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gotta watch you walk in the room baby, gotta watch you walk out

Chapter Text

Tin spent just two days in Bangkok before he flew to London. Once there he took a car to Bristol and without even checking into his hotel, went straight to the address Keen had supplied him and rang the doorbell.

The person who answered the door hadn’t changed a bit. Still ridiculously handsome with the same sad eyes, now reflecting shock at Tin’s unexpected appearance.

Tin?”

“Hello, Hin. How have you been?”

-o-

“Darling, Ola tells me that you broke things off with Ace after just two dates.” Rasaa took a dainty sip from the glass of wine in front of her and pinned Tin with her accusing glare. “Really, Tin. He’s perfect for you. Handsome, famous, rich.”

“And boring,” Tin added, wishing himself anywhere but having lunch with his mother. She was in Bangkok on one of her regular week-long shopping trips and he’d been summoned. He knew he was free to say no, but life was just easier if he allowed her to think she had some importance to him. “Frankly I’m amazed I managed two dates. Nice guy? Yes. Boyfriend? Never. I prefer someone a little more feisty.” Why he’d even agreed to one date he didn’t know. Ace had taken him by surprise by messaging him just as he’d switched his phone on when he’d landed back from England.

He’d just wanted to forget.

Rasaa’s eyes narrowed. “Feisty is a euphemism for ‘common’, no? You’d prefer one of those colourful young men you invited to my birthday party…perhaps the one you left with, hmm?”

Tin grimaced at the observation, too surprised to maintain neutrality.

“Boys like that are the type you can have some discretionary fun with, nothing more.” She gave a tinkling laugh as she appeared to reminisce. “We’ve all been there. They’re never keepers.”

“I really don’t think you get a say in who I ‘keep’ or not, Mother. If I wanted to…elope with someone ‘colourful’ then that’s my business.” If only the woman knew that he’d been turned down by someone she would consider far too common for her only son.

“Elope! That kind of behaviour is something your good for nothing brother partakes in—”

“So, did you go and see Tul in the end?” Tin interrupted, keen not to get into any further discussion about his love life.

She frowned but took the hint, shaking her head, “That boy has brought nothing but shame to the family name. After this I’m washing my hands of him for good.”

“He’s being discharged on Friday. I’ve made arrangements for him to stay at the house.”

The look on his mother’s face was priceless. “Whatever for? I thought you’d long since disassociated yourself from him.”

Tin gave a slight shrug, “He’s still my brother.”

-o-

Someone somewhere liked them, Can decided. Fate hadn’t completely pulled the rug out from beneath Techno and Type after all, and by association, Can’s business was good to go as well. He didn’t fully understand Type’s explanation of how they’d recovered the money considering Tul Medthanan had been in hospital at the time, but he supposed he didn’t need to know the details if everything was mostly back on track. The only fall out from what had happened was that the launch was put back two weeks due to having to re-order the gym equipment.

‘Plant and Page’ was opening it’s doors today. He’d resisted suggestions that he call the café ‘Cantaloupe’s’ or similar. Too personal. Plant, because all the food was plant based, and Page because he had decided to incorporate second-hand books that customers could read and buy if they wanted.

Ley was recuperating from the accident with Ma and Pa in Chiangmai. The whole sorry story had come out the moment she’d laid eyes on Can when he’d arrived to collect her from hospital. Tul had approached her saying he’d heard about the inheritance from Can – which was total bullshit, Can had never said a word to him during their brief ‘friendship’ – and had offered to marry her for a cut of the money, promising his silence and an annulment once the money had been paid out. Ley had agreed, telling him she and a couple of friends she’d met on her university course had talked of taking a year out and travelling to Europe when Tul had made the offer she’d seen a way to make it happen. “I didn’t plan on anyone ever finding out!” she’d whined, facepalming her uninjured hand. The crash had happened on the way to the ceremony.

Tul, Can knew, was still in the hospital but would make a full recovery, albeit with some physical scars to remind him of his failed ‘wedding’ day. Can had not been to visit him to give him a piece of his mind. The way he felt about the guy now made all his former misgivings make perfect sense, and he was certain that if he did see him, he’d put the guy back into a coma.

How was someone like that even related to someone as amazing as Tin?

Tin. Can had heard nothing from him since the moment he’d rounded that corner and Tin’s SUV had vanished from his sight.

“What’s with the gloomy expression?” Bow appeared in his line of sight, pulling him into a full-on hug. “This is your big day! This is finally a reality. I’m so proud of you! I’ve gotta say that the place looks amazing.”

“It really does, Can,” said a familiar voice as a presence appeared at his left shoulder. “Congratulations!”

