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Tine has always known he was special (his mother told him so). She said that he was magic- an old soul- older than his body- older than he could count with his little fingers and older than he could count at the time period (which was a lot- at five years old, he is smart and could already count to two hundred).  

He asks her how he could be so old when he doesn’t feel very old at all and she says, in that soft way she always talks to him and no one else, that is the beauty of him. He has lived more lives than most and has a soul older than he knows but he’ll never remember and he’ll never feel older or wiser or carry the weight of those years in this life.  

At five years old, he doesn’t understand his mother’s words but years later when he does, he will absolutely hate that he is special. And when he watches his mother cry in her room from the gap in the doorway, when she thinks they’ve all gone to sleep, he’ll hate that he is special because he knew for a fact (far earlier than he should) that this was always where it would inevitably end- with his mother crying on the night his father decides to leave for someone else. 

------

 

He starts seeing them when he is nine. He cannot remember the exact moment he first sees them- only that one day his world was normal and right and the next it is a burst of red. Suddenly there are bright red strings everywhere he goes. Red strings that stretch for miles and miles- sometimes farther than the eye could see. Always, when there is a person, there is a red string tied to their wrist.  

Tine does not know what to make of them. Surely, if one day everyone on earth woke up with red strings tied to their hands, there would be some reaction or explanation. But by some magic, people pass right through them, going on their daily lives seemingly unaware.  

He doesn’t understand what the red strings mean or how he is the only one who can see them. Is this what his mother meant when she said he was special?  

He thinks of gods and their special abilities, of magicians and their tricks, of heroes with their talents and wonders what he is meant to do with a gift like this.  

------

 

Later, he’ll turn it over and over in his head. There must be some meaning to the red strings. While the universe (or other cosmic forces) works in mysterious ways, nothing happens without a reason. 

And Tine, he has a process when he doesn’t understand the what’s or the why’s or the how’s of things. He’ll separates its parts into digestible pieces- take one aspect of the problem one at a time.  

Strings are easy. His mother uses them to mend his clothes- bind that wayward-fallen button to his school shirt. In its simplest- it connects one thing to another.  

Red, red is difficult. Red has many meanings. It is the color of love (they teach him in school). The color of the heart and of blood, his brother teaches. The color of happiness, his mother insists. Which is it?  He wonders.  

And more importantly red and strings. Together? He has no clue.  

He decides he needs more data.  

------ 

 

At first, it did not occur to him that the strings tied two people together. He is in awe at the realization. Why hadn’t he thought of the possibility? If there is a thread, there must be two things that need connecting.  

Today there is a boy and a girl walking hand in hand in the park near their home. Their clasped hands are joined with red thread. The girl is looking at the boy’s face while he gestures with his other hand. From a far, even Tine can tell that they are both smiling. The other boy doesn’t look at where he is going- the two have eyes only for each other- and he trips. Tine laughs quietly to himself from the bench his brother left him on while the older went to buy ice cream.  

They look happy or maybe that’s just him remembering his mother’s insistence on wearing red to happy occasions. (It will bring you good fortune, she said). It seems like it has for the boy and girl at least. This is the first time he wonders if happiness came with the bright colored strings. (This will not be the last.) 

And as he looks on to the couple- holding hands and completely unaware of their captured audience of one- he also wonders if the strings are attached to the heart. If it comes from a hole somewhere in the body, an extension of a vein that leads directly to arguably the most important organ in the body. (His brother did say that red was also the color of the heart and of blood). Maybe this red, means all the things- heart, happiness, good fortune, love

One thing he knows for sure, the red strings are magic (what else could they be if they brought two people together? ) and he must, therefore, also be magic to be able to see and touch them.   

------

 

It does not take him long to get used to the red strings. It should, but he is young and – as he has been told countless times by numerous adults and P’Type - it is much easier to learn when you are young.  

He avoids walking into them, tries valiantly not to get tangled in between the threads- even when adults look at him strangely- and he resists the urge to tug most of the time.  

The other time, he forgets (but he learns and he doesn’t forget again- no good comes from tugging and unraveling a thread ).  

