

“Only sometimes” he answers, looking down at his food.

“He plays every day!” Pete says with an indignant tone. Sarawat just laughs.

After a few seconds of silence, the little boy speaks again. “Dad I finished; can I go play with Charlotte now?” Sarawat nods, and Pete gets up from the table, taking his plate to the sink. “Thank you, dad. Thank you for the food, Tine”

“You are welcome”

Both adults are quiet for a few seconds, finishing their plates. The silence is, surprisingly, not uncomfortable, as Tine thought it would be.

“He talks a lot. Sometimes I can’t keep up with him” Sarawat bashfully admits, scratching the back of his head. It must be a nervous habit, Tine thinks. He’s always doing it.

“It’s no bother, on the contrary. I’m used to kids. I talk a lot as well” Tine says with, what he hopes is a reassuring smile. He gets up then, collecting their plates and placing them on the sink.

Sarawat gets up too, taking with him what’s left on the table “Let me help”

 “It’s ok. You are my guest”

“You already made food. Let me help you” the tone of his voice doesn’t leave room for Tine to say no.

Sarawat does the dishes and Tine dries them. Tine doesn’t know why, but he’s hyperaware of the way their hands brush when Sarawat passes him the plates.

He starts feeling a bit awkward, so he rakes his brain for a topic of conversation. “Are you done with the moving?” he asks, just to talk about something.

“Yes, we brought most things yesterday” that makes sense. The moving truck left very quickly this morning.

“Ohh, I didn’t realize” Tine says. “I was a zombie when I got home yesterday, fell asleep right away” that’s what working twenty-four hours does to you. That’s the hardest part, Tine thinks, the long shifts he must work sometimes. “What do you work as, Sarawat?”

“I’m a music teacher” Oh. Tine is a bit surprised, it’s kind of unexpected.

“You are? That’s incredible!” Tine exclaims. “I wanted to be a teacher too… Do you work with kids as well?”

“No, I teach teens, mostly” he says, scratching the back of his head. He doesn’t realize his hand is coated in dishwasher, so his hair is full of bubbles now. “I’m… not that good with kids”

“Well you are good with Pete” Tine says, taking a clean dishcloth. “Don’t move, your hair has dishwasher”.

He cleans the back of Sarawat’s head, who is standing very still. Tine thought they were the same height but being this close he realizes Sarawat’s a little bit smaller. From this position he can see the way his ears slowly get red. He smells really good, Tine notices. Wait… that’s kind of weird. “All done”. Tine steps back.

Sarawat turns around the, with a sheepish expression on his face. That’s a new one. Tine has only seen concern and softness there before. He’ll treasure it, as he is fairly certain that this man prefers to wear an expressionless mask.

“Thanks” he says. He is going to scratch the back of his head again, but Tine lightly grabs his wrist before he can do it. Tine lets go of it rapidly, he doesn’t want the other man to feel uncomfortable. Sarawat looks at his hand, with a disbelieving expression, like he can’t believe it betrayed him like this. “I think it has life of his own” he chuckles lightly.

He is cute, Tine thinks.

____________________

They sit on the couch later, eating the apple pie Tine made. It’s really good. Sarawat is not a big fan of sweets, he says, but he ate two slices, nonetheless. Pete is delighted, the sugar rush kicking right away. He says he loves sweets, but his dad doesn’t really know how to bake.

“Who teached you how to bake?” Pete asks Tine, finishing his second piece. Sarawat didn’t want to let him eat more than one, but his son’s puppy eyes were stronger. “Your cookies were really yummy too”

“My mom taught me when I was really young” Tine answers with a smile.

“Can you teach me too?” puppy eyes mode activated. Tine wonders who taught him.

“If you dad agrees, then of course!” Tine says, looking at the man for confirmation. He’s just staring at them, blank expression on his face. Tine wonders what he is thinking. He’s like that ‘no thoughts, head empty’ meme.

“Dad?” Pete asks, exasperated.

“I… I mean… If Tine has time, then yes” Pete screams a big yes at his dad’s answer and throws himself at him, giving him a big hug.

“Thank you, dad!” he kisses his dad’s cheek and then throws his arms at Tine, who is a little bit surprised at the action. He hugs him back, nonetheless. “Thank you, Tine!”

“You are welcome, Pete” Tine looks at Sarawat, who is still observing them with a ‘no thoughts, head empty’ expression. Tine really needs to stop spending all his free time on Twitter. His brain is wired to make meme references only.

Pete lets go of Tine as Sarawat gets up from his seat. “It’s time to go, Pete” he says. “We need to unpack and I’m sure Tine has things to do”

“I actually don’t” where did that come from? Why is he being so clingy? His mouth has a life of its own, it seems. “My mom called me this morning, forcing me to get out of bed and do something productive with my life” Tine says with an awkward chuckle. “Do you need help unpacking?”

Tine is just being a good welcoming neighbor, he decides. They barely know each other, but this is the most fun he’s had in a while. 

“We do need help. Uncle Man and Uncle Boss came yesterday but can’t come today” Pete answers on his dad’s place.

“I’ll take Charlotte, so she can play with Pete”

Sarawat comes out of his stupor and nods. “Yeah, we do actually need help” he says with a small smile. “Thanks, Tine”

____________________

It’s a sunny afternoon, so Pete plays with Charlotte on his backyard while Sarawat and Tine unpack. It’s comfortable, too comfortable, if Tine is being honest, even though don’t talk that much. It’s crazy how their relationship progressed in a matter of hours.

Sarawat has a lot of stuff, it takes them a few hours to unpack and put in place just the essential. By the time they finish, Tine is dead on his feet, t-shirt drenched with sweat. He is sure his cheeks are all rosy with the exertion. There are still left at least half of the boxes to unpack. Tine says as much to Sarawat, while they are sitting on his couch, drinking some water.

“I’ll do it… eventually… In a year or two” Tine laughs at that. He finished unpacking some weeks ago and only because his friends visited him and helped.

A blaring sound scares Tine, almost splashing water from his glass. It’s his cellphone. He takes it out of his pocket, looking at the screen. “You have to be fucking kidding me” he says as he sees who’s calling. It’s the hospital.

“Hello” he answers. A doctor called in sick and they are asking him to cover, they say. His luck. “I’ll be there” Tine sighs. Next week he’s taking at least two full days off, he promises. He should follow Pete’s advice and make promises he can fulfill, though.

“You gotta go to work?” Sarawat asks.

“Yeah” Tine says with a defeated sigh. “I’m the youngest, so most of the time I’m the one who’s on call. If someone’s missing at the ER, they call me”

“How many hours a week you work?”

“It depends, really. My contract says fifty hours a week but… It’s usually more”

“That’s… rough” Sarawat says. That’s an understatement. But it is what it is.

