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Secret Love

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A second year Economics student, Win Metwin is currently hanging out at a popular bar nearest to the university campus. He is out with his best friends to celebrate the end of a tough semester and the start of their one month break. No more morning classes or jam-packed school schedules full of assignments and late night study sessions trying to cram the difficult lessons that test their patience levels. They are finally free to hit the bars, flirt with hot people and be the thriving social creatures they’re meant to be!

Win is having a good time with his friends, drinking beer and exchanging entertaining anecdotes as they wait for the rest of their gang to join. Everything is going great until one of them had to go and bring up the subject of their break plans. The accomplished and restful vibes following a semester of hard work that Win managed to enjoy till then soon evaporates when his friends begin discussing plans of meeting up daily during their holidays. It feels as though all his energy gets drained right out of him as they continue to excitedly share ideas for get-togethers.

Mood souring instantly, the tall student slumps in his seat as thoughts of his upcoming trip and the reason he made that choice in the first place.

To be honest, the twenty-two year old brunet would rather slave long hours as an architectural major, his true passion than spend the same time to study economics. Yet, Win couldn’t go against his father’s wishes to study his preferred course. And well, his old man’s reasoning is hard to refute when one considers the fate of their family business. If Win was to take over or at least manage a part of their vast business empire someday, then having a degree in economics will greatly come in hand.

He wanted to argue that any one of his other three siblings (two sisters and a younger brother) could easily take up the task. But his father’s mind is made up and Win follows his siblings in selecting a course that helps in later managing their business. He wasn’t too happy about this and takes immense pleasure in childishly rebelling at every opportunity to remind his family of the same!

This has resulted in Win being entangled with the current conundrum he’s been battling for the past two weeks without any success.

It’s not as though Win cannot change his mind in the last minute or that his parents will have trouble arranging for his flight ticket, if he does. They own two private jets for crying out loud! Nonetheless, this is a matter of pride (and ego battle) for Win. He refused to go with his family to Europe for a reason … which is to drive a point on how much he hates studying a course he has no interest in and to show a taste of how inconvenience feels like to his father.

In a stroke of genius rebellion, Win had announced at dinner when the topic of their trip is first broached that he wanted to spend his short break at their ancestral property in Chiang Mai and stay with his grandparents instead. He recalled to having a good time there in his childhood when they spent their summer vacations in a small town in Chiang Mai. It has been a while since they visited the elderly couple though. Even so, he knows there isn’t much to do in the petite town now and wanted his parents to cajole him a little to travel with them.

To Win’s utter dismay, his parents were enthused by his proposal and accepted it swiftly. He kind of expected them to argue and try to convince Win otherwise but as the days flew by, they showed no signs of changing their mind. And here he is, spending the last night in Bangkok with his friends in a crowded pub drinking (or trying to drink) his troubles away!

 

<*>

 

“Finally, this semester from hell is over!” Oak, Win’s friend yells raising a glass brimming with beer for another toast and pulls Win from his depressing thoughts. They all clink their glasses and cheer loudly in chorus.

“And … hopefully, we will all clear the exams.” Nam adds, to some of their groans and curses.

Win, however, is currently content to stay quiet in the background and get steadily buzzed. The chatter of his friends’ washes over him as the alcohol finally hits his bloodstream and Win is able to relax. Even his upcoming tedious break no longer bothers him. Waste an entire month away from his home and friends; either stooped inside an old mansion with only his grandparents for company or venturing out to visit the various temples and the mountainous landscapes?

Please! It’s gonna be a piece of cake. Or so, he kept telling himself. He really doesn’t want to stay in that dull city with nothing better to do!

“–So Win, when are you leaving for your grandparents house?”

The unexpected question from Pluem brings Win back to the conversation at hand. Shia. When did he zone out? Win must have had one too many beers to be so out of it.

“Huh. Yeah. Tomorrow.” He mumbles vaguely.

The subject of his travels is soon forgotten in lieu of discussing girls, gossip and games – the holy trinity of discussion among university boys worldwide and Win is grateful no one is keenly focusing on him for the rest of the night.

<*>

 

At sharp ten-thirty the next morning, finds Win seated near a window in the business class of a domestic flight to Chiang Mai in an uncomfortable silence.

He’d finally chosen not to chicken out and bear this massive bruise to his ego with a quiet dignity. It has been ages since Win’s last visit to their paternal grandparents’ town – he was probably in middle school or something – and desperately hopes things changed enough that some form of adventurous activities are available rather than visiting shops and market place for fun. He is also not looking forward to be paraded among their grandparents’ friends as an eligible bachelor in search of a girlfriend. The few times he and his siblings interacted with them, they always hinted to knowing several grandkids of their friends who would be a suitable match for Win and Mint to date.

Just thinking about those conversations is enough to make him shudder and stomp his feet like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Hopefully, his backup arrangement to keep busy in case there are no outside distractions to save him from impromptu blind dates should be enough to save his ass.

Right now his major problem is how to pass this two hour long plane ride without dying of boredom.

Win isn’t really in the mood to listen to any songs and none of the movies offered in the flight’s playlist interested him. Fed up of the monotonous scenery of clouds and plainly irritated by the Instagram and twitter feeds which only emphasize the looming awful days ahead, Win switches his attention to the backpack next to him. Or rather, it was the plastic bag full of new books he hastily shoved inside it last night that catches his eye.

After a short deliberation, he pulls the weighted package out intent on selecting a book to pass the long journey. To be fair, Win is honestly curious to see what titles he randomly bought from the used bookstore, the same fateful day he impulsively decided to turn down the holiday in Switzerland. He dimly recalls hastily making the purchase based on cover illustrations and volume over the actual content in order to meet his sisters for dinner.

Flipping through the stack, Win sighs shaking his head at the choices uncovered so far.

Hmm … fantasy, horror, thriller, young-adult romance, wait- self-help book?

Oh no, if there’s anything he learnt today it’s that one should never judge a book by its cover. Too bad, Win truly is in no frame of mind for any of those genres right now and heaven knows, how he managed to swipe a self-help book (about dating tips) targeted generally for young girls in his basket!

Fortunately, there seems to still be a few more books left as Win bought quite a large collection in plans of expanding his literary skills instead of completely wasting time. His long slender fingers quickly trail past the sleek and flashy covers to stop at a thick plain-looking green book at the end.

Huh.

                 

The book appears to be a weird variation of a hardcopy and the lack of designs plus slightly weary exterior indicates either he probably picked an old historical fiction or an ancient autobiography by accident. Whatever the genre is supposed to be, this copy certainly looks more appealing than the others.

Brows furrowed, Win pulls the heavy book – apparently a diary on closer inspection – squinting in disbelief as he double checks the evidence at hand. Quickly flips through the pages using one hand to find them filled in a neat, manual handwriting and few occasional snapshots hidden randomly here and there.

Yup, no doubt, this is definitely a journal and not the published kind!

How the hell did this diary even end up in an independent bookstore, let alone in Win’s hands? Did he really buy this at the store by mistake or due to some unforeseen happenstance this journal got mixed up in his belongings?

What should he even do with this- this private diary now?

 

<*>

 

Win’s first thought is to read the diary of course.

Duh!

For a brief second he gets really thrilled at this discovery, it feels like a life-altering scene in a romantic movie – does this diary belong to a girl … a hot, gorgeous one? Or maybe it belongs to a cute guy? Win swings both ways, so he is alright with either option! He wonders if there will be any explicit details of the owner’s dating life and scandalous secrets revealed inside. He’s been watching way too many dramatic series recently to forget the unfair dry spell that he’s going through thanks to his stressful semester. Thus Win can be forgiven for wishing to live vicariously through this journal even for a short period of time. Hopes the snapshots would confirm his hypothesis, so there will be a definite image to go with his vivid visualization…

Until commonsense and self-awareness of this situation hits him like a football kicked to the goalpost: swift and brutal in intensity.

Win spends the next several minutes debating on the merits and cons of the moral grey grounds and the price of going through someone else clearly personal entries. Even wavers when placing himself in this situation, and how Win wouldn’t want others to learn about his deepest secrets in this manner. Whoever had owned this journal must have written in utmost confidence believing nobody is privy to their thoughts but them.

Can he really ignore the sacredness behind the use of a diary simply to satiate his curiosity?

But if the owner truly valued their journal they wouldn’t be so careless as to lose it now, would they? So, really this is on them. And Win isn’t a perfect guy, okay. He readily admits this truth himself. Besides, he is unbelievably bored out of his mind and too intrigued by the flashes of that beautiful handwriting that filled nearly the entire book and the random photographs stuck inside few pages to turn back now.

Biting his lips, he checks his watch and the plane’s navigation map – yup, still a long way to go to reach his destination – halfheartedly glances at the pile of books he previously discarded in the bag.

Lets out a harsh exhale, barely tethering on the edge of a moral cliff and runs his hands through his hair to reach a conclusion. It is not as though he stole the journal or knows the owner personally to feel guilty IF he chooses to read the entries. And Win certainly did not set out with the intention to snoop in somebody’s private business when he (may or may not have) purchased this diary by chance. So, he is not at fault here, if say, he were to accidentally open and read the particulars of this journal.

Besides, it is kind of fated when one actually thinks about it. Win merely happened to stumble across a lost diary of a stranger (for all he knows this owner could be an old woman, man or even a deceased person – who even writes diaries these days?) and reading it is not a sin, definitely nothing to be guilty about.

What was the saying – finders keepers, right?

Anyways, a little peek wouldn’t hurt and if it does turn out, this journal isn’t noteworthy as Anne Frank’s or simply contains grocery lists and equivalent mundane stuff, then Win will gladly ditch it for another option. No harm, no foul.

He’ll just read a single entry and see where to go from there.

Yeah, just the first one! And if it turns out to be extremely personal or boring, then he will immediately stop.

 

With that decision made, Win leans back in his seat and picks the book after casting away the mixed feelings of edgy anticipation and doubt out of his mind. No use building high expectations either. Life isn’t a movie and this diary is not likely to contain the detailed life-story and exploits of an international spy or anything similarly exciting. It would be fantastic if that were the case. But, it is better for him to stick to reality and lower his insanely high expectations!

Taking a deep breath, Win diligently checks the front page where typically the details of ownership are recorded. Sure enough, the same elegant scrawl he witnessed while quickly flipping the pages earlier is present here. There is no usual or expected ‘if lost please return here’ contact information available. However, one thing is abundantly clear: the owner of this journal is a guy.

Huh.

This guy must be a nerd or an artist or something if his writing is this pretty – just a random thought. Most of the guys Win knows have barely legible scrawls but then again, they are also jocks like him, as such, less interested in perfecting their scribbles let alone jolting their thoughts in a personal diary.

Swallowing the sudden bout of butterflies and a strange exhilaration, he slowly traces the thick dried ink on the single ruled paper (must have used a marker) – the cursive font in dark blue against a pale yellow background making for a very pretty aesthetic.

There is a single word written across the page diagonally in a large bold format, compelling in its appearance, as though both branding this property in their name and promising the style of its particulars at the same time.

 

Bright.

 

>*<*>*<

Chapter Text

Friday , 09/XX/20XX

I just want one thing to be clear. I write these entries due to SPITE and not out of choice!! Also, because I’m a man of my word and this is the compromise Mae and I finally agreed to after our latest fight.

No more requests to join camps, school clubs or attend those stupid therapy sessions and all in exchange for writing a few lines every day. Pretty great bargain, actually. Except, one thing Mae forgot to mention when we struck this deal is to emphasize on what I’m supposed to write here. The good doctor had insisted on recording my inner most thoughts and whatever feelings I find hard to share with others. Mae didn’t know this, thanks to the confidentiality of our sessions. So basically I can just write down the lyrics of some song I’m listening to and she will be none the wiser. Technically, I won’t be breaking our arrangement by doing that. Thus hitting two birds with one stone!

Okay, I’ve written way too much unnecessary crap already. Call it beginner’s luck.

Time to hit the bed.

 

<*>

 

Win pauses after reading the first entry as originally planned and considers whether he should continue to read further or not.

On one hand, judging by the date and the unenthusiastic content – this journal’s owner, Bright seems to be close to his age, more or less. The year and reference to camps and school clubs would most definitely place this guy in either middle or high-school. Win takes a second to revel in joy that at least, the owner of this diary wasn’t a middle-aged man or someone’s grandpa recording their memoirs, but a similarly young person he could easily relate to.

The vague details mentioned offhandedly are certainly intriguing and yet, at the same time fall under the exact category of private info that Win doesn’t feel too comfortable intruding in this manner. On the other hand though, this- Bright might have possibly chosen to go ahead with utilizing the loophole of scribbling down random bullshit to get away with fulfilling his mother’s request.