A week after he starts seeing the thread, he sees a woman with a yellow umbrella walking next to him on an intersection. The red string tied to her wrist flutters on in the wind- close enough to his face that he cannot resist the urge to touch it. He tugs on the string and pulls as hard as he can but the string doesn’t move her- only stretching in is hand. It is as solid to him as anything else in the physical world. 

As if, he could take any normal scissors and cut them if he so wished.  

Why doesn’t she seem to feel him tugging? Why doesn’t she move where the strings pull her?  

His brother, holding his other hand as they cross, looks at him weirdly and Tine doesn’t mind. This is not the first time he’s seen Tine interacting with something that no one else can see.

(Tine thinks of the imaginary friend he had when he was small. Thinks of the tall man with long hair and weird clothes who didn’t speak but smiled at him as if they shared a secret. Wonders, now, if like the red strings, the man was not so much imaginary as real- only invisible to everyone who wasn’t Tine.  

It does not matter now. Tine has long since stopped seeing him. He has probably moved on to another child in search of a friend.) 

At this moment, his brother’s worried looks do not worry him quite yet. His brother may be a firm believer in science and things that can only be proven. He may be the type of person not to believe in things he cannot see or touch or feel, but even he cannot deny that there are somethings in this world that cannot be explained. Tine and his red strings and his imaginary friend is just one of those things. Tine is magic and all magic is strange.  

His brother ought to understand. (only- he doesn’t) 

After, when he is home- lying in his bed underneath his glow-in-the-dark stars, just as his brother is checking to see if he has brushed his teeth and prepared for bed, he checks to confirm his hypothesis. He pulls at the loose end of the red string wrapped securely around his brother’s wrist and asks if his Phi can feel him tugging. His brother looks at his hands and the thread that Tine can see clear as day- unseeing and says nothing.  

He is tucked in tighter and wished sweet dreams and in the morning, when he wakes up earlier than usual to hear angry hushed whispers between his mother and brother, he’ll hear bits of conversation and words thrown around louder than necessary. Words like “Wrong ” and “needs help ” and as he curls in on himself on the stairs as they talk, it is the first time he worries about being special .  

------

 

His mother won’t tell him that he is crazy. Instead, she will tell him about the tale of the red string. He still doesn’t understand but she will tell him his Phi doesn’t either and that no one else would understand (this does not prove to be true six years later when he meets and befriends a boy named Fong). However, she will assure him that this is okay because she understands and she’ll love him always. It’ll be a while before he talks to anybody else about the red strings again.  

------

 

The tale goes like this: 

The two people connected by the red strings are destined to meet. Some are destined to be lovers. Others are destined to be part of each other’s lives- if only as friends or close partners. They will complete each other as they are two halves of a whole- separated at birth but bound to find each other regardless of distance, time or circumstances. (Soulmates, they call it)No one human can tell the why’s or the how’s or the rules of the game. Only that the universe uses the thread to pull one soul to another.  

------

 

Tine does not have red strings tied anywhere on his body. This does not worry him quite yet. Now, that he somewhat understands what the red strings are for, it no longer occupies his every thought.  

He does not think of soulmates or romance. He is special and maybe special means he is the only one in the world who was made with a soul that was already whole. Right now, his only worry is that his brother does not spend nearly enough time playing with him and he has not saved enough from his allowance to buy that new game everyone in school has been talking about.  

He does not think anything is wrong with him. He is too young to see girls and other boys as anything other than friends. And love, love is a vague concept. 

(He understands that his mother and brother love him- in that way family love each other. They tell him often enough and they hug and kiss him just as often and take care of him when he is sick. They hold him when he is sad and protect him from all of the dangerous stuff. His father may be an absent figure- always working and never home. But when he is, he pats Tine’s head and always has a smile just for him. He thinks love is comfort and safety and Sunday mornings when his little family are all together eating brunch and laughing. 

He doesn’t really understand the love that he sometimes sees on TV. Boys and girls kissing, hugging and holding hands. "It’s a different kind of love”  his mother explains. “Don’t you have someone you like, Tine? Someone you always want to be around? Love is more than like.”  She explains. “It’s always wanting to be around that one person but the hurt is more when you aren’t. It's wanting to be close- as close as physically possible- that all your points are touching.”  He doesn’t.  