Outside, Charlotte is still playing with Pete. They must be having a lot of fun; Charlotte never gets to play with anyone. It breaks his heart having to leave her alone at home. Sarawat follows his gaze. He must see the conflict on his face, as he offers, “You can leave her here, if you want”

He takes Tine by surprise. “Really? It wouldn’t be a bother?”

Sarawat shakes his head no. “Pete is having a lot of fun. You can come pick her up when you come back from work”

“Thank you”

“It’s no problem, Tine” Sarawat says with a small smile and soft eyes, his long brown hair falling over them. It’s Tine’s turn to shush his thoughts. Head empty, Tine, he repeats like a mantra.

____________________

He works for thirteen hours non-stop. Why do people get sick? Why do people drive like shit? On top of it all, he wasn’t assigned to the pediatric wing today, as he usually is. He can’t stand adults. Whiny stubborn bastards. If he hears ‘but I read on the internet’ once more he is seriously going to lose it. At least he’s free until tomorrow morning. He hopes.

He naps on his car for an hour before driving home, he could barely keep his eyes open and he’s not going to put other people in danger just because he’s sleepy.

He remembers he has to pick up Charlotte from Sarawat and Pete’s, so he passes by a small café and buys breakfast for all of them. He doesn’t really know what they like so he buys a lot of food. He’s also very hungry. Hehe.

Tine’s standing in front of his neighbors’ door, trying to decipher whether they are awake or not. He stains his ears but hears nothing. Maybe they’re still sleeping.

Suddenly, the door is yanked open. Sarawat is standing there, in all of his ‘I just woke up but still look fabulous’ glory. The morning sun is caressing his skin, and it seems like he’s shining. Is he Edward Cullen? Tine wouldn’t mind being Bella. He really needs to sleep.

“How long were you planning on staying there?” he says with a mocking tone. Not the quiet man from yesterday, it seems. “I was waiting for you to knock”

“Uhhh… well… I was trying to hear if you guys were awake” Tine’s cheeks are warming up. It must be the summer sun. Yup.

“We are. Come in” he says, stepping to the side.

“I brought breakfast to thank you for babysitting Charlotte”

“Thank you. You saved me from having to cook” he laughs a little. He looks so handsome when he smiles, much better than the scowl that adorns his lovely face most of the time. Head empty, Tine. “Pete, breakfast is ready” he calls as they head towards the kitchen.

The little boy comes running from downstairs, Charlotte in tow. He smiles when he sees Tine. “Hello doctor Tine. I hope work was okay” he takes the little puppy in his arms then. “I took good care of Charlotte” he says, passing the dog to Tine.

Tine thanks the boy and kisses Charlotte softly in the head. She licks his face in return. “Hey girl, were you good?” she barks. Is that a yes?

“Pete, help me set the table” Sarawat says. Tine puts Charlotte down, so he can help as well, but Sarawat stops him. “Sit, we’ll do it”

“Yes, doctor Tine, you are tired from work” well, that’s two against one, so Tine does as he’s told.

Pete and Sarawat work at setting the table like they’ve done this many many times, which Tine supposes, they have. Sarawat passes him the plates with food and Pete sets them on the table, which is significantly bigger than Tine’s.

Tine is not going to lie, he’s a bit curious about Pete’s mom. By what he’s seen, it seems like it’s been only Sarawat and Pete for a while. But Pete’s mom is around. If he remembers correctly, Pete was with her when he got sick to his stomach.

Anyway, it’s none of his business. They barely know each other. Still, Sarawat has made an amazing job raising him, that’s in plain sight.

Tine went a little overboard with the food, he thinks a bit embarrassed, as he sees the table full to the brim. He says as much to the boys working.

“Don’t worry” Sarawat answers. “We can eat a lot, right Pete?”

“Dad remember doctor Tine said my tummy can’t be too full or it will hurt again!” he says with a stern tone.

His expression is too funny, Tine tries hard not to laugh, so Pete doesn’t feel like he’s mocking him. Maybe he’s trying to emulate Sarawat’s trademark scowl.

“Right, right, sorry buddy, I forgot” Sarawat says, holding his hands up in sign of surrender.

“It’s okay dad” he lifts his arms and Sarawat picks him up, hugging him tightly to his chest. Pete buries his face on the crook of Sarawat’s neck. “I forgive you”

“Thank you, Pete” he has this calm expression on his face, Tine feels like he’s intruding. Still, he can’t tear his eyes away. Seeing them like this makes his chest all warm and mushy and he doesn’t really know why.

____________________

While they eat, Pete talks about his time with Charlotte. After Tine left, they watched a movie and then slept cuddling along with Sarawat, who had to let her out at two a.m. because she wanted to pee.

Tine tried to hear him, but he’s practically sleeping with his eyes open.

Pete notices this. “Doctor Tine are you sleepy?” Tine nods yes. “Go to sleep then” he says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world, and Tine laughs, a hysterical sound that even scares him.

Both, father and son are looking at him like he’s lost it, which he thinks, he has. All of the cables on his brain are crossing. He’s short circuiting. He can only think in short sentences.

“Go. We’ll clean this” Sarawat says, grabbing him by the shoulders and guiding him to the front door. “We’ll take care of Charlotte on the meantime”

“Do you still have dog food?”

“Yup”

“Good” when they are outside Tine’s door, he turns around. Sarawat looks so pretty illuminated by the mooring sun. Very pretty boy. He’s not a boy. Pretty young adult. Not a young adult either. Pretty adult who is a father. Yeah, that’s better. Anyway. To sleep.

____________________

After that, Tine sleeps for ten hours, which is really bad. He just fucked up his nonexistent sleeping schedule. It’s ten p.m. now and he has the morning shift tomorrow. All he knows is pain.

He calls for Charlotte and no one comes… where is she? Right. She's next door. He’s such a bad dad. He has to go get her before they go to bed.

He knocks on their door and a few seconds later Sarawat is there, in all his tall glory. He is wearing a hoodie and sweatpants, round specs perched on the top of his nose. He looks like a college boyfriend. Tine is too old to be thinking like this.

“Good night sleeping beauty” the other man teases him. They kind of became friends in the span of twenty-four hours. Is this how it is when you are ancient?

He’s had the same friends for ages, since high school, actually: Fong, Phuak and Ohm. He hasn’t seen them in a long time. A get together is long overdue.

He also has Pear -whom he met at med school and is now his coworker, so he sees her way more often-, his brother and his brothers’ boyfriend. And that’d be it. He would like Sarawat to be his friend, though. He’s nice to him and Tine doesn’t feel uncomfortable around him either.

 “Good night” Tine rubs his eyes, still feeling a bit sleepy. His stomach growls and it’s loud enough for Sarawat to hear it. That’s embarrassing, he can feel his cheeks heating up. There’s a beast waiting to be fed in there, it seems.

“Come in, we have some leftovers from dinner” the other man offers, smiling kindly.