Can couldn’t help the smile then as he turned and saw the smiling face of his good friend. “Ae!” They greeted one another with a one-armed bro hug. The pulled apart and Can said, “Thanks so much for coming along.”

They made small-talk for a while, easy and familiar as they all still lived in the same apartment, for the next few weeks at least.

Bow tapped Ae’s arm and sweetly said, “Would you get me a drink, I’m so thirsty.”

Ae rolled his eyes, grinned and immediately set off towards the café counter where free launch day drinks were being served by one of Can’s new employees, Prem. Lizzy was busy nearby fussing over some food samples she was piling onto a plate held by a besotted looking Eoin.

Bow closed orange tipped fingers around Can’s arm. “Quick, while he’s gone, Can.” Bow glanced over his shoulder to check no one else was around and said, “I bumped into Tin yesterday.”

Can’s heart started hammering a heavy metal beat. “How— How did he look?”

Bow and Good were still the only people who knew about Tin. He could hardly talk to Ae about it, and Good would listen but he’d needed someone who would give him a cuddle and tell him everything would work out, even if they both knew that was a lie, so he’d confided in his ex-girlfriend what happened on their weekend away.

“He looked bloody gorgeous, as if that guy would ever look otherwise! Anyway, he asked after you, and I said you were doing well, told him about the launch today, said he should come.” She paused and chewed her lip. “He said he couldn’t make it and asked me to wish you well.”

Can swallowed. “That’s good to hear.” Couldn’t come? More like he didn’t want to come. Didn’t want to see Can.

“That’s not all. We only chatted for like, two minutes, and as I was leaving, he grabbed my arm and asked me not to tell you I’d seen him after all.” She shook her head, clearly still baffled.

Can forced a smile. He felt sick knowing that Tin was out there somewhere, living his life, not caring about him. Not wanting to see him like Can craved him. Not loving him anymore. He’d been doing okay these last couple of weeks, keeping busy, sometimes managing as long as half-an-hour without thinking about Tin and remembering anew that he’d screwed things up, missed his chance.

He strongly suspected that how he was feeling was written all over his face because Bow made a little squeak and pulled him onto a hug. Can buried his face in her neck and squeezed his eyes closed. He would not cry. He would not. Today was supposed to be a happy day. All his friends were going to attend throughout the day. Techno and Type were giving tours of the gym and sending guests through to the café. The place was buzzing, and here he was fighting off tears in his ex-girlfriend’s arms.

He pulled away just as Ae reappeared with a tall glass of mango juice for Bow. He raised an eyebrow at Can and handed Bow the drink. Can beamed back at him and after a couple more minutes of small talk, got waylaid by Money for a short while before he went to mingle with the other guests. He couldn’t believe the day was finally here. His own business! It would take a lot of hard work. He’d already become something of an expert on social media promotion, which was a huge job just by itself.

Still, even though things were going well professionally, he felt hollow inside. He needed Tin. He’d spent five long empty months without him and the moment he’d seen him again his axis had tilted. He’d thought — hoped — when they’d reconnected that night that he’d got his second chance, but Tin had obviously thought otherwise.

Work was the perfect distraction from how his mind would immediately turn to thoughts of Tin when he had nothing else to think about. He thought about reaching out to him, confessing how he really felt, but uncharacteristically for him, he was scared. Nothing or no one had ever mattered as much to him as Tin did. He was in love, and he didn’t foresee a time when he wouldn’t love that proud, stubborn, man with all his soul. Knowing Tin no longer felt the same made him want to hide away in a dark space and curl into a ball.

Tin had asked Bow not to tell him she’d seen him. Why?

“Can!” Lizzy was calling him from behind the counter. “Have you seen that tray of brownies?”

Can pasted on his signature smile and went to help her out. When the brownies were located and laid out ready to serve, Eoin appeared and said, “Can, there’s a guy just arrived asking for you.”

Heart in his throat, Can followed the direction Eoin was nodding in, allowing himself a brief flash of hope that was immediately quashed when he saw Job hovering in the doorway clutching a bunch of roses. Great.

Thanking Eoin, he headed over to greet him, his heart sinking into his shoes at the hopeful expression on the guy’s face.

-o-

Tin strode hastily towards his car, solely focussed on hiding away with it’s safe confines, hoping he’d gotten away without being seen.

What had he been thinking? He’d had no intention whatsoever of going to the launch and breaking his self-imposed deprivation of all things Can. He’d made sure he would be on the other side of the city so he wouldn’t even be tempted. When he’d bumped into, or rather been accosted by one of Can’s flatmates yesterday – the one who he now knew was Can’s ex-girlfriend and who he intensely disliked as a result – he’d gone as far as asking her not to tell Can they’d conversed. He hadn’t wanted to run the risk of Can getting ideas about inviting him to the event out of politeness, thinking he’d been wanting to attend. He didn’t want to be a footnote.