His mom, dad and P’Type are the only people he can stand. His bright, fantastical, dreamer of a mother (who dances to music only she can hear), his somewhat distant but gentle father, his responsible and smart brother (who Tine knows is destined for great things) are his everything.) 

He thinks of the boy and girl in the park with their clasped hands joined with red thread. Was it love that he saw in their eyes when they looked only at each other and smiled? 

He thinks this other kind of love is not much different from the love he gets from his family. And they love him so much that he doesn’t want for anything. So he doesn’t really know what he’s missing- not being half of a whole.  

------

 

When Tine is a little older and finally understands what the red strings mean, when teenage hormones cloud his senses and he first feels the pull of attraction (to that one girl in class with the almond eyes and pretty smile), he will ask his mother, why if souls are created in pairs and everyone is destined for another, why he can’t see his strings at all. He will wonder out loud if there is something wrong with him- that destiny decided he didn’t need a pair to complete him. And she will smile at him in that way that mothers smile at their special children and tell him instead “There is nothing wrong with you, my love. One day, when you are ready, you’ll see it clear as day

------

 

His father leaves when he is ten. It comes as no surprise to his P’Type, who at fourteen already knew much more about the world than he should. It also comes as no surprise to Tine, who- while not understanding much about adult relationships at all- can see that his father and mother are not connected by the red strings. This does not stop either of them from crying for months.  

------

 

A year later, he asks his mother the questions that have been eating his insides since the night of his father’s departure.

“How do you know so much about the red strings? Can you see them too?" 

“Not anymore, my love" she doesn’t look at him as she says this- keeps on folding their laundry as if the question was normal. As if, other children, in other places, at other points in time has had this same conversation with their parents too.  

“How come?" 

“I don’t really know. One day, I just stopped seeing them" she says while mentioning him to come closer. 

“Did you know?" He stands next to her and watches her careful movements.   

“Know what?" She hands over one of P’Type’s shirts and he lays the shirt down on the table like his mother did a while ago. He smooths his hands over the creases and folds both sleeves in close over the torso. 

“That he wasn’t yours?" He folds the lower part of the shirt’s torso over the sleeves and the chest. When he is done, he contemplates his messy attempt at folding. It doesn’t look nearly as neat as his mother does it but she doesn’t comment and only takes it when he hands it over and places the shirt on top of the pile of his brother’s clothes. There are less now than there used to be- only 3 piles. 

“Yes" She pauses- looking away from their laundry and into his eyes and Tine thinks she looks different like this.  

A year- it has only been a year- but she has changed so much already. Gone is his carefree mother, who used to play, who used to run with Tine barefoot in their backyard- not minding the dirt and the mess that they made. Gone is the woman who used to dress up for story time and he misses her. He misses her so much. 

These days she feels heavy and distant. These days, when she comes home from work, all she does is pat Tine’s head in greeting and offer him a small strained smile. And he hates him  and he’s never hated anyone before.  

“Then why?"  Why choose him? Why love him? Why cry?  

“Because I wanted to believe it didn’t matter" 

Tine would also like to believe that the strings don't matter- that soulmates do not equate to love, forever or happiness. But the wound in their hearts- their father inflicted- still hurts like it did a year ago and the look in his mother’s eyes do not speak of wistful remembrance. He hopes that she forgets. Forgets the man that hurt her. Forgets the man that abandoned them and their little family. If he could, he would take away all that pain and do all the remembering for her. 

------

 

Tine does not often encounter people in his tiny town with strings connected to each other and yet some are perfectly happy with people who- fate has decided- does not belong to them. Whether his parents are the exception or the rule, he doesn’t know.  

------

 

He grows. He’s no longer the quiet, strange child that kept to himself and avoided getting tangled in invisible strings. He smiles freely and makes friends. He can stand to be around people now and doesn’t cling to his brother or his mother like a child scared of the world he doesn’t yet understand. He laughs and plays with other teens his age and most days he forgets.  