“I don’t want to be a nuisance… I just came get Charlotte” he’s just saying this out of courtesy… he actually wants some food and doesn’t feel like cooking, if he’s being honest.

Sarawat narrows his eyes. “Just come in, nuisance” he says, stepping aside.

Inside, Pete is sitting on the couch, watching a movie with a sleeping Charlotte resting on his lap. His heart feels warm at the sight. “They are cute” he says to no one in particular, but Sarawat is close enough to hear him.

“Yes, they are” his voice is quiet, almost a whisper. “Pete, say hi to Tine” and he does, waving his little hand.

They head to the kitchen and Sarawat tells him to sit while he heats up the food.

“He can play with Charlotte whenever he wants” Tine says, picking up the conversation from earlier. “I’m thankful she has company”

Sarawat is quiet for a few seconds, leaning on the kitchen counter, arms folded. His hoodie sleeves are rolled up. He has nice forearms. Is this what you get from being a musician?  Does the face come with it as well? Maybe Tine chose the wrong career path…

“You know…” Sarawat is a little bit unsure, scratching the back of his head. “I was thinking… maybe we could look after her whenever you have to work?”

“Would you do that?” Tine asks, surprised. A voice on the back of his mind is telling him not to trust this man so quickly. Tine tells it to shut the fuck up. He wants to be Sarawat’s friend, and he hasn’t wanted to be anyone’s friend in a long time, so he’ll just take a leap of faith.

“Of course,” he answers with a small smile. “Pete would be very happy”. He grabs his cellphone and gives it to Tine. “Put your number in there. Text me when you go to work, and we’ll pick her up if we’re at home”

The phone is unlocked. His background wallpaper is a selfie of Pete kissing him on the cheek. They look so happy. Tine feels strangely happy as well just from seeing the picture.

When he’s done, he gives the phone back to Sarawat. “I’ll text you, so you have my number” the other man says.

Tine phone pings, alerting him of a new text. It’s a picture of Charlotte and Pete. She’s licking his face and he’s smiling so big. He must be smiling like a fool at his phone, but they are so cute.

He will never delete this picture. When he gets those annoying ‘There’s not enough space on your iPhone’ he will delete every picture but this one.

“Thank you, Sarawat” Tine says; for the picture, for taking care of his baby, for the food.

Sarawat is looking at him with the softest little smile, making Tine’s heart pick up its rate. The moment is interrupted by the loud beep of the microwave. Ugly little electronic device.

 ___________________

Tine doesn’t see them the next day, since he had to leave very early to the hospital. He slept like two hours last night. The morning shift sucks and the bags under his eyes were so prominent today not even concealer could hide it. He looks worse than some patients.

He texted Sarawat, though, letting him know that he was leaving to work. There’s a spare key underneath the ‘welcome’ mat outside his door, so he tells him to let himself in and get Charlotte. He answers about an hour later, while Tine taking a rest, drinking coffee.

Sarawat: Wgy do u keep it therr. Hide it beter.

He makes typos? How cute. Somehow it conveys his personality…

Tine: i knooooowwww sorryyy

Sarawat has sent a photo.         

Tine audibly coos. It’s a picture of Pete and Charlotte, sleeping together.

Tine: they r so cuteeeee omg

“What are the heart eyes for?” he hears someone ask, the voice startling him. He looks up from his cellphone, which he almost drops. It’s Pear. God, he didn’t even hear her come in. “Or who, should I ask?”

“No one” he says, too fast be convincing. She narrows her eyes at him. His name is being called in the loudspeakers. Saved by the bell. Well, saved by someone sick. “Duty calls, bye”

Time to save them back or whatever.

___________________

He had to attend at least four sprained ankles today. He was also puked on five times. Kids go wild on Sundays. No one came in with something severe, though, which is always a blessing. He hates seeing kids in pain.

It’s eleven p.m. and he’s inside his car, pondering how to pick Charlotte up from the neighbors’ house. He could knock, but tomorrow is a school day, so Pete must be sleeping already.

He could call Sarawat, but what if he’s sleeping as well? He’s a teacher, and a sleepy grumpy teacher is no good for anyone. He’ll text him, yup, that’s a good idea.

He finds Sarawat’s contact right away, he’s the only person who has messaged him today… sad.

Tine: you up? Wait… oh no…

Tine: i mean are you awake, he quickly types. He hopes Sarawat doesn’t understand young adult asking for a booty call slang.

Sarawat: yeah.

Tine: i’m outside… didn’t wanna knock in case Pete is sleeping

Sarawat: going.

He’s so brief. He texts just like he speaks.

Tine gets out of his car and leans on it, waiting, taking a deep breath. Summer nights are so nice. The air is still a little warm, the sky clear and illuminated by thousands of stars.

Sarawat comes out, Charlotte cradled in his arms like a baby. She is sleeping, Tine realizes. What a nice big comfy bed she’s got. Tine is a little bit jealous.

“You are spoiling her” he says when Sarawat is close enough to hear him. They stand in front of each other and Tine gently caresses the top of Charlotte’s head. “How did she behave?”

“Really good. We went to the park. Pete feel asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow”

“You work tomorrow, right?”

“Yeah” Sarawat answers with a tired sight.

“Go to sleep then, it’s late” Tine says, carefully taking Charlotte from Sarawat’s arms, so to not wake her up.

“I still have your keys; I’ll go get them” he turns but Tine grabs his wrist. Charlotte is tiny enough, so he can hold her with only one arm.

“Wait” Tine says on al impulse. Is he going to do what he thinks he’s going to do? Oh my god he’s lost it, he’s definitely lost it. “Keep them” his hand burns where it’s connected with Sarawat’s skin. “They are safer with you, right?”

It takes the other men a few seconds to answer. He looks a bit stunned. Tine ads it to the mental catalogue he’s made of Sarawat’s expressions. “Yeah, right”

Tine is blushing, hard. He’s thankful for the darkness the night provides. He’s reluctant to let go of Sarawat’s wrist, but he does. “Good night, Sarawat”

“Good night, Tine” the man says, heading to his place.

Tine waits until he is inside and the lights from his living room are turned off to head home. He’s fine. He’s totally fine. His heart is not beating out of his chest.

___________________

Tine wakes up late the next day. This week he is scheduled to do four 15-hours night shifts on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. He gets three free days though, so he’s really happy. He shouldn’t be happy for getting a proper amount of rest but… it is what it is.

He eats a big brunch, slowly enjoying his food. He always has to eat so fast, inhaling his meals before he gets swept to the ER again.

He feels the sudden urge to clean his place which he hasn’t done in so long… his mom would kill him if she knew. He’s going to do it on her name.

Two hours later he’s finished. That was really tiring. What’s the point of having such a big house when it’s only you? It’s not like he’s going to have a family anytime soon, Tine thinks. Maybe he should have bought a one-bedroom apartment, that would have been way more convenient for his lazy ass.