It was one thing denying himself Can, but apparently fate had other ideas. Fate or his unruly subconscious. His appointment had cancelled, and he’d received the message just as he’d been driving past the exit that was just a five-minute drive away from the café. He’d been parked outside before he knew it, staring out through the windscreen at the flags and balloons outside the two new businesses and the building that he knew housed Can.

He’d made it inside after a twenty-minute fight with himself, bumped straight into Techno who had hugged him. Hugged him, thanking him for getting the stolen money from Tul and for sorting out all the legalities around the whole fraud and ensuring Tul had no claim on the new business. Tin had smiled and reminded Techno that he mustn’t tell Can about his involvement. He’d left it unsaid that he’d only done it for Can, paid the money back out of his own pocket. Had it been someone else his conscience wouldn’t have let them suffer because of his brother, but he would not have got personally involved.

When Techno had relinquished his hold on him, Tin had wound his way through the milling guests and found himself on the threshold of the café space. There were open bifold doors connecting it to the reception area of the gym that would enable gym users to enter during shared opening hours, with a separate café entrance set between two more large bifold doors that could be opened and closed depending on the season and the weather. There were outside tables separated from the plaza area with large plant pots and string lantern lights wound around a wooden trellis.

Where the gym was sleek and modern, the café had a cosy feel, with booths along the one wall and deliberately mismatched wooden furniture and there were plants everywhere. There was a corner full of bookcases and large floor cushions. It was welcoming. Warm.

His eyes had homed in on Can, wearing what was probably a uniform, fitted olive green trousers with a white t-shirt and a grey apron, just in time to see him fall into the arms of the ex-girlfriend who petted his hair gently and looked at him with such love that Tin wanted to vomit. He’d turned right back round again and left.

He yanked open the car door and fell inside. Crashing his palms down onto the steering wheel, trying not to scream in frustration as he blinked back tears.

Why did he do this to himself? Can had moved on, of course he had. Back into the arms of his ex? Unlike Tin, Can was bisexual, and there was history there. The girl had looked at him as though she wanted to hold him forever. If Tin wasn’t so jealous, he would empathise.

Trouble was, he was so jealous he couldn’t see straight. He heard Can’s voice in his head saying, ‘you’re not worth it’ and he squeezed his eyes closed for a moment to gather himself.

After a few seconds he started the engine and pulled away from the parking space only to slam on the brakes as someone rushed right in front without looking where they were going. Tin recognised him as the annoying guy Can knew from that party months ago, expression furious as he stormed past holding a crushed bunch of roses. “What’s his problem?” Tin mumbled under his breath, waiting until the guy was well clear before carrying on to his destination.

-o-

Tin flew to South Korea the next day on business. It was something he could have handed off to someone else, but he felt like he needed to put some distance between himself and Bangkok. He buried himself in legal red tape around an acquisition deal and only emerged to return to the hotel to sleep.

When his flight arrived back in Bangkok four days later and switched on his phone to a torrent of voicemails, one after the other in what felt like a never-ending stream of beeping. All from his mother demanding he call her right away.

Also, one text message from Ace, mightve put my foot in it with ur mother when she tried to grill me on why we only had 2 dates but saying ur in love with some1 else, sorry :-(

Great. Tin recalled the final date with Ace, when he’d had asked Tin back to his place and Tin’s response had been far less than enthusiastic and Tin had found himself saying, “I can’t. It wouldn’t be fair to lead you on.”

When Ace had asked if there was someone else Tin had barely nodded but apparently that had been enough for Ace to jump to the right conclusion and no doubt his mother would connect the dots after what she’d witnessed at her party.

He could only assume that was why his mother was burning up his voicemail. He wasn’t sure what she could have to say on the subject after their last conversation when he’d told her to mind his own business. He deleted all the messages without listening and pocketed the phone as he spotted his driver in the waiting zone.

Stuck in traffic on the way to the office his phone vibrated again and checking it he found a text message from Ae, bring Pete to the café Saturday at 3pm.

Tin felt sick. He didn’t need to ask for clarification to know that this was Can’s café. When Ae had made contact a week earlier Tin had invited him to his office and admitted what he’d done and offered to sort things out. He’d expected Ae to leaps across the desk and punch him in the nose. Part of him had wanted that. Instead, Ae had deflated and thanked Tin for looking out for Pete, said he needed time to process had left.

He had to go through with it though. He owed it to Pete not to let him suffer any longer. Today was Monday. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before calling Pete and summoning him home from New York.