He grows into himself- already as tall as his brother. They all think he’ll grow taller and he flourishes.  

His first heartbreak happens when he is fourteen. Her name was (ironically enough) Love. Love, with her almond shaped eyes and pretty smile had gone out with him for only a week. She was his first crush.  

He had been attracted by her easy smiles and her kindness and after a year of pining from a far he had asked her out. She had said yes. After a week of hand holding and soft kisses and dates at charming little cafes paid for with allowance that he had saved, she disappears. Not all once but little by little, he starts seeing her less.  

At the end of the second week, where he is left to wonder if they were still together, he finds out she was seeing someone else.  

And, as much as it hurts to be so casually brushed to the side, he does not have it in him to hate her. After all, the first time he sees them at one of the cafes he and Love visited together, her hands clasped tightly around the other boy’s own, their wrists are wrapped in red.  

And he wonders, not for the first time, how do people do this?  How do they fall in love with people who aren’t theirs to keep?  

------

 

Fong is an anomaly. He is an exception to the rule that people would not understand Tine’s gift- that they would judge and that in their skepticism they would love Tine less.  

Fong doesn’t tell him that he is crazy for seeing the red strings. Instead, months after they first met, he hugs Tine tightly as Tine cries for another love lost to the whims of fate and the universe.  

Fong has no questions for him. Doesn’t asks the what’s or why’s or how’s of his ability. Doesn’t pick apart Tine’s explanations on things that only he can see. He accepts without question that Tine and his strings are just one of those things that cannot be explained. Tine is expecting the sharp burn of rejection- is expecting words like "wrong" and "needs help". It does not come and Tine is grateful.   

Not for the first time, Tine will wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier if his soul was tied to Fong. Wouldn't it be nice to have a soulmate who understood?  But, as he watches Fong’s pink strings tied to his left wrist flutter in the wind, he is reminded that Fong is also meant for someone else and Tine’s wrists are still unfortunately bare.  

It’ll be a while before Fong’s strings turn solid and bright red. The pink, faded thread- a sure sign that his intended has not been born yet. Tine does not tell him this. There are things that would hurt just as much as knowing that you do not have the red strings (that you’ve already lost your other half without having met them)- knowing that it may be decades before you meet is one of them.  

For now, he will endeavor to cherish the comfort and warmth of Fong’s easy acceptance and love for longer and be there for him while they both wait and wait and wait.  

------

 

Later it will work like this: 

Tine can see the strings but he actively avoids looking- there are dozens of points on the human body that he has learned to focus on over the years. Above the neck is safe, chests are okay (he is a healthy human boy even if he is magic), shoulders (he later on realizes can be pretty), backs and thighs are all a yes. Hands are a no (everything below the elbow are to be avoided ). 

It is a mystery why it is the hands that are bound together. Do not ask him. He does not speak on behalf of fate or the universe.  

He dates. He does not let the absence of his red string stop him from trying. He falls. He hopes that any of the girls that he dates- with their red strings bright red and fluttering in the wind- will one day connect to him. He is disappointed when it doesn’t. He waits. 

Everyone has red strings. Those that do not, are few and far between- most are older, having led full lives with significant others who may or may not have been theirs. Until, until Sarawat. 

------ 

 

University is a mess of hormones. His friends are not immune to this.  

Fong, now with his bright red string (his intended- born a year after he met Tine- is a neighbor’s kid now aged four), well- meaning and frank Ohm (whose red string led to his twin brother) and funny, adventurous with food Phuak (whose red string led to a childhood friend he used to bully a little and has no romantic interest in at the moment), complete Tine’s merry band of misfits.  

They chase girls around campus. They date and get heartbroken. They drink their sorrows away and start again. 

Tine is amazed at their resilience. Tine’s wrists are still bare and he no longer has the heart to try.  

By the time they enter university for their first year he has had six ex-lovers, all of which had found their matches in another after dating him. He wonders if this is part of his ability. If by virtue of proximity to him, the universe brings their other halves closer, sooner by just a tiny bit. The idea makes him just a tiny bit more hopeful but it doesn’t change anything- he is waiting. 

