Mew adjusts his sunglasses one more time. "Are you sure about this, Tua-aeng?"
Gulf laughs and nudges his senior with his elbow. "Aow, come on na, Phi." He gestures at all the open space around them. "It's mid-week. The only people at the zoo today are school kids on field trips."
Mew jerks his head at a young man and woman behind him. "What about those two?"
"Relax na, Phi. Look at us." He motions up and down at their face masks, sunglasses, off-brand tee shirts, and jeans. "There isn't a single designer label on you. There's no way you can be mistaken for Khun Chai Suppasit." He giggles and pats his arm.
"You're so cruel to your Phi."
"You like it."
They walk past a group of children in elementary school uniforms. Several of them wave, and Gulf holds his hands up to his head like antlers and wiggles his fingers. They laugh and point at him, shouting, "Sambar!" Deer.
Mew leans in close, his warm smile concealed behind his face mask. "You really like kids, don't you?"
He nods, waving goodbye to them. "They're cute. Kids are fun."
Mew feels the bloom in his chest expand, its petals basking in Gulf's glow. As closed off as his boyfriend can be, he's always so approachable with children. It's one of his favorite qualities about him.
"Come on," Gulf tugs on his sleeve.
Mew stands on the raised platform and stares at the enormous nose in front of him. "Uh… Tua-aeng…"
Gulf laughs and holds his hand steady. "It's okay na, Phi. They're gentle." He brings him closer to the giraffe's head to feed her the stalk of romaine lettuce. She reaches out with her long tongue and nibbles at the leaves, pulling the rest of it into her mouth.
Mew giggles as her tongue brushes against his hand. He looks at Gulf to see his eyes tiny with mirth, his shoulders shaking with laughter. "Have you done this before?"
"My pho used to take us when we were kids." He hands him another stalk of lettuce. "I always wanted to take someone special here one day."
Gulf can't take his eyes off his boyfriend as they sit in the air conditioned bus. He knows from experience to pick the seats on the right for the best view of the animals as they tour the expansive grassland. Mew's eyes light up as they approach the fuzzy moon bears.
"Look, it's your cousins," Gulf teases. He doesn't need to see behind his mask to know Mew's giving him his I'm so done face.
"Ah, nalak!" Mew scoots closer to the window as a moon bear walks up to the bus. He waves at it and the bear waves back. Despite the air-conditioning, a rush of warmth runs through Gulf's body at the sight of his delighted boyfriend.
They drive up to a pack of tigerss next, who are climbing and clawing at a caged-in truck while the animal handler inside feeds them meat through the bars.
Gulf points at the tiger swatting at the handler. "I like Safari World the best," he tells him, "because it's the humans inside the cages and the animals who roam free."
Mew chuckles and leans his head against his shoulder. "You do love cats, don't you?"
They sit at the front of the Jungle River Cruise boat while a few elementary school students sit behind them.
"Sambar! Sambar!" The kids chant until Gulf turns around and wiggles his antlers at them again.
The ride consists of animatronic animals that Mew and Gulf imitate for the kids. They clap their hands and shout excitedly about the animal facts they know.
"Did you know that hippos come up to the surface every five minutes to breathe?"
"The king vulture doesn't have eyelashes!"
"Gulf…" Mew grabs at his arm. "Gulf, Gulf, are they going to jump out at me?" He points at the animatronic alligators right next to him in the water. If there's anything he hates more than lizards, it's giant, razor-toothed lizards.
"No, those don't move." Gulf pats his arm.
"Are you sure?" He scoots closer to him, causing the kids to laugh hardee. He flinches as bubbles come out of their mouths. "Ah, are you absolutely sure?"
Gulf is laughing too hard to answer him. His only support is to wrap an arm around his shoulder. The children are teasing him now, even as their boat sails past them.
It takes a few minutes in the gift shop for Mew to calm down. Gulf buys him a cold bottle of water and an ice cream bar in the shape of a monkey's face. It does the trick, and he's singing softly by the time they head to the next attraction.
"See? I told you they wouldn't jump out at you."
"Yeah, yeah." Mew feels something tug on the back of his shirt and he looks down to see a little girl. "Oh!" He pats Gulf on the shoulder for him to turn around.
The little girl makes Wai at them. "Excuse me, na kha. Can you help me find my class?"
Mew and Gulf look at each other. She's one of the kids who sat behind them on the ride. Mew crouches down to her eye level. "What happened?"
"We were all holding hands so we wouldn't get lost, but I let go to tie my shoe. I got left behind." Her tiny eyes are narrowed with worry.
He looks around, but he doesn't see a single school group in sight. "What school do you go to?"
Mew nods and looks at Gulf. "Can you find a zoo employee? Tell them we found a lost child."
Gulf returns with one of the security staff. She kneels down and offers her hand to the little girl. "Hey, sweetie, let's take you to the lost area so your teacher can pick you up."
The little girl shakes her head and hides behind Mew. "I'm not supposed to go with strangers."
The staff member looks at him. "Do you know this child?"
Mew shakes his head. "No, khrab. We were just sitting in front of her school group on the Jungle Cruise."
"But I know you!" Shouts the little girl. "You're Mew Suppasit! Aren't you?"
Gulf stifles a laugh. "How did you know?"
"I heard him singing." She tugs on Mew's sleeve again. "It's you, right?"
For once, Mew is glad to be wearing a mask. It hides the shocked look on his face. He nods at the little girl. "Shai. That's me." He looks at the security staff. "We can walk with you if that helps."
She nods and looks at the girl. "What's your name?"
The girl taps Mew on the shoulder and leans in to whisper in his ear. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers," she tells him.
"Can you tell me, and I'll tell her?"