Hmm, why did this boy have to attend therapy sessions in the first place?

He can sort of understand a parent’s nagging for their child to be more active in school clubs or outdoor activities, just like he gets why the kids hate to follow through on those orders. Perhaps, Bright is one of those shy or anti-social kids who doesn’t do well in crowds? It was just a feeling Win got from the tone of his narration.

Still, it is clear this guy either doesn’t follow through on his plans of cheating (simply based on the fact a three-fourth of this thick book has been used) or if he did, then it was probably to use this journal as some sort of a scrap book.

Either way, Win couldn’t exactly reach a proper solution to his ‘binge or skip’ conundrum yet and because, there are two other entries on this page – one short and the other halfway through to the page’s bottom – he settles on checking out few more entries to make the final call. 

In any case, if he feels the stuff is getting too personal (particularly, any mentions of therapy, although indicated that Bright no longer needs to attend) for his eyes, then he trusts himself to do the right thing and quit reading instantly.

The second entry (likely written early in the morning) and its super short description kind of makes Win re-think his stance of this book actually being a journal and not a scrap list of sorts.

 

<*>

 

Saturday , 10/XX/20XX

I can’t believe this isn’t a dream and I actually agreed to this. Shia. Guess, a few lines a day won’t kill me. Anyway, today is going to be hell with moving and all. Most of the packing is done except for my stuff, and then its go time. Er…that’s all for today, I guess.

~

Sunday, 11/XX/20XX

Fuck! I hate this! I hate everything!! Why do we have to move to Bangkok? Why couldn’t we just stay in our hometown?

I hate everything about this stupid, too loud city! Everything is super expensive and Mae has to work extra hard to cover our expenses here. I wish we could just change our minds and go home. If it were up to me, then we certainly would have! I don’t want to upset Mae though … she is already under so much stress, dealing with everything!

Okay … maybe living with uncle Kik isn’t so bad. Besides, Mae explained why we had to move. I know, she didn’t state ALL the essential reasons and that I AM definitely one of them! It didn’t escape my notice that Bangkok being the bigger city is much more forward and accepting of certain stuff than our small hometown. I’m both touched and upset by mother’s decision to move, just so I’ll feel more comfortable in a different setting. Apparently, my repeated reassurances in the aftermath of my injuries didn’t work in soothing her fears.

But guess there’s nothing else I can do now except to study hard and be a good son.

Urgh, just the thought of joining a new high-school tomorrow is driving me crazy! I hate meeting new people and being in the spotlight, gawked at like an animal in the zoo as the transfer student from nowhere. Starting over this late as a junior, in the middle of term is bound to raise a lot of weird attention. Additionally, from all reports this school is supposedly very famous with plenty of big-shot, rich kids attending. I wonder if I’ll get bullied due to my free scholarship status.

I-I’m not really worried. It’s not as though I’m interested in making friends and I doubt anyone will be approaching me for friendship either. I just don’t want anyone to mistake my silence and introvert behavior for arrogance here too and cause trouble for me …

I just want to be left alone in peace. Doubt it will happen though.

Nevertheless, Suankunlarb Wittayalai is an extremely prestigious school and both mae and uncle Kik are so proud that I got accepted on my academic merit alone without having to pay an exorbitant tuition. I heard the school is also quite tolerant towards– whatever, one cannot simply believe everything they read when there is no proof backing them. I’ll just have to assume it is not the case and be extra vigilant.

I simply cannot afford to let my guard down and get into trouble again.

Because no matter what I cannot let Mae and uncle Kik down this time. I just need to keep my cool, avoid getting into fights and ignore any jerks even if they try to mess with me.

I can do at least that much till I graduate with first-class honors. I NEED TO!

 

<*>

 

Holy fuck!

That’s his school. Win thinks with a growing wonder as he racks his brains trying to remember if Bright ever stood out in his memory from the juniors in eleventh grade.

What are the odds, huh?

Granted, Win is a senior at the time when Bright transferred and from his own description, this guy is an introvert preferring to keep to himself. So it is unlikely that they ever crossed paths … but it is not entirely impossible. Suankunlarb Wittayalai is truly one of the top boys’ schools in Bangkok, founded by the King himself and is renowned for its expensive schooling and their strict selection process. If Bright managed to gain admission through the academic scholarship, then he must truly be an exceptional student. Which means Win must have heard about Bright in one way or another, as he is quite popular in many social circles and clubs of their school, friends with a lot of people from several classes.

Additionally, Win’s boxing club is quite infamous for always winning the first prize at the inter-school tournaments and they all are pretty much approached whenever any student needs help dealing with bullies or thugs bothering them. So, even if Win is oblivious to Bright’s presence initially, the new student must have heard about him in some way or the other through his classmates at least.

Besides, Bright is right!

A transfer student joining a school so late in the term will certainly draw an unavoidable and likely a huge spotlight. The mode of the talk will depend on the individual’s first impression and actions though – positive, if the guy is friendly and approachable and negative, if there’s even a hint of haughtiness and suspicion detected.

 

Upon concentrating hard, he hazily recalls to hearing about a new transfer student branded as a weirdo among other things but haven’t paid any close attention to those rumors then. He was too involved with other stuff and a relationship drama on top of his demanding classes to take much notice of his juniors getting hassled back then. Win feels bad now, for it does appear as though this kid could have used a friend or a senior looking out for him back then. Well, he still doesn’t know whether Bright overcame his fears and insecurities and made any friends in his class or not. Win sincerely wishes that he did. The casual manner in which Bright spoke of getting involved in fights through no fault of his own and questioning if he will be bullied here because of his quiet personality and financial status puts Win’s heart in an emotional wringer.

Doesn’t understand why he feels so invested in this stranger’s plight, but these few vague admissions from Bright are enough to paint a lonely and touching picture of the boy. Was he bullied often to bear such a habitual attitude? It also seems like Bright’s family situation is complicated. There is no mention of his father at all and Win worries if something happened to the elder or even Bright, prior to this mother and son duo relocating to Bangkok.

It certainly hints at Bright facing a tough school life (that’s what he thinks) before his mother made the smart decision to switch areas.

Hmm, Win wonders, if the issue of Bright possibly being targeted is about what he’s thinking …

Particularly, the way Bright mentioned ‘tolerable’ in regards to Bangkok and their school rings a bell in his mind. He doesn’t know which place the boy is originally from yet there is a high chance that Bright is gay and bullied because of it. In any case, his mae is right that here in this metropolitan city and their school, discrimination based on sexual orientation is pretty low and almost nonexistent compared to most rural towns. Win is ready to bet his entire pocket money that if Bright is indeed gay then he would find Suankunlarb Wittayalai, a welcome change from his old institution. As a Bisexual and a best friend with several guys in a same-sex relationship, he knows their school is very accepting of all sexual orientations. He feels a thrill run down his spine at the thought of this mysterious Bright, who plays for his home-team and attended their school sharing the same campus as him and even accidentally crossing paths more than once…

And, really there is no longer any doubt in Win’s mind anymore.

He HAS to know what happens next.

If Bright managed to have a good first day at school or not? And if the boy experienced a successful term without getting bullied or in any needless fights? Weirdly enough, he is also concerned about the boy’s mental health and in case, they ever met or if Bright has heard of him. It wasn’t narcissistic of him, Win defends himself. He and his gang of seniors form the top tier of their school’s cliques due to their impressive background, good-looks and constant participation in extracurricular activities. So, it is only natural that the new guy would be aware of them. He speculates what Bright’s first impression of him must have been and has to forcibly squash the inappropriate thoughts of imagining how the teen actually looks like.

Repeats firmly, he is not a shallow person and Bright’s appearance has no bearing on the contents of this journal. If anything, he should be concerned with the well-being of the boy since it is obvious looking back, Bright did have some tough time at school.

That triggers the next query: whether he ever thought of approaching Win and his friends for help, in the event Bright was being harassed…

The means to find answers to his simple questions is quite evident and Win doesn’t hesitate this time to dig in. He might not have known Bright personally but the boy is clearly his Nong and as his Phi, Win has the responsibility (years late though he might be) to find out about his junior and how Bright had fared in their school.

Without much further ado, Win does just that and focuses on the next entry, eager to learn more about this intriguing boy named Bright!

 

>*<*>*<

Chapter Text

Monday

I think I will continue updating this journal every night. Will certainly make it easy to record all my thoughts of the day in one go, without pushing any relevant info to the next day.

Now, coming to the point – Today started off as nothing special in spite of Mae insisting otherwise. She prepared my favorite breakfast (pretty sure, it was in apology than to keep me in good spirits as mentioned) and uncle dropped me at the school in his car. I’d already memorized the complicated route and planned to take a bus from next time. From outside its massive gates, Suankunlarb Wittayalai certainly has a very impressive stand with the huge-ass buildings rising beyond and the crowd of students making their way past the security guard. A lot of these students are really good-looking indeed, as rumored.

Inside this remarkable school campus and its expansive classrooms is a different story. It is the same old tune I’m used to and irrespective of celebrated institutions or not, the students are all the same.

I also cannot help noticing how the majority of the boys here hail from wealthy families. One could perhaps count on their two hands, the number of scholarship students in attendance based on their run of the mill backpacks and reasonably priced personal effects. Or at least it is clear a lot of them are above middle-class. I just hope social disparity isn’t another factor the bullies will use to look down upon me. Bangkok educational system is reputed to have strict anti-bullying policies. It remains to be seen whether it is true or not.

At least the reasons for blacklisting me here won’t be the same as in my previous school. Didn’t take long for me to notice how some people are ‘out and proud’ about their choice of partners and the rest of the student body didn’t even bat an eyelid at their bold expression of love. Nevertheless, I can hardly expect to fit in the mold here nor get invited to share this space with them. Besides, I’m not ready to take the step and come out of the closet to these strangers yet. Or perhaps ever…

I really don’t see myself getting close with anyone in my class; cool and fun as some of my classmates might appear to be from a distance.

Hmm … I have a feeling that my name for the remainder of this term will be ‘transfer student’. Already, I can tell these people can sense I’m easy prey. It is kinda my fault too. I should have said something even if untrue when the teachers asked to introduce myself at the start of EVERY class. I don’t care what they sell in the movies but everyone thinking you have an enigmatic persona is the absolute worst! Especially, if you happen to be a very private person like me and suffering from severe social anxiety.

The constant prying and invasive questions are something I’m terrible at handling and even worse at fielding without coming across as a pompous brat! Adding fuel to this unfortunate situation, I happen to have one of those severe-looking faces that people easily mistaken for arrogance and awful temper.

It is a terrible combination to be served and forced to live with!

Bad enough I have trouble being the center of attention. Add to that I have to speak in front of the class and about myself too? It is a perfect recipe for disaster and what do you know? I struck gold … practically, without trying in every class – if the sniggers and mocking comments are to go by. Hmm, I don’t really mind this drama though. This is basically a walk in the park for me. At the most, it will blow over in a few days – at worst, I will be haunted till my graduation. Nothing I couldn’t handle. However, it is when things get physical and these cruel words turn into shoves and sharp punches that I have a huge problem.

 

I stuck to the back of the class as usual, and did my best to disappear into the background for the rest of the day. Had the typical nosy students turn up near my seat during breaks to interrogate me. But they soon grew bored with my monosyllabic answers, stoic silence and poker face, and left me to my devices. The one thing to grab my interest is the various extracurricular activities and clubs students here are encouraged to participate in dutifully. Not that I’m looking forward to drawing myself more attention but the sheer number of options available is quite mindboggling. Apparently, these groups are run by the student body without any involvement from the teachers, unless there is a serious issue with budget or problems among the members. Even then, there is a student council in place that handles these matters, with only the extreme cases referred to the school staff.

It is … certainly something new.

I collected the list of clubs and school sports from the class representative and immediately know which ones I will be applying to. The music club obviously. Nevertheless, I’m surprised most by the name of photography club in this long catalog.

Finally, my time to shine has come!

I know Mae only tolerated my hobby because it got me to shut up and give in to her occasional demands to socialize. Yet having a club solely dedicated to photography, which functions more like a registered class for a professional learning environment and where I can get some tips from the more experienced students, and spend the time doing what I love is truly a dream come true for me. I can actually tell Mae that I joined a club, a real school approved one, without any negotiations from her side. I was excited to share this news with her and after meeting with the club president after school, I learnt the only requisite for membership is that I need to own a camera. There are no specifications on the brand or type either.

It sounds too good to be true. But I was assured it really is the case.