------

 

Tine is waiting on Green to get them drinks while he is standing near the stage for the live concert. He busies himself half thinking of his assignments for class (he didn’t think there would be so many already so soon into starting the year) and half looking around the massive crowd gathered. He wonders why so many people have decided to stay for the concert. The bands that have played for the first hour are nothing special. None have even played any Scrubb songs- most choosing to butcher pop songs. But the crowd seems happy enough, enjoying their one night of freedom. He suspects that after this night they will all be overwhelmed with classes and working towards preparation for adulthood. He shudders to think of the next four years of his life passing by monotonously with responsibility only growing with time.   

“Tine!!! I got you blue hawaii." Green shouts while handing him his drink (and pulling him away from his slowly darkening thoughts). Tine offers a small smile in return along with thanks.  

“Do you know who’s playing tonight? I heard Sarawat from the political science department is subbing for a band"  

“Who?" Tine does not know many people from other colleges- opting to stick to his group of friends.  

He has known his friends for years now. They know him too (even if Fong is the only one privy to his secret). They are familiar and safe.  

But Green, Green is another exception. He is bubbly and infectious and his attempts at wooing Tine is entertaining. Tine is not being mean (like his friends assume) and he is not leading Green on. Both of them are fully aware of what this is.   

“Sarawat from polsci" Green answers, as if just the single name should jog something in Tine’s memory. It doesn’t.  

“Who? I don’t know anyone named Sarawat. Is he a celebrity?" Tine thinks of similarly singular named celebrities- Madonna, Adelle.  

“Ai’Tine, Sarawat is the most popular boy on campus. You could say he’s a celebrity. He’s got a fan club.” 

Tine laughs at the idea- a random boy with a fan club. Who is this boy? Mario Maurer? 

“No, but he is a guitarist and a football player. Not to mention he’s gorgeous. Tall, pale skin, light hair and western features? The girls go gaga over him." Green explains.  

“I have no idea how you can be so unaware sometimes. It’s a good thing you’re cute" Green continues and Tine would be offended and snark back if it wasn’t for the new band entering the stage and the sudden swelling of screaming from the crowd.  

The first time he sees him  Tine could swear his heart stopped.  

His refusal to introduce himself should turn Tine off but he doesn’t really take in the words. He doesn’t notice much except that the sub guitarist on stage (who refuses to introduce himself) has bare wrists.  

Bare and untethered, just like Tine.  

------

 

Tine cannot stop thinking about the guitarist for weeks after. He doesn’t much remember his face. (Even though, he knows, logically, he should. Especially, with how mind numbingly shifted his world feels now that it appears, he’s not alone). He doesn’t quite remember how freshy night ended. (At some point, he thinks Green had enthusiastically clung to him arm as love song after love song was played). He doesn’t even remember the name of the band but he remembers the feeling- hearing them play melodies he’s known since childhood.  

He feels lighter than he’s felt for a very long time. Hearing those songs played with hands that are remarkably bare reminds him of home and being wrapped in his mother’s love and not having to worry about the red strings quite yet. 

His friends have fun teasing him. They tell him the guitarist’s name is Sarawat Guntithanon. He is everything Green had described. Talented guitarist and football player, check. Insanely gorgeous, check.  Probably out of his league, also check .   

Asshole friends that they are though, they are also surprisingly helpful and supportive. After much ribbing for falling in love at first sight (did he though? Fall in love at first sight?   He doesn’t think so), they suggest he join the music club.  

------

 

He does not think joining the music club to stalk a boy is a good idea. He isn’t in love yet but he is curious. Is this a sign from the gods? Did they hear his prayers for another half? Who is this boy with the bare wrists? Could he be mine?  

No matter how much his friends argue:  “You haven’t been interested in another person in a while, Tine" “A little romance might do you some good" “You’re all work and no play now, Tine" “This will be good for you, we promise” “Just join and get to know him a little”.  Still, he does not think joining a club to learn more about the other boy is a good idea. “I’m not going to join the music club, guys.” "Joining a club to flirt is weird.”" I am not a stalker, shut up” .  