Whatever. He has a big nice backyard which he’s going to use now to exercise. Tine used to be a big fan of fitness. When he had the time, he used to hit the gym regularly. Home workouts are his thing now, but his muscles are still pretty much intact. 

An hour later finds him half dead. It’s so hot outside he had to take his shirt off. He’s now lying on the grass, regretting all of his life choices. He’s going to be so sore tomorrow.

His heart is pounding on his ears, so it takes him some time to realize that someone is knocking on his front door. He gets up with no difficulty at all, because he’s fit as hell. He’s not panting. He is okay.

He opens the door and Sarawat is in the other side, looking very professor-like. Navy blue button down, black slacks, specs. Very nice. He must be hot as hell on those clothes, though. He looks hot as hell...

“Hi” greets Tine. “I didn’t know you got off so early from work” 

Sarawat is very obviously staring at Tine’s pecs, and Tine is not flexing, absolutely not. The other man clears his throat, scratches the back of his head and looks up at Tine’s eyes, in that order exactly. He’s barely blinking. The tip of his ears is red. Tine wants to raise his fist in victory. What did he win? he doesn’t know.

“I… umm” he clears his throat again. “I get out at one on Mondays” 

“You wanna come in?” Tine asks, not waiting for a reply and stepping aside. Sarawat nods. “What time does Pete get out of school?” Time heads to the kitchen to get a bottle of water, Sarawat following close behind.

“At two” Tine looks at his clock. It’s a quarter past three. “He’s with my mom now” he doesn’t sound very happy about it. “I have to pick him up in about…” he looks at his wristwatch “an hour” 

“You don’t… get along very well with you mom?” Tine asks carefully. He doesn’t want to pry, but Sarawat sounded very displeased at her mention.

“Not really” he says with a very fake chuckle. “But she’s Pete’s grandma and he enjoys being with her, so what I feel towards doesn’t matter”

“It matters” Tine immediately answers, “but it’s nice that you can put your feelings aside for Pete’s sake”

It says a lot about who Sarawat is as a person. Tine’s witnessed in countless of opportunities how parents try to influence their children, put them on their side in whatever grudge they have against someone. Kids shouldn’t be involved in adult’s business, Tine thinks. Specially not when they love that other person.

“Thanks” Sarawat is a man of few words, but Tine thinks he can see gratefulness and relief in his chocolate eyes. “When does your shift start?” he asks, changing the subject, not so smoothly.

He goes with it. He doesn’t want to make the other man uncomfortable, and he’s already shared enough. “I work from five to ten today” Tine sighs. The night shift is not his favorite. 

“We won’t see each other till’ tomorrow afternoon, then” Sarawat says with a small disappointed? sigh. Tine can’t tell for sure. Maybe his lungs needed some extra air. “I’ll drop Charlotte back before I go to work tomorrow morning”

Tine almost laughs at the ridicule of the situation. It sounds like they are divorced parents discussing visit arrangements.

“Okay” Tine says, crossing his arms. Sarawat’s eyes go back to where they belong. Victory again. Wait… where they belong? Tine’s thoughts are running wild. He didn’t cross his arms on purpose, absolutely not.

After some seconds he seems to snap out of his pec-induced trance. “I have to go” he says, practically running out of the kitchen. “Seeyoubye” he shouts before leaving.

Tine’s face hurts from smiling so much.

___________________

He comes home that morning and, as he’s taking off his shoes at the entrance of his house, he sees a small paper sticked on his door. It’s a note. The handwriting is not neat at all. He has to squint his eyes a little to make out the words.

“Hello Tine, Charlotte is back safe and sound.

Check your fridge.

Pete and Sarawat <3😊”

Tine smiles, folding the note and putting it on his wallet for safekeeping. The little heart and the smiley face were surely made by Pete, since they were a little misshapen. He’s a cute kid.

Charlotte is sleeping on his couch on top of a pink fluffy blanket. She didn’t have that before. Spoiled girl. All she does is sleep and get cuddled. Tine wants what she has.

On his fridge there’s a plate full of homemade pancakes. Sarawat must have cooked them for breakfast. There’s also a bottle half-full of honey.

Tine’s heart is beating really fast at the implications of this. Sarawat made extra pancakes just for him. He thought about him while making breakfast. He’s about to grab the closest pillow and scream into it, but before it gets to that he wills his mid to stop. This means nothing. He’s just being a nice neighbor. Yup.

But what if…?

“What if nothing just shut up. Ughhh” he says to his brain. It doesn’t listen.        

___________________

The rest of the week passes in a similar manner. He doesn’t see Sarawat and Pete at all, since their schedules have crashed. When Tine’s at home his neighbors aren’t, busy with school and work. When they come home Tine’s already left. But every morning Tine comes home to freshly made pancakes waiting for him on his fridge and Charlotte sleeping on his couch. His wallet is fuller as well, and it’s not from money.

He also texts with Sarawat very frequently, getting updates of his puppy time with them and a lot of voice messages from Pete. He always wants to tell him the latest updates about his days.

It’s Thursday morning now, and he’s finally free. Well. He’s free for a few hours, but he’s free, nonetheless. He eats his daily dose of pancakes and lies on the couch, his tummy full and Charlotte by his side. The little pleasures of life. His eyes feel so heavy.

He is woken up by the sound the front door opening and Charlotte barking. His lids are glued together, he can’t open his eyes. Something is touching his cheeks.

“Doctor Tine?” he hears a faint whisper close to his face. The something are Pete’s hands, then. He leans into the touch, making a faint hum of acknowledgment. “We came for Charlotte, but you are here” the little boy pokes his cheek. “Are you sleeping?”

Tine opens his eyes and Pete’s lovely face is right in front of him. “Not anymore” he says, with what he hopes is a smile. His brain is not working yet. Someone crouches down right next to Pete’s form. He is seeing two Petes now. No… a big Pete and a small Pete. Sarawat and Pete. Right.

“You guys are identical. Am I seeing double?” Tine jokes.

Pete’s sweet laugh fills the room. “Nooo, this is Pete,” he points to his chest “and this,” he points to his dad “is my dad”.

Tine theatrically rubs his eyes. “I see the difference now. Pete is cuter” he fake whispers, putting his hand close to his mouth. Pete laughs at that.

He looks at Sarawat then, and his eyes all soft and sweet. They are so close he can see the faint laugh lines adorning his face. He is so handsome.

Tine feels something stirring in his stomach at the sight of both his neighbors, who came barreling into his life and have made these last few days a lot less lonely. He wasn’t aware of how solitary his life was (or still is?).

“Doctor Tine,” Pete says redirecting the attention to him, “did you like the pancakes? I helped dad make them!”