Well, my camera might not be of a top-notch quality or even a recent model but its mine. The club itself is quite small and the few (handsome) members I met seemingly reserved like myself. (I later learnt to accommodate a larger number, the students frequently picked slots allotted between two different schedules every day for the mandatory sessions.) The club president, particularly on a first glance appeared to be a tall scary dude. Except spending few seconds of conversation is enough to clarify the gorgeous senior is an introvert and straightforward guy like me. It was easy to relax in his presence despite his strikingly attractive features and an intimidating persona. I can just tell it won’t feel too overwhelmed for me here.

As for the music club, as expected, it is quite popular and has three separate divisions to accommodate all its members. The president, P’Dim is another serene senior and fortunately, didn’t ask me too many questions other than the obvious. I opted for the less populated section where students simply practice their skills for fun, rather than the dedicated and passionate divisions. I was told members can apply to be recruited to the school bands if they’re good. I’m fine with staying in the background though and ignored the suggestion. Besides, this last section has no strict schedules to adhere to. Its members can come and go as we please, provided the room and equipments are available and I instantly liked it for that reason.

This freedom felt like a breath of fresh air and very accommodating to my tastes.

 

--

Reaching home my first task is to root through the remaining boxes left to unpack for another day. I couldn’t find my camera or few of my clothes anywhere. It then struck me that Mae mentioned accidently mixing some of my stuff in other boxes. Which means I will now have to wait for her to reach home to retrieve it. The room allotted to me is fairly decent but I’ve yet to decorate it. The task is repeatedly postponed because some of my free time is now spent updating this journal daily! And if I’m being honest, this isn’t really so bad. Actually feels kinda relieving to put these emotions into words on a paper. It feels as though a huge load off my back is cleared – to make space for new stuff the next day!

Anyways, bottom line – didn’t hate the new school but don’t love it either. I know, it might seem a bit too early to pass this judgment based on a single day. Yet, there is nothing so spectacular to change my stance on this subject either.

Famous school housing rich and beautiful boys or not, classes are still classes. Teachers are strict and resources are plentiful. I might enjoy my education here. As for my student experience, it will depend on classmates and probable interaction with seniors – not gonna lie, don’t have high hopes on this front.

Will have to wait and see if something interesting will happen to alter my views? I have a feeling this photography club will be the key to my happiness here. I’m super excited just thinking about it!

~

 

Tuesday

Fuck, I can’t believe I thought things are going to work out so easily for me. I’m such an idiot! Kinda want to cry at this string of unfortunate events hitting me one after the other without so much as a breathing space. Yet I know better than to give in to this sadness lurking inside.

Plus, if I have to go down this route, then I’d rather do it by giving my best fight.

Mae arrived home late last night and I didn’t want to bother her after a hard day. Thus, I didn’t bring up the topic of my misplaced stuff. I woke up extra early this morning to enquire and eagerly went searching for my camera. She seemed pleased to see me excited about joining a school club for once. I wasn’t even subjected to the usual ‘you should be focusing on other activities too’ speech because of this. But I really should have known, good things just don’t happen to me, not without me fighting tooth and nail for it.

Turns out, I’m right about my stuff being misplaced from the start. Except, what it means is they are permanently misplaced … as in LOST!!

I arrived to school in a bad mood and might have not so intentionally pissed off the wrong crowd. (Again, not really surprised with this turn of events.) I don’t even remember what I did to offend their fragile sensibilities. But they sure took whatever I did to heart (probably ignored them and bruised their ego going by my history) and started the usual game of calling me unoriginal names by end of the day. I really don’t care for these lame attempts to rile me up. The moment the last bell rang, I was off like a bullet to find the Photography club president to request and bargain for some more time.

I want to become a member in time to register for the national wide inter-school competition, which I saw advertised on the notice board of the club yesterday. Unfortunately, this means I hardly have two days in hand to get my name registered as participant from this school. For that to happen, I need to be a member first and well, it circles back to my current problem.

I’m hoping, nah praying, for P’Gulf to take pity on me and take my request into consideration. What I’m going to do next IF he agrees to solve my lost camera issue, I have no idea. Focusing on one problem at a time here.

Alas, the handsome senior isn’t available in the room.

One of the members mentioned P’Gulf is busy with his football practice today and that I can either wait for the game to be over or meet him tomorrow. Of course, I should have guessed the Phi is an athletic based on his fit physique and tanned complexion. As much as I wanted to wait and convince P’Gulf at the earliest to allow me some more time and chance to join, reality comes by rudely knocking at my door.

I’m still having trouble navigating the long route back home and cannot linger out till late night as such. Additionally, we are supposed to have family dinner outside tonight to celebrate our successful move to the city.

I regrettably turn back vowing to talk with the Phi tomorrow.

 

--

Dinner is a quiet affair. We went to a simple Chinese restaurant close to mom’s place of work. Ah, I forgot to mention that Mae got a job in some corporate firm as part of their administrative team. The pay is decent and covers our maintenance costs plus some spare change. Uncle tried his best to include me in their conversation but my stubbornness won against his nosy tendencies this time. I think Mae sensed my dark mood. She expertly drew the info from me with few simple words. I guess it is a superpower all mothers possess.

Uncle Kik immediately proposed to lend his camera but that didn’t feel right with me. It is too expensive and sophisticated for my simple tastes. Besides, he needs it frequently for his work. I also wouldn’t be able to get rid of the feeling I’m using a borrowed lens and not to mention, I have to actually turn it over whenever he needed it back. Cannot be comfortable or free at using his camera knowing it is not mine, silly though it sounds. Mae promised to search for my missing stuff again in her free time and that just guilt-tripped me even more. I already turned the house upside-down twice in my quest to find my beloved companion. I reluctantly decide to accept uncle’s generous offer, if there is no other loophole available to extend the grace period before the photography club closes its door for new members.

Getting a part-time job is clearly the only option to save some money and buy a new camera within a reasonable price range. It is the only thing keeping my crushing disappointment in check.

Well, that and my impending talk with P’Gulf.

~

 

Wednesday

P’Gulf is a blessing to the mankind and the best guy in the whole universe, ever, period!

I was expecting to be faced with some opposition and low-key berating from the attractive but severe-looking Phi. In complete contrast, he was really kind and understanding of my plight. Plus, P’Gulf admitted to experiencing a similar connection I felt when first meeting him. Turns out, we really do have a lot in common and the Phi even encouraged me to let him know if I need help with anything. And the best thing is he advised me to meet the student council to apply for a loan of old and left-over equipment from the passed out seniors. Apparently this loan is totally free, until I was able to purchase my own camera.

I didn’t even know this is something I can do. Actually, I need the club president’s permission and backing to be granted this outstanding request and I will have to sign out every time I use the camera from the student council office. Otherwise, I don’t have to pay a dime except in the event I damage the property. This is such a sweet deal!

I’m super grateful to the P’Gulf and made sure to thank him properly. He is ever gracious enough to accompany me to the student council office. Phi even rattled off the names of his friends running the place, as well as those I can approach if I face any issues with my peers and need interference from my seniors. Though we didn’t get to meet them, I have no doubt that any friends of P’Gulf will be approachable and responsible towards the juniors. However, I felt too shy and awkward to correct him about my poor memory when it came to names or faces of people I don’t personally know. I kept quiet and nodded in the right places, the information he’s freely parting with already slipping through my mind like sand from a clenched fist.

Besides, call me selfish but I preferred approaching P’Gulf over some random seniors. Just in two meetings, it is obvious this Phi gets me like no one else I ever met before and he was already very nice to me. I was right! This photography club is definitely a life-changing event for me in this school. I sneak a peek at his gorgeous side profile, a warm feeling flooding my senses as his deep, soothing tone washes over me. It is nice to gain a friend after a long time. Because, this is how the Phi told me to treat him: as a friend foremost and later as his senior. I don’t mind adding another tag to this list.

Guess the interesting thing to alter my opinion of this school and my experience here finally happened and it is by striking a friendship with P’Gulf.

Phi personally helped me to fill the form and receive a canon camera in good working condition in my name for the next whole month. I cannot help but wonder if these unpredictable sparks coursing through my veins are a result of my uncontrollable excitement or the start of a teeny-tiny crush on the dusky senior?

Hmm, I have plenty of time to figure it out. Whichever way the answer lies, I’m super glad to meet P’Gulf and have him as my senior.

 

<*>

 

Win has to re-read the last paragraphs twice and bites back a twinge of disappointment curling in his stomach as comprehension sinks in.

Don’t get him wrong. He is happy to find that Bright ran into Gulf and got the help he needed as it is evident how much gaining a membership to the photography club meant to him. Bright is an introvert, basically a social-recluse by nature (in his own words) and also, a nerd on top of that. This kind of deadly combination usually spells trouble for a lot of guys. Especially, in an all-boys school where your peers can get bit rowdy and tend to rough-house with each other a lot. Gulf Kanawut, though, is one scary bastard and can be counted on to protect Bright from the kind of trouble that apparently seems to befall him often. He wouldn’t have minded to help out Bright occasionally though…

Win could also be a good senior to the teen if given half the chance, he thinks petulantly.

That Win is correct in his assumptions regarding Bright’s attraction to men pales in comparison, to the teen’s indistinct admission of his budding infatuation with Gulf. There are no definite reasons to feel so ill-at-ease at this realization. Again, Gulf and Win are close friends and he knows beyond a shadow of doubt that the perpetually sleep-deprived guy is a true gentleman with a pure heart and albeit, a really weird sense of humor. It is just that he didn’t want Bright to nurse a serious crush on Gulf and later be heartbroken. Because that is how it will end in this case. Win knows with all the confidence only a best friend can possess.

Gulf is interested, no, that is not the right word here. He has been crushing hard on Mew Suppasit, their exuberant classmate for as long as Win could remember. Basically Gulf’s sincere feelings lasted throughout their high-school days and those two finally got together during their first year of college. Win also knew for a fact that Gulf didn’t date anyone, let alone a Nong, in their senior year. He could only feel bad thinking Bright must have gotten his hopes up for nothing, provided he is really whipped for Gulf and not confused about his feelings.

Win sighs, once again contemplating whether he should turn the page and continue reading the next entry or not. This seems to be a running theme here, isn’t it? He cannot help but think sardonically, a wry smile pulling at his pink lips.

Hmm, so far his curiosity has only intensified with regards to his Nong. Though his gut tells him Gulf would have looked after Bright properly, Win wanted to be there … at least, through these entries for the reserved junior.

Coming to the facts presented here, the probability of them both meeting and running into each other is not impossible. In fact, owing to his current faulty memory, Win is sure to have done so… right? Nonetheless, Bright had frequented the student council and befriended Gulf, which means the chances he heard or met Win is quite high considering he has a prominent position on the council. Win still has yet to find the answers he originally wanted to know…

The pressing question here is: will he be okay to examine further in case Bright really does have a crush on Gulf?

The Nong will surely write about his best friend in that scenario and Win can no longer hide under plausible deniability of being an unbiased third party. As it is, he feels connected and sort of responsible for Bright. Not really sure if it is a good idea to secondhand experience the pain Bright is inevitable to go through, and cannot understand his own inexplicable dread at this likelihood.

Yet, this is the very thought that strengthens Win’s resolve to stick around longer.

The need to know if Bright’s been hurt (unintentionally) by his friend is exceptionally hard to ignore. An appalled rational voice argues that he is quickly getting suckered into an intriguing drama by heat-of-the moment sensibilities and to quit while it is still early. Yet Win easily ignores these reprimands and focuses on turning over to the next page, mentally flipping a bird to his nagging conscience.

The heart wants what the heart wants.

And right now, Win’s heart is set on finding more about Bright. Anything and everything else that comes as part of this tremendously appealing package is totally fine with him.

 

>*<*>*<

Chapter Text

Thursday

My first photography club meeting took place today!!!

It is everything I hoped for and more! P’Gulf sorted me into his group which meant I get to attend the two hour club sessions with him (and a small number of people) every consecutive days right after classes are done. Fortunately, this worked well with my music club schedule too. I’m so freaking excited that nothing could spoil my mood today. Learned a new trick about aesthetically ‘fixing’ the background of a shot using basic stationary. It is a pretty cool and easy technique – can’t believe I never thought of it before! Clicked a few sample shots and got an approving nod from P’Gulf. It made my day!

Phi also helped me to enroll in the competition and provided the list of ‘rules & don’ts’ for the contest. The submission date is two months away and I’ve resolved to purchase a camera before then. Mae wanted to set aside some money for me but I cannot in good conscience take it from her or uncle Kik. Besides, I already knew she was planning on purchasing me a guitar since my old one was damaged beyond repair.