The choice is taken out of his hands when Green convinces him to join the club together. Green may or may not be in love with someone in the music club and Tine has never quite learnt how to say no.  

------

 

Their agreement starts like this: 

Green confessed to him the first week of university. He had chased Tine around campus and Tine had been straight with him and said he wasn’t interested. Green had been relentless. Tine had gotten suspicious with Green’s pushy advances and made the other boy confess his true motivation. It wasn’t easy but Tine has been told he could be compelling when he tries (It was why his brother had suggested he take up law). Green had broken and admitted that he was in love with another man. But, as is all things love related, it is complicated.  

Tine had agreed to help. When Green isn’t being over the top and pushy, he is funny and kind. And Tine enjoys the care and attention after so long being the only one giving in his relationships. He is also not above playing matchmaker (no matter how much his mother and later Fong warns him against this).  

It also does not matter in the grand scheme of things, he thinks. Green has a red string wrapped around his wrist, a man he is in love with who may or may not be his soulmate and Tine does not.  

------

 

Tine joins the club and on the form for new applicants he ticks the box for instrument he is interested in next to guitar.  

He hates the guitar. He’s learned a few instruments in his life because of school. Music class was a requirement. They said learning an instrument would make them well-rounded individuals. He did not entirely agree but music had been a balm to his soul for as long as he could remember. When he came home to tell his mother that they were learning to play instruments in class, she had been ecstatic.  

And so, he learned to play the recorder and later guitar. The strings were tough and hurt his fingers and reminded him of how red strings also hummed softly in the wind- produced sound a lot like music.  

But it is piano that made an impression and stayed. He learned to play Bach and Tsaikovsky and- of course- Scrubb in their tiny music room at school.  

He’s loved playing the piano for years. But today he chooses guitar, because guitar is what he  plays. 

------

 

Plan get-to-know-your-potential-soulmate is not going well (blame the name on Fong- who had gleefully decided on it after Tine had confessed to him under duress, the reason for his immediate fascination with Sarawat). Tine looks around the area assigned for the club and sees so many girls and a handful of boys (he suspects) obviously there to get a glimpse of Sarawat. They are not in the least bit subtle with their hopeful looking around and waiting for the boy to grace them with his presence. Tine hopes fervently that he is better able to hide the same look in his eyes but who is he kidding? He’s been waiting half an hour for Sarawat to show himself and he is just as impatient.  

The number of students that joined the club for the same reason Tine did makes him anxious. He has liked people who were popular before.

(Charming girls with pretty faces who walked into a room and commanded the attention of everyone in sight. That one handsome senior in high school with the confident air about him who girls giggled at whenever he would pass by. Tine has never had much luck with them. While Tine has always known he was special, he was not the kind of special that people would fawn and fall all over themselves for. He has learnt to be okay with this and would rather just one person look at him like he was their world).

He knows how difficult it is to like someone with so many choices. 

Green is sitting close to him on the floor. No longer listening to P’Air welcome the newbies to the club.

“Ai’Tine, who are you looking for?" He asks. 

“No one” Tine answers. He feels his face heat and hope he isn’t blushing from being caught.

Just as Green is about to ask him something else he hears that definitive screaming that could only come from a gaggle of girls and boys seeing their crush.  

Sarawat walks in head held high, no rush but with apologies in his eyes. He walks over to the club president P’Dim who is standing next to P’Air and explains calmly that his last class ran overtime. P’Dim brushes the apologies off and waves his hand to indicate an empty chair at the side.  

P’Air continuous on once Sarawat has taken a seat.

“Okay. Now that one of our most prominent new members has arrived, I’d like to officially welcome everyone to music club." Cheers erupt as she says this and P’Air smiles.  

“This year we have a lot more members than we had before. Because of this, P’Dim has decided to have all of the new joiners audition for membership for the first time." This announcement is met with groans all around.  

“No need to worry. While some of you have never played an instrument before, we are still taking on new players. You’ll be assigned to a mentor to help you practice your pieces for the audition and we will be basing membership for the new players not on skill but on promise".  