“I loved them” Tine sincerely answers. “I’m really thankful. It’s nicer to come home when food is waiting for you”

“That’s good” says Sarawat very quietly, almost a whisper. “Do you want to have dinner with us?” he offers, louder this time.

“It would be my honor” his stomach feels funny again. He hopes it’s just the prospect of food and nothing more complicated than that.

Pete’s face lights up at his answer. “Yes!” he exclaims excitedly, thrusting both of his arms into the air. “Let’s go!”

___________________

They go to Sarawat’s place, since his pantry actually has edible things, not only instant ramen. Tine’s visit to the supermarket is long overdue.

Sarawat and Tine cook something simple and fast, some meat with vegetables and rice. Sarawat is a pretty decent cook, if Tine, Gordon Ramsay himself, says so. He doesn’t know why the other man insists that he can’t cook.

Pete wants to help, so they put him in charge of making dessert. Sarawat has a ton of ice cream on his freezer, since he says his son is literally obsessed with it. Pete has the job of making sundaes, so he scoops different flavors on a big container, decorating it with chocolate chips and sprinkles. When it’s ready, Sarawat puts it back on the freezer so it doesn’t melt. It’s still so hot.

All of this feels oddly domestic, something Tine is not used to. It makes him feel a bit weird, but not in the bad way. It’s a good weird. Somehow. It’s almost like getting a taste of something he’s longed for a long time. What is it? He doesn’t know. What he does know is that just a taste is not enough…  

Dinner is comfortable, filled with the sound of Pete’s voice, who is excitedly telling Tine everything he’s done on the days they haven’t seen each other (even though he already did that. Tine pretends this is all new information). Sarawat is mostly quiet, as per usual. Charlotte is also here, sleeping underneath the table.

“I’m done dad” Pete says, getting up from the table and putting his plate on the sink. “Thank you for the food. Can I go watch cartoons?” Sarawat nods and Pete, before leaving, kisses his dad on the cheek.

“What was that for?” Sarawat asks, caressing the top of his son’s head affectionately.

Pete looks at him like he’s dumb. “Being the best dad, duh” he says and leaves.

“This kid” Sarawat is smiling so big. He’s so bright when he smiles. The sun itself, Tine thinks.

Suddenly It’s very hard to breathe, the air refuses to enter his lungs, but Tine is smiling as well, it’s contagious. He is lucky he can witness such sincere and pure form of love. He longs to have a bond like that, to have someone he can love and care for unconditionally.

“He’s an amazing kid” Tine says.

Sarawat’s eyes are on him now. He’s so handsome when he’s happy, Tine wishes to see this expression permanently etched on his face. He promises to fight whoever dares to upset him. “He is. I’m lucky” he says, so sincere and heartfelt.

He also wishes to be the cause of Sarawat’s happiness someday.

Wait… too soon. He needs to find a safer topic of conversation away from this line of thought.

 “How has been work?” Tine asks. He can’t bear to look at Sarawat’s face anymore, so he gets up and gathers the remaining dirty plates.

“Same as always” he says, getting up as well.

“I’ll do the dishes” Tine announces, with a tone that leaves no space to debate. Sarawat opens his mouth to protest, but Tine already has the dishwashing gloves on.

“I’ll dry them”

Tine takes his time, scrubbing everything well. His mom would be proud.

Sarawat is leaning against the counter a few meters away from him, cooing at Charlotte, who woke up some minutes ago and is now being squished against the other man’s chest. To be her…

“Do you have plans tomorrow?” Sarawat asks.

Plans? Tine thinks bitterly. When was the last time he had plans on a Friday? He can’t remember. “Work from five to ten again”

Sarawat looks at him then, almost scandalized. “Again? Isn’t that like against the law or something?”

It kind of is… his indignation makes Tine laugh. “Some doctors have been missing these past few weeks, so I had to cover a few shifts” he explains. “Next week my schedule should be more normal… hopefully”

Working for fifteen hours is a lot, but it is not like he must be awake all the time. There are rooms at the hospital where he can rest, if things are not that hectic. But tomorrow is Friday, which is like the worst and busiest day of the week. The number of drunks he has to deal with is stratospheric.

“Why? Were you gonna ask me out on a date?” Tine jokes, batting his eyelashes at Sarawat. A man can only wish. There is a grain of truth in every joke, he thinks.

The tip of Sarawat’s ears is red. It’s cute, Tine thinks, how his cheeks barely blush, but his ears are always a flaming red when he’s embarrassed. It’s a contrast to Tine, who gets red all over.

“Kind of?” he says, dubitative.

“Oh?” something stirs in Tines chest. His emotions have been all over the place on these past few hours.

“My friends are coming by tomorrow, I wanted you to come as well” is that disappointment in his voice? Tine can’t really tell. Sarawat is looking down now, refusing to meet Tine’s eyes, which makes reading him more difficult.

It’s all in his eyes, Tine’s come to realize. His voice is a good indicative as well, but only when he’s not being inexpressive on purpose.

“Ooohh” what’s with the monosyllables? Can’t his brain come up with something better? “I’m sorry” apparently not.

“Don’t be” Sarawat says, putting Charlotte down and grabbing a dry cloth to start with his task.

“I’d love to meet them someday” he does. He’d love to meet everyone who’s important to Sarawat. Why? He doesn’t have an answer right now.

“I’m sure you will”

___________________

Friday passes by in a blur. He went for a walk with Charlotte, but he had to abort the mission hallway through, since it was too hot, and his baby was panting. Summer is the worst.

His mom called then, telling him once again to do something productive with his life, as if saving people isn’t enough. He knows that’s not what she means. Still, he doesn’t want to dwell on what she actually means. Not the time for an existetial crisis.

It’s Saturday now, his shift almost over. What he said before about being able to rest sometimes? Yeah… that kind of came back to bite him in the ass. He got approximately one hour of sleep on the most uncomfortable bed his back has ever laid on. Sleeping on the floor would have been better. He woke up even more tired.

He takes a taxi to go home, too tired to drive. It would be dangerous and he’s nothing but precautious. He’ll ask Pear to bring his car later.

As soon as he gets home, he checks his fridge.

He feels bad, for basically living from his neighbor’s food, so he’ll be grateful and eat it all. Today he doesn’t find pancakes waiting for him, instead, there is a bunch of Tupperwares full of homemade food. Tine mouth waters, it looks delicious. One of the containers has a note sticked to it.

Doctor Tine.

This afternoon we will go to the park with Charlotte at six.

 If you want to come.

Pete Sarawat and Charlotte 😊 <3 :o

It’s decorated with glitter and stickers, obviously being written by Pete. Tine looks at it for some insane amount of time. He just can’t believe this kid exists, he’s so sweet. Sarawat is doing an amazing job as a father but being like this is also part of Pete’s nature, he thinks.