I knew we still have a lot of expenses to cover and Bangkok is a very expensive city. The sheer cost of surviving here without resorting to any unnecessary luxuries still tallies to a mind-blowing figure. P’Gulf promised to keep an eye out for any part-time jobs he might come across for me. I feel a surge of unending gratitude and ineffable emotion for this awesome Phi. He is undoubtedly the most amazing and coolest senior I ever met. For his kindness and dedication in looking after his juniors, P’Gulf literally became my hero overnight. 

Classes went by fine. Get this, students with impressive grades in specific core subjects attend advance classes separately. Suankunlarb Wittayalai really takes churning out honors students very seriously!

 

Also, I may or may not have snubbed several persons (AGAIN) as a result of my zoning out tendencies. It happens whenever I’m keyed up or nervous about something and spend all my free time over-analyzing stuff to the point, everything else except that topic blurs into background noise. Their swift departure indicates obvious displeasure at being ignored. In any case, I hope they don’t take too much offense. Perhaps, they’ll simply think I’m slow or something and leave me alone.

There are two guys who definitely didn’t fall into this category. Now that my anxiety about joining school clubs and mingling in a new environment has dwindled a bit, it isn’t hard to pick the familiar stubborn faces that remained gravitating near my orbit.

One of them (cannot recall their names), a tall boy in my homeroom class – bit funny, fairly attractive with pale skin, sharp features, a jet-black hair and a lot talkative too – seems to have made it his personal mission to befriend me. (Or maybe, there is a bet placed behind my back that I know nothing about?) He kept bugging and following me around throughout the day like an extremely hyper puppy and I didn’t know what to do with him. I lost my temper more than once – mostly cutting remarks and straight up dismissal – but it didn’t seem to deter the guy at all. He just shrugged it away and continued to chatter about mundane stuff from useless gossip to relevant data of school student council events. I must say it is quite nice to have company, especially after the sudden move and everything. After a while, his incessant prattle is somewhat soothing too. But I’m afraid of being lulled into a false sense of security. If not for the second guy (to stick like a glue to me) I met in the advance physics class, I might have tried to be more accommodating to chatterbox (that’s what I’m calling the tall guy till I remember his name – that is, if he actually sticks around for it to happen and doesn’t bail the next day).

This other guy though – around my height (perhaps an inch shorter?) with an olive complexion, also good looking and cute – really pushed my buttons and constantly left me on an edge. I cannot pin-point the exact reason why. I believe, he first approached me on Tuesday or is it Wednesday?

This guy (gonna call him strange smile) is friendly enough without raising any red flags with his behavior – or maybe that’s precisely it. I couldn’t find anything outright off with his tone or words or personality – strange smile just kept smiling at me a lot and was generally nice in helping with the previous class notes. He seemed a little too eager to help me and that triggered my paranoid senses faster than a fire alarm is alerted by smoke. I’ve been burnt too many times to simply accept two different classmates suddenly taking a keen interest to be my friends. My theory that there is a challenge or prank placed with my name on it is starting to feel legit. Anyways, I only share a couple of advanced classes with strange smile (he belongs to another section of the same grade) and chatterbox is one of them. So, I guess there is nothing much I could do about them, except wait till they get bored and stop trying to mess with my head.

Hm. That’s all about today. I will attend my first official music club session tomorrow. As in, I’m gonna stay for more than few minutes and actually practice an instrument. Mae is thrilled by this news and I didn’t want to do anything to wipe that smile off her face. I already decided to humor her by joining the music club. So, it shouldn’t be too much of a hardship to be a dedicated member.

At least, I can try.

 

<*>

 

The entries are getting longer and more passionate.

Win allows the beguiling smile tugging at his lips to completely bloom. Bright’s enthusiasm and joy is exceedingly charming to bear witness even in this second-hand fashion. The boy clearly forgot about his earlier conviction to scribble lyrics and nonsense in order to fool his mother into believing he’s keeping a journal. Well, Bright apparently outplayed himself and now Win is reaping the benefits. Er, he hopes writing down his unspoken thoughts has facilitated Bright into unpacking his issues as well.

Nevertheless, he frowns at the hints of escalating self-depreciating commentary. Win can already tell Bright is downplaying a lot of stuff (or is he merely that oblivious?) and jolting down bare bones when it came to his harassment in school.

Win is an extrovert, popular student and a jock. He is aware of all kinds of hazing rituals that takes place inside their school grounds, having both participated in them and curbing the few toxic ones, thanks to his role in student council. Their school while renowned for its famous alumni does have its share of black sheep too. Which school doesn’t? Yet, there is something in the way the boy phrased his fate – almost resigned to being the source of gossip and stares – that didn’t sit well with Win.

It is easy to read between the lines. Garnering this much attention could mean only one thing – Bright’s classmates are envious of him. And frankly, Win isn’t even astonished by this fact. Getting transferred in the middle of a semester requires nothing short of an exceptional academic and extracurricular performance, at least when it comes to their school which is ranked top three best school in the whole of their country. Now, now students get berated by teachers all the goddamn time through comparisons of the best performer in the class. The fact Bright had fallen under the radar of the few asshole seniors who love to lord upon the juniors and not to the mention the few obstinate classmates’ attempts to get close swiftly fills the gaps Win was considering from the start.

Bright must be unfairly attractive on top of his good grades to gain this much hostility. Win doesn’t justify it but grudgingly agrees certain reactions are hardly reasonable to begin with and expecting a bunch of unruly teenagers (full of raging hormones) to act responsibly when surrounded by similarly inclined friends and no supervision is mostly a moot point.

He sighs, raking a hand over his face and groans.

A tendril of dubious joy unfurls in his chest at this confirmation, even though Bright doesn’t come right out and speak of his handsomeness. Instantly feels bad for his response. Bright is not good at dealing with unwanted attention. That much is painfully obvious. Not for the nth time, Win wishes he was there to protect the lonely boy and to take care of him.

Mm. Not sure about the first classmate but Win is certain the second guy (strange smile) is flirting with Bright. Probably, this nerd and social recluse didn’t figure out the clues yet, even if his brain realized the difference between the first guy’s approach and this guy’s. A sudden twist of fear and dread pools in Win’s gut. God, he hopes there isn’t any cruel prank planned upon Bright and none of these jerks messed with this sweet kid.

Win fights an impulse to stretch his legs and pace within the business seat section to quell his restlessness. Wishes Bright would name those bastards if they tried something with him, so Win could hunt the culprits down and make them pay for their sins. Clutching the book, he steels himself before diving in – all the while praying, it is all one giant misunderstanding and nothing bad ever happened to Bright.  

Even if Win wasn’t in the picture then, he can be confident that Gulf wouldn’t have allowed anything untoward to happen to Bright.

 

<*>

 

Friday

The first class of the day kicked off with a surprise test and continued with unexpected hardships of more assignments and pop-quizzes till the last bell rang. I swear teachers everywhere alike are a sadistic bunch of demons. The promise of approaching weekend is enough to conjure their insatiable thirst for students’ tears of frustration, deriving endless joy over commanding impossible tasks to be submitted within short periods of time.

Technically, this is not only going to be the end of my first week at school, but also in this city. I was looking forward to celebrate this minor milestone – as per my therapist’s instructions and closely monitored by my mae’s watchful eyes – but the sheer amount of homework I received will make it impossible for me to even take a goddamn break, let alone venture outside for sightseeing. I have so much to catch up with regards to school and still have job search on top of it. The relief of this chaotic week nearing an end didn’t fully settle in, yet my energy reserves have totally exhausted halfway through the day.

Oh, and my so called ‘friends’ proved to be too stubborn or merely affected in the head to take the hint and stay the hell away from me. Honestly, an introvert with a low (and rapidly depleting) social battery forced to spend hours in company of extroverts is a cornered feral animal. One wrong movement, a pushy question or a too chirpy comment in their direction and all hell breaks loose. Generally, it affects the introvert (read: ME) badly while at most, the other kids tend to get an entertaining spectacle out of it. Speaking from experience, I’d likely turn tail and hide in an isolated corner awaiting the drama to blow over. But not before I make a clown of myself and cemented whatever wild theories are running rampant about me.

And, that’s exactly what happened today!!

 

I’ll just skip to the important parts of the story and ignore the background grievances from my first P.E class – at least the gym uniform is cool, love the combination of teal and brown. Basically, it started or rather the stress began to truly pile up from the third period – Advance chemistry class.

Strange smile had volunteered to be my lab partner when the teacher told me to pick someone to guide me through the old experiments. I was just about to retort that I’m fine by myself when the ‘too nice to be true’ idiot loudly offered his assistance. In a blink of an eye – it was settled. The teacher accepted on my behalf and strange smile pushed yet another notes of his in my hands, this time including his contact number as well. I’m forced to save his details and arrange a meeting in our free time to study together. Again, maybe I’m being too harsh on him... This guy (apparently nicknamed First), could just be a really helpful and generous person intent on supporting his new classmate. But, I hate it when a choice is taken out of my hands. I do not handle the loss of control in a situation well and for a good reason. Could hardly do much except scowl (which either goes ignored or unnoticed by a beaming First) and my foul mood plummeted even more.

Later back at my classroom, I now have to contend with chatterbox and his weird friend (who clearly gained courage to accompany him into bothering me) too. At least, this new fellow is quiet in comparison. I have a strong feeling everyone is quiet when compared to this chatterbox. But new guy is certainly weird. Of that, there is no doubt! I remember his name easily – because chatterbox mentioned it a lot while rambling about their antics and because, of course his name is also strange like him – Gunsmile.

Together, this duo is a lot to handle and I quickly found myself craving for some alone time. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have opened my damn mouth at all. I know they’re only being nice … probably. Hell, if they truly held any malicious intent towards me, then they wouldn’t have suffered through my reluctant company for so long – it just isn’t worth it, long con or not. Anyhow, back to the story. I was pissed off, tired and uncomfortable since the day officially began. Obviously didn’t get a decent sleep last night and was cranky as a result. Nevertheless, I shouldn’t have taken out my temper on these guys or anyone really.

I guess all those constant stares and rude whispers finally caught up with me. The (either genuinely playful or calculatedly nasty) attempts by my peers and few passing seniors to ‘welcome’ me have left an unpleasant, heavy weight in my stomach and I was itching to do something about the bullying. Keeping my head down and staying quiet is clearly not working.

Yelling harshly at Chatterbox and Gunsmile to mind their own business, I slipped out of the classroom and the corridors to escape to the grounds. I found few excellent nook and corners between the various buildings and sheds the other day while P’Gulf was giving me the tour. Knew just the spot where I can shake off the catcalls and demands to run errands for seniors. Fifty yards to reaching the safe haven, I accidentally knocked into a senior, an asshole by the sneer on his face and his companions.

I didn’t take kindly to being insulted – their implications, no, blatant musings that I appear open to advances from seniors made my vision turn red. They were jeering and watching with anticipated grins. I know they are simply trying to egg me on and see what I’ll do next. These students must be terribly bored to resort so low or perhaps, I’m just easy prey. Either way, I’ve had enough experience in these sorts of scenarios to indulge their whims.

I should have fucking walked away and paid no heed to their taunting. But I didn’t.

Bad luck struck hard as my brain-to-mouth filter running on low fumes didn’t obey my explicit orders to ‘shut up’ at all. Foolish and provoking words might have been exchanged, fueled by my irritation where blessed silence is preferred and I left the encounter fully aware I made some new enemies. Worse, they are seniors with special privileges. I may not have picked up much but knew enough to recognize which students are involved in important circles.

It is too late to do anything by then except to pray I never run into those assholes again. Just need to watch my back in case I get seriously targeted now.

Fuck, I really shouldn’t have lost my temper so quickly. Or should have walked away, head down and without engaging in a conflict. Yet, it felt gratifying to do so, after weeks and weeks of bottling my emotions. I can only hope the consequences to my actions are not too heavy to bear.

 

Nearly an hour spent hyperventilating and chiding myself under the cool shade of an abandoned rainbow canopy manages to calm me considerably. I cannot stay hidden in this corner forever. Had to return to the classroom sometime, which I did grudgingly. To my immense surprise and guilt, chatterbox waved at me as usual with his goofy smile but remained at his seat. Gunsmile too nodded at me as though I didn’t chew them off for trying to be nice to a grim loner like me.

Fuck, I feel awful and lower than scum receiving their gracious gestures.

I wanted to tell them that I do not normally behave like that… like a giant jerk with a chip on his shoulder. I was a total clusterfuck today and lashed out on them – swear, I will apologize once I get my bearings together. Might take some time though and if these two will still have me as a friend, I will do my best to deserve their friendship.