And there goes Tine’s plan to get to know Sarawat by having the other boy teach him guitar. He hasn’t touched the instrument in years. He absolutely hates playing it himself and, even if fate were kind enough to pair him up with the mysterious Sarawat, Tine cannot risk not getting in and losing his chance all together.  

Once the announcement has been made and the older members have all introduced themselves. Tine approaches P’Air. 

“Hi Phi, my name is Tine. I’m from the law department" he introduces himself shyly. He can see from the corner of his eyes Sarawat and P’Dim pausing their conversation to eavesdrop. It makes him even more shy but the smile on P’Air’s face is encouraging.  

“How can I help you, Ng’Tine?” 

“Um.. I was hoping I could change my instrument. I wrote down guitar on my club application form. I'd like to change it to piano." 

“Oh sure. We have a piano in storage. We can have facilities bring it up." He nods and smiles in thanks. 

“Ng’Tine, is it?" P’Dim addresses him. Tine has a few seconds of panic not expecting the senior to talk to him.  

“Yes?” He looks to P’Dim in response and can’t help but also look at Sarawat, sitting next to the senior.  

He is wearing a tan jacket and, in this heat (and on anyone else), it would look ridiculous but Sarawat is even more stupid good-looking up close and he wears the jacket well. Sarawat is scowling and looking away from him and Tine wonders if that is his resting face.  

“We haven’t had a pianist in a while. You any good?”  

“Oh, uh..." Tine contemplates what to answer. Playing piano is like breathing. He hasn’t played since moving to the city for university but once upon a time it had been easy.  

“I’m a little rusty, Phi." Before he can explain further, he feels someone grabbing his arm from behind and a body pressing close around it immediately after.  

“Tine! Are you finished? I want to go to a café today." The owner of the body clinging to his arm says. Green is looking up at him strangely and batting his eyes as he looks to him for a response. Tine thinks the boy is laying it on thick but understanding dawns when he looks away from Green to look back at P’Dim and sees him scowling. He looks down to P’Dim’s wrists and oh, how interesting.   

Tine turns back to Green, smiles his most charming smile and answers “Yes".  

He says his goodbye to the seniors and lets Green drag him merrily to the café.  

He didn’t get a chance to exchange even a few words with Sarawat today but he wholly believes this is the start of something for the two of them. He’ll get his chance later. 

He doesn’t see the look of disbelief and curiosity on Sarawat’s face as he watches him leave with Green.  

------

 

Tine had intended to practice piano before his audition to the music club. But planning is not his strong suite (according to his brother, his friends- the traitors- and his mom) and in between, studying law (so much studying because he is a good student, “shut up, traitors"), physically going to classes (he intends to graduate with a perfect record, thank you very much), occasional hanging out with his friends while they stalk Sarawat together some more (“Tine, chill, we got time. You can worry about homework later” "Look, he has a fan page, Tine, with pictures”) going out with Green (“For appearances, Tine"  never mind that he enjoys the company of someone who hasn’t know him for years and doesn’t tease him about Sarawat and Green likes to feed him and always treats him to the best things), he lost track of time and didn’t get any practice in until the week before the audition.

Which brings him to now- mid panic attack, rushing to the music club space at six in the evening. He feels a little creeped out by the atmosphere of the campus at night. (Tine has been able to see the red strings of fate since he was nine years old. He is magic and he does not put it past the universe to contain things like ghosts and other supernatural beings.) Still, he needs to start practicing now or else he won’t be ready and he won’t get into the club and he won’t get to know Sarawat. 

He is not expecting to hear music from the tiny room hidden behind the main area, where they conduct their music club business, and he is not expecting to find Sarawat, himself, inside and playing a cover of Scrubb’s Smile.  

Sarawat eyes are closed while he sings and in Tine’s mind (where Fong can’t hear him and mockingly call him a poet) he thinks the boy looks and sounds like an angel. He spends precious minutes just standing, holding the door, and willing Sarawat not to open his eyes until he finishes the song. When the song is over, the other boy opens his eyes, sees Tine standing at the doorway and startles. Startles so bad- he falls from his chair and takes his guitar with him.  