Tine decides he’s not going to miss this invitation even if his life depends on it, so he eats fast and lies on his sofa to get a quick nap. He needs to stop sleeping here, though. He has a nice big bed, but it’s such a hassle to climb up the stairs.

___________________

The alarm on his cellphone wakes him up at four. He said he wouldn’t miss his afternoon plans, didn’t he?

He showers quickly to get rid of the ever-present hospital smell that accompanies him. It’s like he’s drenched on antiseptic. At first it gave him so much nausea, but now he’s used to it.

He puts on some summery clothes, since it’s so hot outside. Even though it’s almost the end of the season, the temperatures haven’t gone down. The days are still long and suffocating; the nights short and warm. The only good thing is that he doesn’t need to carry a coat everywhere,

It’s Pete who opens the door after Tine knocks, jumping up and down excitedly after realizing who is on the other side. “Doctor Tine” he says, suddenly wrapping his short arms around Tine. “You came!”

Tine is surprised for a few moments, not expecting this sudden gesture of affection, but he returns it, bending a little and putting his arms around Pete’s shoulders. “Of course I did. I wouldn’t miss it”

“Pete I’ve told you not to open the door” Tine hears Sarawat before he sees it. Pete is still hugging him when the other man enters the living room, wearing a muscle tee and shorts.

Weeeeee. Tine mind goes blank. He can’t process the look Sarawat is giving them right now. It’s a crime he doesn’t show such nice arms more often… He was right when he said Charlotte had a really nice bed.

“Sorry dad” Pete says, bringing Tine out of his stupor and letting him go. Tine closes the door and the little boy grabs his hand, dragging him to the kitchen. “Come on! We are making sandwiches”

The kitchen table is full of food. Bread, eggs, shredded chicken, avocado, tomato, mayo… you name it. Tine feels jealous. His mind tells him that if only he dared to go to the supermarket then he would have as much food. But he’s lazyyyyyyyy.

“Hi” he greets Sarawat, locking his gaze on the other man’s face. Which is still as breathtaking as his arms. Where should he look then?!

“Hi. I’m happy you could come” he says, briefly squeezing Tine’s bicep. “Do you want to help us?” he asks, signaling to the table.

Tine nods. “Are we going to a picnic?” Tine doesn’t know where to start.

“Yes! I’m so happy!” Pete says, jumping on his place. Kids have so much energy, Tine is envious again. “Dad I’ll go change my clothes. You keep doing that” he commands, running towards his room.

“Okay boss” Sarawat screams so the little boy can hear him, laughing under his breath. Tine can hear the faint laugh of Pete, as well.

Sarawat and Tine sit side by side and start working on putting together the food. Tine is in the mood for an avocado-chicken sandwich, so he prepares one. A thought occurs to him, then. “Is Pete allergic to anything?”

“No, he isn’t” Sarawat says.

Tine feels nervous at being alone with him. Almost all the time Pete accompanies them. So he does what he knows what to do best: talk.

“Ahhh, that’s amazing. An allergic reaction is no joke, you know? I’ve seen it many times at the ER, people get all swollen up. If it’s a bad one, they can’t even breathe. It’s really dangerous, everyone should be careful” Tine grimaces at his babbling. What is he even saying? He rakes his brain for a more normal topic. “Did you get together with your friends yesterday?” Bingo.

“Yeah” why is he not cooperating? Ughhh. Tine doesn’t think he can stand the silence.

“Did you have fun?” he asks, trying to keep the conversation alive, while still making sandwiches.

“A lot” he says. “I… You were missing, though” at that Tine stops… wait… did he really say that? Was he going to say ‘I missed you’ instead? “My friends wanted to meet you” that’s the final blow.

“They know who I am?” Tine asks, so surprised he stops with his task to look at Sarawat. He seems unbothered, though, buttering a bread. Tine would love to be a mind reader.

“You are all I talk about” his tone is impassive. How can he say such thing like it’s nothing?

Tine hands are shaking a little bit, so he puts them between his legs. Sometimes he wishes he could control his feelings better. He is grateful Sarawat is not looking at him, or he could see everything Tine is feeling written across his face. Thank you bread.

“Ahhh, really?” Tine says with a small chuckle.

“Hmmm” the other man hums. “How was work?” that change of subject was not smooth, but Tine will go with it. His heart is grateful.

“As always” he answers. Tine can feel the word vomit building up. “I really don’t like drunk people. But you know what’s the worst? People who drink and drive. Like how insane you must be to think that’s a good idea? There are so many ways you can go home now. And the worst of the worst is that these bastards cause accidents and they are always almost unharmed” that came out kind of wrong, Tine realizes. “I mean… It’s not like I want them to get injured, that’d be unethical…”

“I get it” Sarawat says, cutting Tine’s ramble. He sets the butter knife he was using on the table, focusing his attention on Tine. “You are cute” scratch what he said before, this is the final blow.

Tine’s going crazy. The corner of the other man’s lips curl into a smirk as he glances at Tine, who is blushing profusely.

“Cute?!” Tine shrieks. This is so embarrassing; he needs to get a grip. This… attraction he has for his neighbor, he has to get over it soon.

Tine would call it the hots, but is it really the hots? Yes, his body is nice -more than nice- but that’s not the only thing Tine finds attractive about him.

For instance, he really likes the way he treats Pete, with love and trust. He can see how good of a job he’s done at raising him, since every time Pete looks at him there is so much respect and admiration in his eyes.

He likes his smile as well, how makes his lips look like a heart. He likes his eyes and the small crow's feet adorning its corners. He likes the way he pays attention to him and him only whenever he speaks, like he treasures every word that comes out of his mouth.

He likes that he cares about his as well, going out of his way to make food for him whenever he knows Tine’s busy.

Well… he has to get over it soon indeed, before it gets serious. (It already is, the treacherous part of his mind retorts. He ignores it).

“Yes, getting all worked up like that” Sarawat’s words bring him back from his musings, but what he says is not any better. His tone is somewhat flirty, and Tine imagines him saying something of the sorts in a different situation. He blushes even harder. “But I hate drunk drivers as well” there he goes, changing the subject again.

“Good… I don’t think we’d be able to…” be friends? “hang out, if you didn’t”

“Hmmm” he hums, getting up from his seat. “I’ll be right back.” Before he is out of the kitchen he turns around and points to the table “Keep doing that.”  

Tine rest his forehead on the table and lets out a frustrated groan. He really needs to shove all those thoughts to the back of his mind. And he does, putting them on the ‘for later’ box. He locks the box with three padlocks. He also puts a ‘Stop. Do not enter’ sign. Much better.

___________________

Surprisingly for a Saturday afternoon the park is almost empty. There are a few kids on the playground and an elderly couple sitting on a bench, but no one else.