Now, I will freely admit there is another reason as to why I’m spitting fire like an enraged dragon, which had nothing to do with my staggering workload, hostile leers or annoying classmates.

It is because I’m acutely aware of the loss of my camera. Weekend typically meant I’m off trying to capture candid shots of nature wherever my muses dragged me. The only decent part of moving to Bangkok that I was looking forward in a muted exhilaration is capturing the essence of this metropolis brimming with life and magical moments. Except, it is no longer possible. Thanks to P’Gulf, I at least have access to a camera couple of times a week during off-school hours. I know it is more than what I could hope for. I should not be too greedy. Yet, and yet it doesn’t stop me from wishing for more and wading through the murky waters of resentment. I will have to wait until the next club meeting to hold the wonderful device in my hands again.

 

Speaking of which, I rather not attend music club at all. Instead, I wish I could sneak in and join a different slot of photography club.

Still, I’m glad I did. Because, guess who came looking for me after my session ended?

Yup, that’s right. P’Gulf was waiting for me outside the music room and all the bad vibes I accumulated today instantly evaporated at the sight of his contagious grin. Hell, he is so nice and good at looking after his juniors (even a bothersome one like me). P’Gulf wanted to make sure I have someone to rely on and reach out in case of emergencies – since he isn’t gifted in the music department and has no clout here – he was waiting to introduce me to his classmate, P’Mew who could help me in P’Gulf’s place.

I have to say, it was somewhat intimidating to face the other Phi at first because of his breathtaking beauty. The tall and fair, P’Mew wouldn’t look out of place in a music video or a K-pop group. His delicate features, slender frame, blond hair, crinkling and pouty smiles in addition to his ethereal vibes are certain to have him mistaken for an idol. Shia.

What is with this school and its ridiculously hot students?

Thankfully, P’Mew speaks and my sudden bout of nerves is permanently put to rest. He isn’t my type at all. This senior is a polar opposite from P’Gulf. P’Mew is obviously an extrovert – generous with his smiles and laughter – very friendly, sweet and a little shy. He belongs to the school’s official music band, so not a part of my group. Yet, P’Mew insists on dropping by sporadically to practice during my slots to keep me company. I tried to not impose but then, P’Mew stated this is the first time Gulf has asked him a favor, and he is happy to help. Well, what can I say to that?

I just feel lucky and blessed to have won P’Gulf’s friendship. He didn’t have to rope in a friend to look out for me. That he did only builds his good image in my mind.

Ah, I almost forgot. P’Gulf had another good news for me. He came across a ‘temporary staff’ needed brochure and immediately thought of me. Handing it over, P’Gulf told me to check it out and see if it fits my requirements. I cannot believe things are turning around for me this well. Just the other day, I was lamenting my lost camera and being thrown under spotlight in school. Now, I’ve two well-meaning and wonderful seniors to rely on and if I can land it, a job that will pay for my new camera!

I’m on top of cloud nine all the way to home. Sleep might evade me tonight as well. Except, this time it will be due to happy thoughts and a promise of better tomorrow, I can tell.

 

<*>

 

Win grits his teeth, rage cascading off of him like the waves at a beach.

He wants to personally find and hurt those fuckers who dared to insult and probably invaded Bright’s personal space. Those kinds of confrontations don’t just end with slurs and if Bright is pretty enough to gain unwelcome attentions (Win is starting to believe he really must be on a whole new level of attraction and desirability personified) then, Win unfortunately knows of few abhorrent seniors in his class who take notice of such things.

If his hunch is right and those bastards are involved, there is no way Bright got off easy after fighting them back. As panic laces through him, Win tries to remember again if anything specific relating to his juniors has stood out to him during his final year at school. The thing is Win was involved in too many tussles, disagreements and physical fights over the years at Suankunlarb Wittayalai to pinpoint a single incident at moment’s notice. It also doesn’t help that Bright’s name didn’t ring a bell in any of his memories and Win’s this close to pulling his hair in frustration.

Gulf, he mutters – a reassurance and bitter acknowledgment at once.

Bright still has Gulf looking out for him. His best friend’s name suddenly turns vinegar on his tongue. It is getting more and more obvious that Bright is starting to nurse a crush on him. Of course, Gulf introduced Mew to Bright and a part of Win realises, this must be why his friend unexpectedly developed a backbone and approached the gifted singer in the middle of their first semester.

Still, it changes nothing because Bright doesn’t know about Gulf’s feelings towards Mew. Perhaps, he will learn about them soon and changes his mind, treating Gulf as just a good senior? Win genuinely hopes for this outcome. On another hand, he is relieved none of the classmates trying to get close to Bright have ulterior motives.

Well, one of them definitely doesn’t.

He knows Gunsmile and his friend by extension. It’s gotta be Mike. The description matches as well, though Win isn’t happy to see Bright thinks of him as handsome. Both the juniors are basically joined at the hip and are good football players. Win has nothing to fear about Mike. The goofy junior has his eyes set on Win’s classmate and is quite hilarious in his seduction attempts.

It is First that poses a problem to Win – clearly the jerk is pushy and manipulative enough to earn Bright’s number through sneaky ways. 

Wait  

Did he just consider a random junior he never even met as a threat?

Biting his lip in contemplation, Win goes over his entire thought process and the subsequent emotions regarding Bright. How quickly he got involved in Bright’s story, and the literal chills he felt at the thought of the boy getting hurt. The jealousy (yes, he’s admitting it) Win felt every time Bright seems to praise and place Gulf at an enormous heights and the flare of his protective instincts at the mere mention of Bright facing unwanted and aggressive scrutiny...  

Oh

 

>*<*>*<

Chapter Text

Win stares unseeingly at the forest green journal in hand, flabbergast. A plethora of complex emotions, clues and realizations swirls around his mind in a complicated dance of mathematical equations before slotting together to form a simple answer.

Crush.

Infatuation.

Fascination.

Whichever word one picks, the underlying meaning is still the same. It amounts to an undeniable attraction, fondness and even an instant connection Win feels towards the introvert guy. There is no mistaking this. His racing heartbeat, the pleasant tingle running from his spine down to his toes at the simple concept of running into Bright and the subsequent butterflies in his stomach this image evokes can attest to that.

Wasn’t this all happening a little too quickly for his tastes? Yes.

Does this mean Win’s having second thoughts or planning to fight the irresistible pull he feels towards Bright? Hell, no!

This feels like a movie or a fairy tale where the main leads are destined to end together. It is not every day that one comes across a person’s journal, read their innermost thoughts, turn even more intrigued about that person wanting to know every aspect of their life and soon end up realizing they are attracted to them. And, Win is a practical person to boot. He might care for people easily but isn’t the type of guy to fall in love just like that. However, when he does love someone, it is with all his heart and no boundaries in sight.

Is he being too generous and quick to use the word love? It certainly doesn’t feel wrong to jump conclusions, although years’ long ingrained rationality begs otherwise.

Mounting evidence and musings of a cautious approach aside, he’s genuinely interested in getting to know Bright better – in person and to befriend him, even before the startling epiphany manifested. Now though after seriously considering everything in a new light, Win still wants to explore the possibility of romance (if the guy is interested as well and IF they meet irl) and see where it goes from there.

Win wants to be the first person Bright confides in about his troubles everyday instead of a blank page. Burns with a blistering need, an inexplicable yearning to swoop in and protect the Nong from any malicious intent at all costs. Itches to procure a stick and turn back time to beat off all those men, his former classmates and whoever dared to mess with Bright. Even Gulf, who clearly looked out for Bright is not in Win’s good books at present. That, his best friend was able to be there for the junior right from the start and clearly owns prime real estate in the soft corner of Bright’s heart is winding Win up in more ways than one. It is driving him crazy with irrational jealousy and he’s at loss on how to deal with these new emotions. He’s never really been a possessive guy before and it makes no sense that he is experiencing a strong inclination to be so now.

Until yesterday, hell even this morning, it is a preposterous and unimaginable notion that Win could go through such intense reactions from merely reading about a person. Not even his most serious relationships in the past have him chasing after his own tail like a love sick puppy. The way Bright has easily managed to do so, within such a short period has left him blindsided and craving for more … of this magical connection.

It appears that Win has somehow fallen for this guy, checks his wrist watch dazedly, within a span of an hour through personal diary entries alone. As weird as it sounds, this seems to be his reality. He’s gotten emotionally attached to someone whose existence Win was not even aware of until today and whom he couldn’t even pick out of a line-up if needed, as they’ve never met before.

Oh god, they have NEVER met before and he doesn’t even know how Bright looks like…

Even if Bright happened to walk by and stand in front of him, at this second, Win wouldn’t be able to recognize him. Because he doesn’t know how the boy looks like or if he has any distinctive tells that hints at his identity. Well, Win understands from barely there subtext that Bright is obviously handsome and quite easy on the eyes. But then again, so are half the guys he met in his school (and college) over the years. Initially, his speculations of landing the journal of a hot guy were met with exhilaration, similar to landing the wining hand of a lottery jackpot. Yet, the more Win learns about Bright, the little things in his life – his fears, dreams and aspirations – the more he grows interested and hooked…

The couple snapshots stuck inside the journal he picked from the book out of insane curiosity after his mind-blowing realization simply showcased random objects and landscapes captured artistically. Win would have gone further and happily checked every last one of them snuck in between the pages of the journal, if not for that stupid picture of Gulf smiling lazily at the camera. It reminded him again that he wouldn’t really know Bright even if Win laid eyes on his picture and there’s every chance Gulf would dominate rest of the collection. That freezing thought had him hastily slipping back the photos where he found them like he’s burned and had him sticking to his previous resolution of not skipping to the finish line out of impatience and laziness.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter to him whether Bright is good looking or not. Never really did since Win is neither a shallow person nor does he prioritize physical beauty for dating someone. As scary as it feels to find himself getting swept over by a virtual stranger, it also (kind of) doesn’t come as a surprise to be enthralled by Bright. The kind-hearted junior has a charismatic personality, dry sense of humor, witty (internal) quips for every occasion and is modest to a fault. Reading between the lines, the tone of self-depreciation and heavy cynicism whenever Bright refers to himself keeps pulling at Win’s heartstrings.

He’s hardly a dozen entries in and already Win wants to wrap this innocent sweet Nong in a thick blanket – hell-bent on hiding and protecting the precious cinnamon roll from the rest of the wicked world.

Wonders if Bright is short enough to match the cute way he sounds on paper and if the younger student would fit perfectly in his arms to cuddle while enjoying music together. Most guys usually are short compared to Win’s six foot one inch frame, so he has no trouble envisioning the perfect imaginary silhouette of the guy who stole his heart – Bright’s quirks and personality taking a life on their own to Win’s added creativity. The end result is absolutely breathtaking. Although there are no clear physical or facial features to focus on, he is still spellbound by the package Bright represents: everything Win didn’t know he wanted in a partner - the potential love of his life.

It freaks him nine ways to Sunday and yet reels him in like a siren call to a certain death at the same time.

 

~

 

There are several reasons as to why continuing to read further is a terrible idea. Common sense and self preservation comes knocking again. His rapidly increasing infatuation notwithstanding, Win has absolutely no idea what’s in store for him. For all he knows, Bright probably decided to give his jerk classmate, First a shot at dating after realizing that Gulf is out of bounds. Although, he doubts Bright has had that drastic change of heart given how unenthusiastic he is regarding First’s attempts to ‘befriend’ him. Or maybe, he- he doesn’t figure out Gulf is interested in Mew and kept pining after him…

Not that there is any indication Bright is pining after Gulf. Just a little bit of hero-worship maybe. Definitely, a certain amount of admiration exists – it is only natural considering Gulf went out of the way in helping the new student out.

Wait. Why did the anti-social guy take such a keen interest towards Bright in the first place? Is it possible that Gulf was…?

No, Win shakes his head. He is getting ahead of himself. Green doesn’t really suit him and the sooner he learns to ditch this clingy monster, the better it is for his sanity and heart. Previously he would never have qualms trusting Gulf’s intentions and behavior towards their juniors. Still doesn’t to be honest. Except Bright is a special case. Even if Gulf wasn’t leading the Nong on or giving him mixed signals (at least, not deliberately), he still needs to know what happened between those two.

Again, with that stupid phrasing!

He curses his over-imaginative mind for coming up with these ludicrous ideas. Nothing happened between Bright and Gulf. At least, he hopes so. No, no. He knows for sure. Because Gulf is undeniably head-over-heels in love with Mew. Has been for several years since middle school. Everybody and their mother knows the ever sleepy footballer got it real bad for the musician that Win is ashamed to even entertain these nefarious doubts about his best friend. Gulf wouldn’t get distracted by a pretty face and exceptional personality, no matter how sweet and wonderful Bright is, since he is completely devoted to Mew. That wouldn’t change, not so quickly or ever at all. Because, surprise – surprise, Gulf and Mew ended up together cause they’re meant to be and perfect for each other.