She nods and whispers, "Light."
Mew turns to the security staff. "N'Light."
They follow her through the park toward the lost area. Light reaches for Mew and Gulf's hands. "You have to hold my hand so I don't get lost again!" They look at each other and shrug.
There's a play area for the kids while they wait to get picked up. Mew leads her to a table with legos.
Light looks at both of them. "Will you stay with me na until my teacher comes?"
Mew doesn't have to look at Gulf to know the answer. "Of course. Do you want to build something with the legos?"
She nods and sits at the little table. "P'Sambar kha, are you P'Mew's faen?"
Gulf freezes, staring at the little girl's inquisitive eyes. "Uh…"
She slaps her forehead. "Of course na kha! You're P'Gulf!" She shakes her head. "I'm silly today."
Mew giggles behind his hand, but Gulf is still frozen. "How do you know who I am?" He hopes she hasn't seen TharnType.
"From Boyfriends!" She starts singing the chorus to Missing Baby.
He breathes a sigh of relief. "Will you do us a favor, Nong?"
"Can you keep our identities a secret when your teacher gets here? We don't want to attract too much attention."
She mimes zipping her lips and gives the OK sign.
Gulf pats her on the head. "Thanks na. You can tell her our names are… what names should we have?"
"Hmm…" she presses a finger to her chin. "You can be P'Good. And P'Mew can be P'Row."
Light's class arrives in a flurry of chaos. The other kids rush to her and chat excitedly.
"Dart said you got eaten by a gorilla!"
"Ploy said you ran off to visit the flamingos."
"I said maybe."
Light's teacher holds out his hand to Mew. "Thank you na khrab," he says, shaking it. "We were so worried. The teaching assistant is usually at the back of the line, but she went ahead to buy waters for the children. Can we buy you boys lunch?"
Mew glances at his boyfriend, but Gulf shakes his head. "Thank you na khrab, but we must get going. We're very glad that N'Light made her way back to her class."
"Are you sure?"
Mew hesitates, but Gulf nods and makes Wai. "Yes, thank you." He turns to the kids and waves. "Be safe na! Take care."
N'Light runs up to Mew and wraps her arms around his waist. "Thank you na kha, P'Row."
"You're welcome," he says, patting her head. "Be good na, okay?"
They give parting wai and goodbye waves to the kids and make their way to the other exhibits. "Are you sure you didn't want to have lunch with them?" Mew asks.
Gulf laughs and shakes his head. "I like kids, but I don't have the energy to put up with a whole class."
Mew chuckles and grabs him loosely around the waist. "So, you don't want a whole house full of kids?" He means it as a joke, but the faraway look in Gulf's eyes tells him that's not how he took it.
"That's terrifying, Phi." He shakes his head again. "I think you and I can only handle one or two."
Mew is speechless for a moment. He stares at Gulf in the middle of the zoo, surrounded by school groups and farang tourists, wondering if Gulf has actually thought about having a family together one day.
He looks at Mew and his eyes shrink as he smiles behind his mask. "Alai na?"
"Are you saying you've thought of…?"
Gulf's laugh is soft as he leans in toward him. Not too close to draw attention, but close enough to see the sincerity in his Bambi eyes. "Of course I have, Thilak. Don't be silly." He grabs his wrist and jerks his head toward the next area. "Come on na, let's see the elephants."
Gulf reads the sign in front of the enclosure. "It says that elephants spend about ¾ of their day eating."
"You just had an ice cream."
"What's your point?"
Gulf pulls out his phone and stands next to him for a selfie. He gets a perfect shot with an elephant in the background.
"That reminds me," says Mew. "I glued the elephant back together."
"The one that you made for me."
"Oh." He blushes from behind his mask. He remembers rolling the clay in his hands that day, anticipating the look on Mew's face when he gave it to him. The actual result was far more amusing than his imagination.
"I heard elephants don't mate for life," Mew says, sticking his hands in his pockets.
Gulf shakes his head. "Phi is so romantic."
"Let me finish na." They start walking to the next enclosure. "In general, they don't mate for life. They're like people in that way. But every now and then a pair will continue to mate with each other."
"Why do you know so much about elephant sex?"
"Aow." Mew's eyes are dull and unamused. "Why do you have to ruin the mood like that?"
"Because Phi is cute whenever I tease him."
Gulf pulls him over to a food vendor. "Come on, I'll buy you another ice cream, Khun Elephant."
They stop at another gift shop on the way out. Mew buys them each a rope bracelet with an elephant charm. "For posterity," he says, tying it around Gulf's wrist.
They're sluggish as they make the long trek back to the car. "See?" Says Gulf, admiring his elephant. "Wasn't this more fun than playing football?"
Mew rolls his eyes. "Shai, shai. Thank you for bringing me." He pokes Gulf on his side. "But I still want you to teach me how to play football."
"What, just like that?"
Gulf shrugs. "If you'll actually come. But we can play football whenever. The zoo is… special. To me, anyway."
Mew glances around to make sure nobody is around them. He reaches for Gulf's hand and squeezes. "It's special to me, too."
They remove their masks with sighs of relief once they get into the car. Mew pours hand sanitizer for both of them, and as soon as his hands are dry, he reaches out for Gulf's cheek. "You have no idea how much I missed your lips today, Tua-aeng."
"They're all yours in 45 minutes when we get home."
Gulf purses his lips and smirks. "Unless…"
"Unless?" Mew leans forward.
"Think you can be quick?"
Mew responds by pressing their lips together. He all but moans at the contact, having been without it all day long. The answer is no, he can't be quick, not when Gulf's lips are so soft. But he knows it's not safe for such things and he breaks away reluctantly. "God, I hope there's not a lot of traffic."