It’s still very hot, so they sit atop of a blanket by a big tree to avoid the sunlight. Sarawat had one of those cute picnic baskets you see in movies where he packed the sandwiches they made earlier, juice and fruits, which they eat as soon as they get accommodated to prevent them from getting all warm and disgusting. He also brought his guitar. Tine wants to hear him play.

Charlotte, to Pete’s dismay, doesn’t feel like playing. Must be the heat. But Pete is restless, so Sarawat lets him go to the playground where other kids are. It’s not that far away, so they can supervise him clearly from their position and go to his rescue in case something happens.

Which leaves him alone with Sarawat. Well, Charlotte is here too, but she is of no help.

Tine feels nervous, a tight knot on his stomach, but he doesn’t know the exact reason as to why he feels this way. He’s never felt uncomfortable with Sarawat before -maybe when they first met- but it was short lived.

The other man’s presence is not the problem; the problem is that Tine doesn’t know what to do, how to act now that he is aware of how handsome and amazing his neighbor is. Not that he wasn’t aware before but now…

Sarawat clears his throat, catching Tine’s attention. “I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable before” he says.

“What?”

“When I called you cute… I was over the line. I made you feel uncomfortable, so I apologize” he didn’t mean it, then? Tine feels a wave of disappointment hit him out of nowhere. It’s still a sweet gesture, but he doesn’t need to apologize, he did nothing wrong.

“It’s ok, you didn’t make me uncomfortable” on the contrary, Tine thinks. “I’m not used to receiving compliments, that’s all” he explains. But then his brain decides to stop working, the words leaving his mouth before he has time to process them. “Do you really think I’m cute, though?” Tine asks, looking at his lap, so he doesn’t have to look at Sarawat.

When he looks up the other man has a gentle smile on his face. He is also looking at his lap. “Obviously, that’s why I said it” the disappointment is replaced with something else, something Tine can´t name. He feels just as nervous as before, but it’s a different kind of nervousness.

“Thank you, then” Tine says, blushing profusely under the scrutiny of Sarawat, whose eyes are on him now. When their eyes meet Tine gives the other man a small smile, which is returned. In this lighting his eyes look a warm chocolate. Tine’s always had a sweet tooth. “Will you play a song for me?” Tine asks, pointing to Sarawat’s guitar case.

“Would you like that?”

Tine nods. “I’ve always wanted to hear you sing. You must be good, since you are a teacher”

“What if I’m bad?” he asks with a pout. “I don’t want you to be disappointed”

“You couldn’t” Tine says in a low voice. He doesn’t know if Sarawat hears him, but he feels deep down in his gut that he would never do something to let Tine down, at least not intentionally. He hopes he’s not wrong.

Sarawat takes his guitar out of its case and places it on his lap, strumming the cords a little bit. He makes a face at the sound it makes, adjusting the tuning keys and strumming again. Once he is happy, he asks, “What song do you want to hear?”

Tine is too distracted by the sight in front of him to think. Sarawat looks out of a movie poster, guitar in hand, the soft glow of the sun illuminating his face, long hair falling into his eyes. He looks so dreamy, like an indie musician boyfriend… whatever that means.

“Tine?” he waves his hand in front of Tine’s face. When did he get so close?

“Sorry” Tine says, waking up from his daydreaming. “What about… a Scrubb song?” it’s always Tine’s first instinct to choose Scrubb, it’s his favorite group, after all.

Sarawat nods, thinking for a few seconds, humming a melody Tine’s heard a million times before playing it properly: This person.

He’s really good with his hands, Tine thinks, but what amazes him the most is his voice. It’s so sweet and soft, almost lulling. It settles deep into Tine’s heart.

The song is just starting, but Tine doesn’t want it to end. It feels like Sarawat is serenading him, with the way he looks into his eyes.

It might be this person, the one who will be here

The one who comes to fulfill your good days from now on

It might be this person, if it is this person

The world that was once empty will be different

I want to try that

When he finishes, he’s a little out of breath, his cheeks flushed. He looks so pretty like this. Something clutches in Tine’s chest, but he smiles. He loved every second of it, he hopes he can hear more soon.

“Was it good?” Sarawat asks, a bit apprehensive. Tine has never seen him like this, insecure. He hopes Sarawat knows he is amazing at his task. If he doesn’t, then he will remind him every day.

“I loved it” Tine says sincerely. He hopes Sarawat can see it.

The smile he gives him back implies that he does. It’s not good for Tine’s heart, though.

___________________

After that Pete comes back, complaining about being too hot. They stay under the tree’s shadow for the rest of the afternoon, playing board games. Tine thinks Sarawat is Doraemon, producing things out of thin air. It has to be a parent skill, packing so many things in so little space.

The walk back home is not a long one, but it’s spent talking and laughing. Sarawat has an arm slung so over Tine’s shoulders and Tine is holding Pete’s hand, at the little boy’s insistence, who is also holding Charlotte’s leash. She is walking slowly, probably tired.

The way he feels right now… he can’t put a name on it, as he’s never felt like this before. If he would describe it, it’s like his heart feels at peace, somehow. He could die right at this moment and it’d be okay. Well. Maybe he is exaggerating a little bit.

Tine sees a car parked outside his house as they get closer. He can’t see who’s leaning against it from this distance, though. But he does hear the loud scream of his name. He can recognize that voice anywhere.

“Pear?” he asks, detangling himself from Sarawat’s hold and walking faster to meet his friend. He forgot he’d asked her to bring his car back from the hospital.

“Why don’t you answer your phone? You got any idea how long I’ve been waiting for you?” she slaps his chest when they are close enough. What a nice greeting.

“Yes, hello to you too” Tine says, softly flicking her forehead.

She takes a step to the side so she can look behind Tine. “Sarawat?” she asks, tilting her head with confusion.

“Auntie Pear!” Pete screams in delight, crashing his body with hers.

They hug, jumping up and down. Pear is not much taller than Pete, so it looks like two overhyped kids meeting after a long time. Tine would laugh about it if he wasn’t so perplexed.

 “You guys know each other?” he asks to no one in particular, but Sarawat, standing by his side now, answers.

“Yeah, she’s Earn’s girlfriend”

Yes, Tine knows that, but it doesn’t explain anything. Pear is not paying attention to them, too focused talking to Pete.

“So… you know each other through Earn?”

“Yes. Earn and I were on a band together long ago” Sarawat explains.

That makes sense, since Earn works on the music field. It’s crazy how small the world is.

“Sarawat” she says, turning her attention to the other man. “You disappeared on us you bastard” it’s his turn to get slapped on the chest. “You have any idea how much we’ve missed this little pumpkin?” she says, side-hugging Pete.

There must be only like a twenty-centimeter difference between them. Is Pete too tall or Pear too small? Yeah… now that Tine notices Pete is quite tall for his age, but since Sarawat is also a tower, he looks just like a normal kid. He’s still small on Tine’s eyes so it doesn’t really matter. He is still going to tease Pear about this later.