Really, Win’s got nothing to worry about where Gulf and Bright’s friendship is concerned.

He DOESN’T!

But insecurity is a stubborn bitch as Win is starting to learn, and it insists in a sugary voice dripping with venom that just because Gulf loves Mew doesn’t mean he isn’t open to accepting advances from gorgeous Nongs. Especially since, Win didn’t know everything that took place in Gulf’s life, including his stint of meeting and mentoring the new transfer student to their school. And there is also the matter of those harassing seniors Bright faced, which probably got worse if his faint memories are of any indication. Gulf, obviously got involved since he’s already keeping an eye out. Again Win’s immensely grateful for his intervention. But it does lead to the next troubling issue: did Bright’s overwhelming gratitude and Gulf’s unusual attentiveness result in the junior offering a chance to cross beyond the limits of a simple Phi-Nong relationship between them?

If so, who knows … maybe Bright and Gulf did have a brief affair then? Or maybe they didn’t. The only way to find out for sure is to turn the next page while transforming his chest into his personal punching bag. No big deal.

He speed reads through the next couple of entries in a frenzied state, heart in throat, expecting any second to stumble onto the lines that finally confirm Bright and Gulf shared a non-platonic liaison. Fortunately, that isn’t the case as he covers leading up to two weeks’ worth of entries. On the other hand though, Win seethes with unbridled rage as he learns of the harassment Bright daily puts up with at school and in his workplace. Stuff, the privileged student would normally dismiss as mundane grievances take on a special meaning since his loved ones are at the receiving end of the brute force.

Win had no idea that part-time jobs would be this wearisome and demanding or that retail workforce is so unfairly treated by all standards. His knuckles turn white from the constant clenching he does to hold himself back from screaming in frustration and to avoid punching something. Born with a golden spoon in a loving household, Win is slowly starting to realize he’s been oblivious to a lot of things that common folks had to face on a regular basis.

Weekends seem to be on a whole, new level of craziness with Bright having to solely manage most of the convenience store’s night shifts and the creeps that come with it. Just reading those entries is enough for Win to wanna snuggle the exhausted Nong and refuse to let him go.

 

<*>

 

Saturday

At long last, I’m getting a hang of working on weekends. No doubt it is a huge chore to work the night shifts but the pay is damn good. Almost makes up for dealing with the assholes and pervert customers. The rise of numbers in my bank statement and merely thinking about the end result is enough to wipe off my stress of putting up with their unoriginal and crass innuendos. Just a few more weeks and I can change jobs. Just until, I save some more to purchase the new canon camera.

I know, I said brand of a camera doesn’t matter as long as I can call it my own. But, P’Gulf mentioned the latest canon model will be hitting the stores soon and has a limited special discount offer for the first twenty-five pieces or so. It will fit nicely within my price range and the Phi also kindly offered to lend some extra amount if needed. I’m nearly there too. Its taking bit longer than initially planned but I have no regrets. I have been saving a decent part of the paycheck cashed every week to help out Mae with household expenses. I don’t like seeing Mae struggle all by herself. It isn’t much or nearly as high as I would like … but it is something, I guess.

The house is feeling bit cramped and we need to find a new place to move sooner or later. Uncle Kik says he doesn’t mind but neither Mae nor I want to impose on his generosity for longer than required. Bangkok housing prices are quite exorbitant. Maybe I should start looking into one bedroom units to rent instead? Yeah, actually that’s a great idea! Maybe I will even discuss this with mother after I did some due research. I don’t want Mae to bear any additional burden or extra costs more than necessary and getting a two bed condo is still more money than we can afford right now.

I just need to grin and bear through the next few weeks till then. My stupid school seniors have made it their life mission to make my life miserable inside and outside the campus. And I hate to say it but they are succeeding big time.

I don’t know how – whether it is by a happy coincidence or if they truly stalked me out of a sick sense of humor – but the same senior gang that took offense of my zoning tendencies found their way to the store during my shift tonight. I could literally see their stupid faces lighting up like Rama Bridge during festive season upon noticing me behind the cash counter. As expected, they made the next hour literal hell by making me clean up after their mess - repeatedly knocking the stuff from counters and having me replace all the items they ‘wrongfully’ picked and discarded at the last second. Perth took one look at their nasty smiles and smartly decided to stay out of it. I can’t blame him either. It isn’t like we are friends. He is also another desperate staff like me and I cannot ask Perth to take over these extra ‘duties’ caused by my bullies.

I can only hope these bastards grow bored soon and leave me alone after they had their fill of picking on me. These guys almost make the creepy middle-aged men hitting on me, tame in comparison.

Ah, the joys of working in the retail service!

 

~

 

Sunday

That’s it. I’m quitting my job!

I refuse to put up with those self entitled douchebags any longer. Who the hell do they think they are? Acting superior to everyone just because they happen to be rich and can throw money around like its nothing. No way in hell am I respecting them or calling these smug jerks as seniors when they can’t even behave like reasonable adults. I want to punch them within inch of their lives, give those assholes spectacular black eyes and nosebleeds till it gets through their fucking thick-heads to leave me the hell alone!

Arrgh! Why can’t they just ignore me? Here I thought, I was doing a damn good job at becoming part of the wallflower cliché. And … I can’t quit. It feels gratifying to say those words but I need the money and hence, this job is going to stay for the time being. If only I didn’t run into these bastards that day at the courtyard. Wait, why am I blaming myself here? Its totally their fault for toying with me even after I apologized…

I KNEW it. I just knew that moving to a different school wouldn’t change a damn thing!

But did Mae ever listen? NOPE!

‘You just need to give this school a chance, Bright.’ ‘Think of this as your new beginning – a chance to start over. Maybe, you will make a lot of new friends. You just need to try, Bright! Don’t give up so soon.’

Okay, perhaps she isn’t entirely wrong. Because I did make some friends and I didn’t hide or alter my dead-ass personality at all. I know. I’m surprised too! Mike and Gunsmile are good people, if a little weird and definitely a lot crazy. Although, I’m not entirely convinced they’re entirely sane, couldn’t be for they chose to willingly hang out with me. P’Gulf, of course is a godsend and the most awesome senior one could ever ask for. His friend, P’Mew is also a really nice guy. Both the seniors don’t just treat me as their junior but also as a good friend and for that, I’m immeasurably grateful. They are the sole reason I don’t hate rest of the school seniors by default, in spite of my ugly experience with majority of them.

...

 

Hmm, First isn’t too bad either. Although he’s too much for me to handle sometimes. That’s only because the guy is like an exuberant golden retriever with his friendliness and enthusiasm for.. er, life? In any case, I’m a cat person, so…

Anyways, coming to the pros: First is studious like me which Mike and Gunsmile, definitely are not. It is nice to occasionally study with First in the library. He is good company and very helpful in sharing his notes. Perhaps, I can include him in my small circle of friends too? Gunsmile did say he’s a decent guy, so I don’t know why I’m still hesitating to welcome him over to our table during the lunch hour. First, certainly seems to consider me as his good friend, repeatedly inviting me over to study and hang out outside of school as well. I’m thinking of taking up his offer one of these days, once I plan around my work shifts to gather some free time.

All in all, it does look like I’m getting used to being sociable, like Mae badly wanted. If only, I didn’t have those asshole seniors breathing down my neck and trying to mess with me, things would have truly been great then. But life isn’t fair and I know better than to resist these punches thrown by the sadistic universe.

P’Gulf is starting to get suspicious that I’m hiding the truth from him. He isn’t entirely wrong … but I can’t bring myself to run to him every time someone calls me stupid nicknames or tries to pick a fight with me. These are just trivial stuff that I can handle. Besides, there’s just no point in uselessly worrying him. He is already helping me out a great deal. I can handle some macho posturing and badgering just fine.

 

<*>

 

Win nearly kicks through the expensive footrest of the business class seat, his pale brow furrowed in worry and barely repressed anger. His restlessness is stalled when a pretty air hostess notices his agitation and approaches him with a tray of drinks.

“Thank you.” He mutters grabbing a glass of orange juice and downs the contents just as quickly. Refusing the attendant’s polite queries to offer further refreshments, Win sinks back in his seat, groaning at the buzz of irate thoughts plaguing his conscience.

The sheet of clouds behind the plane windows stretched out like particularly stubborn laundry’s foam evokes an awed gleam in pair of kind eyes that would love nothing more than to capture this picturesque view. Win wonders if Bright has travelled in a flight before. If he did, Win can see him hogging the window seat, face glued to the glass pane and clicking pictures the entire time. Chuckles at the sense of belonging and affection he feels for a person he’s yet to meet and cannot even picture clearly in his mind. It doesn’t matter though. Because in a way that matters most, Win knows Bright better than he knows himself, understands his aspirations, dreams and thoughts. Is aware of how kind, obliging and self-sacrificing the younger guy can be even at the expense of his own happiness and safety.

Idiot, he still cannot help but curse in exasperated fondness.

Bright is supposed to approach Gulf when someone is troubling him. He may not have been present there to witness this but Win knows his best friend and can confidently state Gulf insisted on being informed if Bright was getting bullied by anyone. Anxiety pools in his stomach like a massive cargo ship stuck in a narrow passage that’s unable to budge an inch without a miracle taking place.

It also doesn’t help matters that First apparently moves fast and has somehow tricked a gullible Bright into lowering his defenses around him. He chokes down the bitter sensation invoked by the glaring hints that Bright is considering to accept First’s deliberately misleading invitations and the heinous image forming in his mind is curdling his insides.

Just who the hell is this fucker? And what the fuck are Mike and Gunsmile doing when this First guy is making moves on Bright? Couldn’t they safeguard their innocent friend from people with lecherous motivations?

He cannot blame Bright for not seeing through First’s evil intentions. Not really. Bright is clearly anti-social and a shy kid who doesn’t have many friends. Of course, he couldn’t properly differentiate between a friendly request to hang out and a sinister plan meant to seduce and take advantage of unsuspecting victims. Shia. Win’s starting to sound akin to a terrible narrator from a cheesy melodramatic 80’s film. Wishes he was simply overreacting and was mistaken about First’s intentions. However, reading between the lines and sometimes the plain truth radiating from all the times when First was oh so helpful in cropping up just when he needed something, always there right next to Bright and offering to ‘hang out’, his suggestions for these outings easily crossing into the territory of dates leaves no room for doubt. Bright might be dense when it comes to these kinds of things, Win isn’t though.    

Racks his brain trying to place a face from his school juniors to that stupid name which he’s come to detest immensely in a short period of time. The trouble remains there’s just too many Nongs and peers he can think of in association with that nickname and no way of knowing which guy is the baddie he needs to pick a fight with stat. Having a surname or specific attributes to indentify the guy would certainly go a long way in shortening the list. He isn’t familiar with Gunsmile or his friends circle unlike Mike and it seems the former knows First, at least enough to recommend him to Bright.

Mn. He figured Bright’s not so secret feelings for Gulf might be an issue but this First made a wild card entry and manifested into a major itch on his neck that Win can’t seem to get rid off. The fact he’s reading about what happened in his crush’s life two years ago is further agitating his nerves like a slow acting poison corroding his blood.

Between this slippery snake and his best friend, Win will blindly choose Gulf as the apt friend for Bright to hang out with unaccompanied. At least, Gulf has Bright’s best interests at heart and isn’t trying to manipulate the younger guy into spending time with him alone. There’s also the case of Bright planning to move out of his uncle’s house in midst of all these troubles from seniors and double-faced friends.

Fear gnaws at him at the startling realization that instead of renting out a dorm, Bright could possibly choose sharing a flat to save money. Some of his friends in high-school decided to rent a condo together and become roommates, so Win is aware it is a wise decision based on financial parameters. And Bright isn’t exactly in the position to opt for comfort over practicality. What really terrifies him is that First has proved himself to be quite resourceful and cunning through the short dense entries about him. His heart pounds at the very possibility that First could upon hearing about Bright’s noble plan to save his mother from additional expenditure offer to room with him instead, all in the name of helping a ‘friend’ and saving costs of course.

It drives him insane with irrational fear and jealousy, hacks into his typically complacent nature rendering him defenseless and churning with insecurity. This burning need to do something, anything, preferably flying back in time to meet Bright and befriend the Nong while saving him from all the circling vultures consuming his every fiber of being till Win is left an unraveling mess.