“Ow, the fuck? You’ll give me a heart attack, nuisance." Tine giggles as he rushes in to help Sarawat. (Later, when he turns this interaction back in his mind over and over while sleep eludes him, he will not know how to feel about his new nickname). When Sarawat just looks at him in annoyance after he helps the other boy up, Tine feels a tiny bit guilty for startling the boy bad enough to fall and laughing at him.  

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you." He says while scratching his nose (nervous habit). The whole time Sarawat was singing, Tine was staring at that beautiful face- serene expression making something bloom in Tine’s stomach. But he can’t bear to look him in the eyes as he says his apologies, instead he finds himself staring at Sarawat’s hands.  

“What are you doing here, Tine?" He looks up at the mention of his name. He hasn’t had a chance to introduce himself properly to the other boy yet and takes a moment to ponder how Sarawat could possibly remember his name.  

“Piano. I was going to practice a little before the audition. But I saw the lights on in here and thought to check if there was a thief trying to steal instruments." Tine tries for a joke. Sarawat still looks a little annoyed but Tine doesn’t miss the slight twitching at the corner of his lips.  

“Oh. Well I’m sure you know where it is." Sarawat dismisses and Tine feels a tiny pang of disappointment at the casual nudge to leave the other boy be.  

“Yeah, I should..." Tine turns and starts to leave but, before he loses his nerves, adds “Your voice is lovely by the way. Scrubb suits you." 

He still has his back turned to Sarawat when he says this. So, he misses the shift in Sarawat’s expression and the tension around them thawing just a little bit.  

“You know Scrubb?"  

Tine turns back to Sarawat to look him in the eyes as he says “Yeah, they’re my favorite band."  

“You are not what I expected." Sarawat says softly. Tine doesn’t know if he was meant to hear this but decides not to prod.  

He turns back around, out the door and into the main area where the piano is situated. He pulls out some sheet music and settles his bag on the floor. Before he starts playing even the first note, Sarawat is striding out of the tiny room with his guitar packed in its case and his school bag slung on his left shoulder.  

“It’s unfair that you heard me play without my permission." Tine does not know what to answer to this so he offers “I can play something for you, if you like."  

And Sarawat smiles back at him like he isn’t used to it.  

Tine goes through his standard warm up. His fingers are a little stiff and slow but he pushes through it anyway. He catches Sarawat looking at him confusedly from the side where he dragged a chair to sit. He can tell the other boy is trying to figure out what song he is playing but he doesn’t interrupt Tine to ask.  

The piano is well maintained even if it hasn’t been used in a while and Tine is grateful as it allows him to show off a little. When he is done with his warm up, he follows with Clair de Lune. The song is soft and sweet and he blushes while he plays. 

He doesn’t often share his music with others. It is too personal. He doesn’t fully understand why he is compelled to play this for Sarawat. It is not a happy, bubbly song but he hopes- even if it isn’t a love song, even if none of the songs he plays are ever love songs- that the person who hears it feels that they are.  

He plays for an hour. Sarawat stays for the whole time.  

------

 

Tuesday morning finds him recounting the events of last night to his friends in perfect detail. He tells them how Sarawat looked while he was playing Scrubb. (“We don’t need to know how he looked like an angel, Tine", “Shush, leave him be- go on." ) He tells them Sarawat stayed the entire time he was playing the piano. They congratulate him on his progress.  

By evening, he is back again in the music club at much the same time as the night before. He is surprised to find Sarawat already there. Sarawat does not play inside the tiny room- instead he is sitting with his guitar on his lap, strumming its strings and singing a soft melody with no words next to the piano. Tine offers him a small smile but otherwise doesn’t speak or interrupt Sarawat’s singing. He makes his way straight to the piano, perches carefully on the bench and takes out his sheet music.  

It is comfortable. When Sarawat finishes his song, he looks at Tine expectant. Tine does not need to be told. He starts playing familiar melodies. They don’t talk. Sarawat stays the entire time. 

At the end of his practice, Sarawat walks with him till they are outside the building. They will have to part ways. Tine knows. But he wishes this moment could stretch just a little while longer. 

When it is time, Sarawat says “See you tomorrow."