“We’ve been busy. We moved” he says, pointing to his house.

“Oh, so you are neighbors?” Sarawat nods at this. After a moment she lets out a long “Ohhhh” which sounds like she’s solved the biggest mystery in the world. “So, you are…”

Tine clears his throat before she can continue. He gives her a ‘shout your mouth’ glance, which he knows she can read. They’ve been friends for ages, they can literally communicate without words.

Pete tugs on her arm to get her attention. “How do you know doctor Tine, Auntie?” thanks heavens, he saved him.

Pear gives him a meaningful look before addressing Pete’s question. Tine braces himself; an interrogation session is coming. Pear does not surrender until she gets the answers she wants.

“We went to college together, sweetie”

“Wow that’s amazing” he exclaims. “Doctor Tine is the best doctor in the world Auntie! He healed my tummy and he has this amazing dog called Charlotte and he cooks yummy cookies!”

Speaking of Charlotte… where is she? Tine looks around only to realize that Sarawat is cradling her on his arms. Is she a baby or what? Tine wants to be a baby too…

“He’s great” she says, patting Pete on the head, “don’t you think so too, Sarawat?” she asks with intent. Tine knows what she is trying to do.

“Yeah, he is. I like him a lot” the other man answers. Wait… he can’t… what? Pear looks surprised as well, eyebrows raised. “Let’s go Pete, it’s late and you still have to shower”

“But dad…” Pete whines.

“No buts”

Pear takes Charlotte from Sarawat’s arms, since she notices Tine has no reaction whatsoever. He is still standing on the same place; he is sure he looks like that Mike Wazowski meme. Sarawat broke him.

“Now that I know where you live, I’ll come see you more often with Auntie Earn, okie Pete?” the little boy nods, giving Pear one last hug and a wave at Tine. “And you…” she says, giving Sarawat a menacing look “don’t disappear again”

Sarawat nods. “I’m sorry”

She gives Sarawat a not so violent pat on his arm. “Don’t be. I know it can get rough sometimes”

“Thank you, tell Earn I said hi” and with that he leaves.

He is left with Pear, who flicks him in on the forehead. “Wake up. Let’s get inside”

___________________

Tine is trying to delay this conversation as much as he can, so he makes tea to be busy. Well… to pretend that he’s busy.

He makes from scratch, though, not just a damn bag inside a mug with some hot water.

Pear is getting impatient; he can tell by the way she bounces her legs up and down. She’s about to snap soon.

“Can you hurry up?” she asks from her place at the sofa. Well… he can’t delay this anymore can he?

Tine comes out of the kitchen carrying two tea mugs and sits next to Pear. She makes a sound of approval after sipping on hers.

 “I’ll go straight to the point. You and Sarawat. I assume they are the neighbors you can’t stop talking about”

“…yeah” it’s not that he can’t stop talking about them, but they are the only thing happening in his life at the moment worth telling.

“Spill”

“There’s nothing to spill, Pear, we are just… acquaintances” this whole situation is so confusing, Tine doesn’t really have the energy to dwell on it.

Pear sighs, placing her mug on the coffee table. “You did look cozy for being just acquaintances. I mean with his hand around your shoulder… walking so close” she says with a dreamy tone, “Pete holding your hand” he exaggeratedly sighs now. She’s so dramatic. “You looked like a little family”

“How long have you known him for?” Tine asks to change the subject. He didn’t think she’d be this straightforward.

“I don’t know…” she thinks for some seconds. “Like… eight years maybe? Earn and him used to be super close, like best friends. Like you and I” she says, throwing her arm over Tine’s shoulders and resting their heads together. “After he got married, he kind of… disappeared” she is being very careful with her words, Tine thinks, which is so not like her. She’s the type of person who says the first thing that comes to her mind. “He got in touch with Earn again four years ago, I think. He kind of disappeared again these past few months, though. The last time we heard from him he was going through… some difficult times” Pear sighs, deep and heavy. “He is my friend as well Tine… I’m trying to be careful with what I say, I don’t want to reveal anything too personal” just as Tine thought.

“I don’t want to know either, Pear” he says honestly. He does want to know, but not from her.

At this she sits up straight, locking her eyes with Tine’s. She looks surprised and Tine can’t blame her. They have known each other for years; she’s witnessed Tine’s curious nature. It’s not that he’s a gossip, he just can’t stand not knowing things. But he’s not going to disregard Sarawat’s want of privacy.

“You aren’t curious?” she asks.

“I am very curious” Tine admits. “But I’d like to hear it from him, if he ever trusts me enough to share it.”

She smiles at that, patting his chest right above his heart. “Always so sweet and thoughtful” she says, going back to her previous position, head resting on Tine’s shoulder. “I know sometimes you think that caring so much is something bad… feeling so much and showing it so freely. But it’s not, Tine” she grabs his hand and squeezes the hell out of it. “There aren’t many people left like you, my friend, no one so sincere. What you think is a weakness is your biggest weapon against all of the bad stuff that happens in the world. Treasure it”

Tine feels like crying. Not long ago he had been thinking exactly that, how much he’d like to show less, to feel less. Most of the time it’s so overwhelming he prefers to ignore it.

“What was that for?” he asks, his voice cracking at the end of the sentence.

“Nothing in particular, I just wanted to remind you” she gives him some minutes, then, to compose himself.

Tine is grateful she isn’t looking at him, but again, she knows how much he hates when people see him cry. Only three people have seen him do so: his mom, Pear and Fong. His mom always says he knows how to show every emotion but sadness, always hiding it behind a beaming smile. He just doesn’t want to burden people with such things, he needs to deal with them on his own, he thinks.

“How long have you and Sarawat known each other?”

“I don’t know… formally a little over a week?” his voice is back to normal now, thankfully. At his words, Pear makes a questioning noise, so he explains. “Two weeks ago, Pete went to the hospital and I treated him. A week later they moved next door”

“Ayeeee, for real? That’s so romantic” she squeals. “Destiny is wonderful”

“Pear…”

“What? You like him Tine. You can lie to yourself all you want but you can never lie to me” a heavy weight settles on his stomach at her words. It can’t be, it really can’t.

“It’s not-”

“He likes you as well” she interrupts before he can say anything else. “The fact that he hangs out with you already says something. That guy can be so difficult sometimes” she says with a tired sigh, as if she’s experienced it personally. “Also, he never ever ever lets his kid interact with someone unless he trusts them. He’s really picky as to whom he introduces to Pete.”

Tine sighs heavily. What is he supposed to do with this information? “I don’t like him, Pear. I think he’s just… hot” Tine cringes at his words. That sounds so wrong. But he doesn’t want her to get the wrong impression.

“Mmmm, okay I guess” she says disbelieving. “Well my dear friend I hope the big revelation comes to you soon”

Tine doesn’t know what big revelation she is talking about.