He questions his grip on reality since he already lost his cool where Bright is concerned. This weird stinging in his heart hurts so bad yet feels so right. Like a masochist who grins at the pangs of pain, Win couldn’t help the growing dopey smile on his face thinking of Bright, no more than he can stop the anxiety laced blow resonating in his chest at the brutal reminder that they’re virtual strangers who might possibly never meet in this lifetime. At best, the Nong will remain a beautiful memory laced between the pages of a lost journal which helped him relieve boredom during his flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. (He really hopes not.)

Bright is not his boyfriend and neither are they friends. Win has no right to feel this possessive, enamored and protective over that boy, not in regards to who he’s friends with and certainly not about who he likes or associates himself with. But then, why does Win feel this bone chilling fear settle in his lungs, paralyzing him at the mere prospect of losing the Nong when Bright’s never even his to begin with?

 

>*<*>*<

Chapter Text

 

“All the passengers are kindly requested to fasten your seatbelts.”

The sudden chiming flight announcement and overhead lights alerting the passengers to fasten their seat belts and to remain in the assigned seats jolts Win from his spiraling introspection. He swiftly does as told, pondering whether to pick up the journal or not since they will be landing in Chiang Mai’s international airport soon. Win contemplates taking a break and simply letting his chaotic thoughts a breathing space to settle down similar to dust swept by the wind.

Taps his fingers against the hand-rest while his shoes drag against the floor, fast and irregular beats matching with the thuds of his adrenaline laced pulse. Like an addict itching for the next fix, his hands automatically skim towards the book in his lap - an unconscious need to hold it close and secured in his possession. Worries his lower lip as he frowns, lost between the options of continuing to bury himself in those pages of past memories till the last possible second or taking a step back and retaining a sense of stability.   

He has no idea how long it would take for the car ride from airport to his grandparents’ house. Or who would even arrive to receive him. Perhaps it would be best to stay alert until he can withdraw to the room allotted to him. Win will certainly be expected to engage in the usual niceties. The last thing he needs is to be muddled with annoyance at First or his lowkey resentment for Gulf’s special privileges while his grandparents try to initiate a conversation with him. He also doesn’t want to appear rude and absentminded when meeting them after a long while.

Having decided on siding with responsibility and practicality over his impulsive nature, Win leans back and closes his eyes, intent on waiting out the flight’s descent in idyllic silence. Barely two seconds later he ends up flitting through the pages till he hits the appropriate date – the next entry he’s to read. Suffice to say, Win isn’t really great at following advise least of all his own. Moreover, this is obviously a special case that deserves an exceptional case. Win is starting to gauge a pattern where Bright is turning out to be an exception to all his typical rules. 

Besides, the way he sees it there’s still roughly five to ten minutes left for landing and passengers to exit from the plane, not to mention maybe a couple more free minutes at the boarding line queue, if he speed-reads. That’s quite enough time for him to cover some extra ground and he’s already two years late to begin with.

 

<*>

Monday

I’ve got a surprise last night from Mae and uncle Kik. Hm, more like this morning to be exact. They’d left a present (gift wrapped with a fancy name card and all) for me at the dining table. However, my shift ran late and I was too tired to think properly. I didn’t glance at the card and thought the gift was for somebody else accidentally left on the table by mistake. 

I’m still shook by the present they got me. Don’t really see or understand their need to pamper me like this. It wasn’t my birthday or as if my recent grades are worth celebrating. Managing to perform well in the class and pop quizzes shouldn’t deserve this much pomp, it’s just so unnecessary in my opinion. I mean don’t get me wrong, I definitely appreciate their kind actions and am ever so grateful for their generosity, truly. Although, I feel wasting money just because my ‘therapist’ encouraged us to celebrate even the smallest milestones of my growth is surely a luxury we didn’t need to follow through at every turn.

Yet, I prove myself to be a selfish person through and through. I cannot find a way to genuinely argue with Mae to return back their purchase nor can I convince myself to ditch my plan at this juncture. I should be more resolute during these tempting moments, I know. However, I learn I’m very much a weak person when it comes to matters of heart – something my peers and seniors are eerily accurate in sniffing out regarding me.

Fujifilm instax - latest Polaroid camera. That’s what my uncle and Mae bought for me. A gorgeous turquoise coated hand-sized model with cords and a couple free rounds of film along with a nifty bag. Altogether it is quite an extravagant purchase.  

Yeah. Apparently they both felt bad? Didn’t want to see me almost working myself to death (their words), just so I can buy a camera whilst contributing to household expenses and keeping up with my studies. They know I’m planning to move out on top of everything else, hence my weak protests were easily ignored.

 

“One of my clients was going to return this camera – told me it wasn’t the color she ordered – apparently had a change of heart regarding the model and brand too. I suddenly remembered thinking, why my dearest nephew would have loved to own such a cute piece like this! And then it struck me, she doesn’t want it anymore and I could get it off her hands … for you.” Uncle Kik’s reasoning is backed up by Mae’s insistence of what she calls following the good doctor’s instructions.

“Yes, Luk. I had a similar idea too and was glad when Kik mentioned this opportunity to me. You have been working way too hard and kept all your promises. I know you didn’t want to maintain a journal or join the music club but you’re still managing them because I asked you to. You didn’t have to take on a job, I can see you aren’t too happy with it. If you’re going to move out, the expenditure will surely double and you will find it harder to keep aside spare change for a rainy day. I know how excited you were about joining that photography contest. We just wanted to ease the pressure a little.”

 

I had to write down this exchange because I HAVE to remember the extent my family is willing to go to make a silly guy like me happy.

Not sure if I can trust uncle Kik’s story – it is quite possible he asked help from one of his clients for ordering the camera – and as for Mae, she must have used the amount I gave from my paycheck to pay for her share instead of using it for our expenses. I feel terrible and useless – a huge burden on my family. I almost tear up at her words and hide my face by hugging her amidst their cooing.

As if I needed more guilt for putting her through that entire mess last year and shelling extra for medical bills. Mae never once complained but I can plainly see how much my adversities are affecting her, piling on excess stress and responsibilities that she keeps shouldering with a smile and positive attitude. I just wanted to give her a break from struggling so hard all the time to take care of me. But Mae as usual surprises me with these gestures even when there’s absolutely no sense in indulging me like this. She is the most amazing and hardworking person I know. Mae is my idol and I want to make her proud, graduate with honors and earn a good living. To makes sure she doesn’t need to work anymore, can finally relax and enjoy her life that she spent struggling so hard for me.

Which brings me back to my most shameful moment.

I loved their gift and understand its real value; the price they paid is immeasurable given that it is their love and concern for me that initiated this grand gesture. Nevertheless, I hated the ugly whisper of contradiction that rose while I was admiring the costly piece in front of them. That stupid grating whine daring to pinpoint the small issue neither Mae nor uncle Kik foresaw: it isn’t the model I was planning to acquire.

Fuji is a good brand, pricey too. I wasn’t miffed because it is not the latest canon version that’s about to hit the shelves in a few weeks. No. I was kinda, slightly upset because they unnecessarily wasted money on a Polaroid model when I was hoping to get a typical one. I couldn’t tell them that I need the other kind for my competition. Didn’t want to do anything to cause disappointment and wipe those satisfied smiles off their faces. Couldn’t live with myself if I did that.

So, I kept quiet and thanked them. I cannot reveal that I would still require a couple hundred baht to add to my nest of savings. Renting a place just climbed up in the ranks of my priorities since my family now thinks I should take my work-shifts easy. Guess, I will just have to up-the-ante regarding the flat search.

Meanwhile, there is nothing stopping me from reacquainting with my favorite hobby now that I have a personal camera to accompany me wherever I go. Can’t wait to show this beauty to P’Gulf at school.

~

 

Oh-hoi.

That explains the several snapshots stuck haphazardly inside the journal. In fact, he can sense the indentation of a Polaroid in the upcoming pages. Probably the first image Bright snapped from his new camera and judging from his overflowing excitement, he can easily presume what or rather who will be the subject of his new lens.

Nevertheless, Win cannot bring himself to begrudge too much at yet another benefit Gulf received so freely from the Nong. He is happy Bright was able to gain a camera to indulge in his favorite pastime even if it wasn’t the exact model he was interested in. Grins at the contagious excitement evident in Bright’s tone,

It soon turns into a pout as his stomach swoops at the sharp dive of the plane and the rumbling shaking him to the bones when the wheels hit the runway.

His ears pop painfully at the abrupt change in altitude and he winces from the immediate pings of overhead announcements and at increase in racket from his co-passengers. There is a general air of eagerness saturating the previously stifled mood and Win gets swept up in it, despite wanting to hole up in his corner with Bright’s handwriting as company for the foreseeable period. The subtle shift to longer and meticulously sketched entries meant more data he could soak in about his wonderful Nong. But unfortunately, this also leads to an increased possibility of unwanted interruptions when he’s about to finish reading them.

Exhaling in disappointment as the plane screeches to a stop, he readies his stuff, careful to leave a marker for the page and stows the diary in his backpack. One of the perks of travelling business class, Win gets herded by the airhostess to exit first. The punishing glare of the Chiang Mai’s midday sun barely had the chance to graze Win when he and the rest of the business section quickly reached the special airbuses taking them towards the airport building. This is a too short ride to even attempt picking up the journal and he darkly squashes the bubbling separation anxiety under his restless feet.

The blast of centralized air-conditioned coolness, the din of travelers and general excitement is catching and he feels the pull of vacation vibes working its magic on him.

He wonders not for the nth time what Bright is up to around now. He would be a first year Uni student now. Either the boy is back to his hometown for vacation too or he stayed in Bangkok at his uncle’s place. Although from what little he understood so far, the Nong clearly has no other family than his Mae and uncle. It is quite possible Bright didn’t leave the city and probably at his university dorm getting ready to leave for a part-time job or to take pictures. That image causes warm fluttery feelings to bloom in his chest like an orchid farm during spring time.

Win leans forward, shifting under the weight of his bag and checks for directions to the correct baggage claim. Striding in a smooth controlled pace, his thoughts run miles of the latest tidbit he learnt. Bright is just so sweet … and real. Flawed? Perhaps a tiny bit, yes. But also quite amazing and irresistibly lovable in Win’s eyes. The soft corner dedicated to this humble, caring and self-depreciatory Nong keeps expanding similar to his vast list of marvelous qualities, a boundless valley of goodness and bliss. (A gift that keeps on giving, in his humble opinion.)

The boarding counter queue is long as expected, situated farther away from the baggage claim and crawling at snail’s pace. Win wheels his rather small suitcase for the three weeks trip after a western couple, rubbing his eyes and kept pushing at the slipping straps of his backpack onto his shoulder, clutching the phone in his other hand. The minute he stepped inside the cool building and disabled the airplane mode, his phone lit up with notifications and missed calls. Win may have forgotten to report his parents that his flight landed safely in his current preoccupied state but his family clearly didn’t.

 

“Did you land safely dear? Have you picked up your luggage? Did you see Run, the driver who came to pick you yet? He’s carrying your name card and is wearing a yellow shirt. It should be easy to recognize him. If there’s any confusion ring me and we will sort it out. Oh, I forgot to ask. Did the journey go well?” His mother immediately bombarded him with questions after receiving his call.

He whines. “Mae, this is not the first time I’m travelling alone. You don’t have to worry about me, I’m not a kid.”

“You will always be a kid to me, Luk. I can’t help worrying about my child anymore than you can stop being a bottomless pit where food is concerned.”

He chuckles, tousling his hair in amusement tingled with slight awkwardness. “Yeah, yeah. I know. The journey went fine, nothing to be concerned about. I just picked up my bag and am presently waiting for Boarding to be done.” The line has thankfully picked moving along fast. “Sure. I’ll text you once I reach grandparents place. Gotta go now, Mae.”

“Win. I asked Run to bring some snacks for you. The drive is quite far from airport to the house. Don’t forget to eat something on the way and also drink plenty of water to hydrate yourself. Call me again when you arrive there.” She reminds him again before hanging up.

“Will do Mae. Love you. Bye.”

~

 

Still shaking his head, he displays his boarding pass to be scanned at his turn and drags his baggage through the twists and exit markings of the airport. Pays a quick visit to the RTC counter to buy a Rabbit card just in case and heads out to the arrivals section. He cannot be too sure of his transport options during his stay – better to be prepared for public commute for when he’s bored out of mind and wants to explore the nearby towns.

A large crowd of people, most of them dressed plainly as drivers and hotel staff is waiting past the railing opposite the entrance of the exit lane. Win checks out the huge to mediocre display boards for his name and remembers to look out for a yellow shirt too in middle of the clamoring crowd, almost instantly honing onto the guy.  

P’Run is not what Win was expecting at all. Instead of an older person in his forties like he was envisioning from his mother’s words (his assumption from the way she spoke of his responsibilities at the estate), P’Run pleasantly turns out to be the opposite. The short and slender man with a cheerful disposition, cute as a button, is clearly in his mid-to-late twenties. He grins, revealing a row of pearly white teeth and Win automatically feels a friendly rapport with this older guy.

 

“Sawadee Krab. P’Run..?”

“Sawadee Krab, N’Win. I hope you had a pleasant journey. Please come this way. Auntie has informed me that you cannot handle hunger for long. There are snacks in the car for you. But if you want we can stop at a restaurant first. It will easily take over an hour for us to reach home.”

Win ponders for a split second before refusing the polite offer. “Khap Khun Khrab. But I’m not really hungry at present. Snacks should be fine.”

He would typically be famished by now and eager to make use of such invitation. The fact he, the Win-Metawin is turning down a food invite is a conspicuous indication that something is awfully wrong with him. Neither is he prone to bouts of introspective silence and keeping to himself when socialization is an option. The self diagnosis of his current condition is both alarming and a joyful occasion - love sickness, something he’s rather familiar due to his past experiences. Although this is the first time it accelerated this fast and has him affected in such a short period. It is a good thing that the Phi didn’t know him well and couldn’t call him out for his strange behavior. As promised, Win makes a short call to his mother and informs they’re ready to hit the road.

Following the Phi to a white Mercedes in the parking lot, he chooses to ride short-gun and stashes his bags in the backseat. It would be rude and improper to ignore the guy and disappear behind a book immediately. Simply accepts the seaweed snacks from P’Run and a bottle of green tea with sincere thanks. P’Run, it seems is also an energetic chatterbox. He keeps up with a steady flow of funny and interesting anecdotes about the various tourist spots and entertainment options for Win to explore during his stay.

The plan to pick up Bright’s journal later flies out of the window when he gets swept up in listening to P’Run’s commentary. Asks him a few queries in return and drinking in the dusty roads, beautiful architecture, temples and mountain landscapes along their route. His eyes soon turn heavy and Win unintentionally naps for most of the ride, exhausted from the restless sleep the night before and the journey. He wakes up to a sudden hitting of breaks and loud blaring of horn over the faint backdrop of radio, three-fourths into their car journey.

 

“A-alai wa? What happened?” Win yawns, sleep not entirely chased out. He rubs at the dull throb, resulted from the sudden friction of the seat-beat digging into his torso.

“Uh. You woke up. Nothing happened. Just a biker having a death wish. It is quite common here for people to treat traffic rules as mere guidelines. Not sure how things work in your Bangkok though. If you want, you can go back to sleep Nong Win. We still have another twenty odd minutes left to reach our destination.” He winks, crinkles forming near his small, slant eyes.

The mention of remaining distance works as a ticking bomb. “Nah. I think I will catch up on my reading, Phi.”

Win languidly stretches his well-toned arms over his head, wakefulness rather leisurely slipping back in. Sipping some lukewarm water from the bottle, he unzips his bag and pulls out the green bound book. The intrigue hasn’t diminished and only piqued further. Sneaks P’Run’s reaction from his peripheral vision, cautious of what the older guy would think upon noticing the handwriting on the pages instead of print. P’Run’s gaze however remains fixed on the bustling road, tinkering with the volume of the radio station (playing one of Suzzy’s hit songs) to a more discernible level and hums along the tune.

Letting a breath he wasn’t even aware of holding in the first place, Win straightens in his seat and unconsciously leans against the window protecting the content from any curious glances from P’Run, and flips to the middle of the entry where he left a receipt of his coffee as a bookmark.

 

<*>

Monday (Continued)

I held off my impatience to show my brand new camera at school to my friends with great difficulty. Mike and Gunsmile could tell I’m hiding something. They kept saying my face is pulling a weird expression and before I could truly freak out, they revealed I was smiling … a lot today. I hardly ever smile in class (or school for that matter), so I can understand why they kept looking at me in various shades of confusion and disbelief. 

Mike even messed around going so far as to take a snapshot of me from his phone and threatening to make it his wallpaper. One swift head-slap later he is back to behaving like a well-bred dog. Really, sometimes I feel like I’m babysitting kids and at other times as though I’m a pet sitter for a couple of strays. Between Mike and First, I think I got this comparison right. The only anomaly here is Gunsmile – he is either a rabid dog, drunken monkey or a pissed-off bird depending upon the situation. And that’s not even the entire list. I’m sure he’s capable of more and I have yet to see him in action on the football field where he and Mike frequently play with and against the seniors’ team.

Yeah, back to the topic. I finally quit squirming and kept my head down when our classmates started to swirl around in our direction with lesser intervals. I just wanted P’Gulf to be the first person to take a look, which means I need to only wait till the break. First also squinted at me, suspicious; when he came over to greet me and Gunsmile during our free period. But luckily, he is great at pinpointing my moods (even better than Mae sometimes) and knows when not to push and prod for answers. I can’t believe I thought he was a nuisance when we initially met. First has quickly become one of my best confidantes.

 

Win almost gnashes his teeth at the rancid confirmation of that asshole’s success in swaying Bright’s affections from sheer annoyance to this urgh, this fond acknowledgement of trust. He supposes he should be grateful Bright is too focused on Gulf and as a result, resistant to First’s seduction attempts. However, this sullen reasoning can only work so long with that jerk working overtime to trample his way into Bright’s life and inside his extremely trusting heart.

What? First’s even better than Bright’s own mother at understanding his mood swings? Oh, the absurdity of that claim! 

When did this happen? Okay. Bright did mention ‘sometimes’ as a tagline but still the outrageousness of that statement is throwing him for a loop. What the hell does that mean? How did that scheming bastard manage to crack the code of Bright’s incredibly swift temper changes?

Possessing a cheat sheet in the form of Bright’s personal diary, Win is still at loss most of the time on how to map the reasons for the Nong feeling down in a second and euphoric the next. He understands the reticent junior is suffering from depression and other issues (that were only hinted at) which can alter and affect one’s disposition a great deal. What secret did First have under his disposal that lead him to take a true peek in Bright’s mind? And how can Win do the same?

Leaning his head against the glass pane and crossing seven seas to bring his sour expression back in his control lest P’Run actually start enquiring after his shifty behavior, Win wedges open the diary again. This time he lingers on an unrelated note: Mike and Gunsmile participating in football matches against their team.

‘I have yet to see him in action.’ Bright wrote.

The YET takes on a bold and highlighted font, shimmering and standing out like the giant dancing dragons during Chinese New Year festival. Win gapes, a spell bound spectator entranced by the implications and ripples of fireworks setting off in the background of his wheezing conscience.

Bright didn’t watch his friends practice football in the school grounds or attended their matches yet. But, he was planning to do so sometime in the future, which is Win’s past, which means Bright will be part of the (juniors) crowd cheering for their class and maybe even meeting with the players because of his friends. This is a great thing because even if Win still couldn’t string along a memory of Bright from the edge of his memories, he could be caught in one of the photographs of the games. 

He simply has to hunt down his yearbook and the old album containing pictures of the games (stashed somewhere in his room). Just has to search for Mike or Gunsmile in their sports attire hanging out with a classmate dressed in regular clothes or their school uniform and he could figure out Bright’s identity.

This thought soothes the bitter aftertaste in his mouth provoked from reading about First’s praises. He is also peeved by Bright’s classmates getting to witness the rarity of his smiles and something tells Win that they didn’t react as kindly as Mike and Gunsmile did. Oh, speaking of Mike – all he could remember of that hyperactive spaz is he’s relentless and quite shameless when it came to proclaiming his love and demonstrating grand gestures of his sincerity. Win definitely had to swipe his phone to verify his past text thread from one of his high school friends that hit the topic of their ex-classmates dating life. He’s pretty sure Toptap is included in this list and that he is the guy who was aggressively courted by Mike since they lot were in junior year.  

Ah, yes. Toptap is still dating Mike, although word on street is they’re in a LDR. Good for them, he supposes. Yes, Win is just happy to know his former classmate is lucky in love, nothing else. It wasn’t as though he is worried Mike might also be nursing a tiny crush on Bright simply because saving his picture as his phone wallpaper. That would be preposterous and not to mention highly out of character for him to get jealous so easily. He thinks back to his childhood and the frequent fights he had with his siblings over his toys … okay, maybe not that ridiculous.

 

(Continued)

I met with Gulf in our usual spot during lunch. He was able to spare me a few minutes at the start of the hour and I showed him my cam. He liked it. Apparently, P’Gulf has a fondness for antique and retro stuff, the polaroids also falling into this category.

He granted me the request I was honestly having trouble to voice out, unsure how he will react. Phi actually volunteered – unaware that I didn’t use the cam yet hoping for this very thing – to get clicked in order to see the brilliance of the ink and print for himself. Also, he asked me to ditch the honorifics! Said we are close enough to call each other just by our names.

I think I finally understand why the phrase ‘floating on cloud nine’ is used. It happened! A senior student is friendly with me because he likes me for myself and not as a result of forced tradition or out of pity. Also he thinks we are close, closer than Phi-Nong relationship! I’m so happy, I could actually float away.

P’Gu (it sure feels weird to be informal but in a good way!)

Gulf wants to pose for my camera and even asked me, ‘how do you want me?’

I almost answered, ‘forever by my side’. But that was too cheesy and not to mention out of the left field for him. And might appear creepy too if I don’t contain myself…

In the end, we decided a different location is best to experiment with my budding skills than an open area where curious students peek at us every couple of minutes. Since we have our club session today, it would be a good place to start. Gulf took me out to a café as a treat for getting a new camera after so much hard work. I’m afraid I was a blushing fool throughout the whole affair. Pretty sure I should be the one treating him for being a good Phi to me but he wouldn’t hear of it. We had a lot of fun chatting since we (surprisingly) have a lot of similar interests.  

I managed to take two decent shots of Gulf and even got to keep one for myself. Today is one of the happiest days I had in a long while and I didn’t forget to thank Mae and uncle Kik later for making it happen!

First had several suggestions on places I could visit to hone my photography skills as well as enjoy the perks of the city. Gunsmile was the same too, though he and Mike wrangled an invitation to celebrate my new fortune first. I didn’t mind because I was thinking of the same. They have been such good friends to me so far, helping me out and even standing up against those people bullying me. Things have settled down a bit thanks to Mike and Gunsmile fighting some of my battles for me. They cannot be around forever nor are they my paid bodyguards. But it sure feels good to have backup during lunch hour and in between classes. However, the repercussions of having those two protect me are hard to avoid when they run off to football practice and their club activities. Those asshole seniors and some of their followers are happy to remind me of this.

In spite of all this, I still think joining this school is a major turning point for me. For the first time in a long time, I’m starting to feel like I belong and have a group of friends I could truly call my own.

I love this new found happiness. At the same time I’m scared all this might crumble away in an instant, as if this is a dream I’d wake up from in any moment…  

~

 

Tuesday

I clicked some shots in Lumphini Park this morning, a sort of test run for the competition. Had to wake up extra early to fit this excursion in my schedule. Traveling to the park, taking a stroll and still heading to school from there on time is not an easy task. Totally worth the efforts it took, however.

Simply loved the early morning ambiance of birds, greenery and the pleasant natural vibes. This spot is just as beautiful as my friends mentioned and relaxing too. I’m surprised this place managed to retain peace despite being located in the middle of one of Bangkok’s busiest districts. It is a welcome respite from the ever blaring traffic sounds and pollution – almost reminded me of home. Well, I guess I should say former home or rather hometown since presently, my home is in Bangkok now with uncle Kik and Mae.

Today marks exactly a month since I moved here and can’t say I’m not getting a little fond of this place. The general anonymity and constant bustling crowds did help in getting accustomed to this change along with my new circle of friends. There is just something about the ever busy buzz of life in this city that simply calms my soul, weird as it sounds. It makes me feel as though I am but a mere clog in the huge machine called society – just another brick in the wall – and this thought is sufficient to strips away most of my insecurities and hassles in the blink of an eye.

First said, he and his friends sometimes hang out in this park. They evidently reach here at evenings settling by the benches overlooking the small lake and play board games. He invited me to join him as usual, although this time First is wise enough to change the parameters of his request to include Mike and Gunsmile as well. I accepted it because how could I not? I was already planning to agree to spend some time with him outside of school but never came around to admitting it near him. Gunsmile is right – First is a decent guy and a good friend. He’s been helping me to scour for affordable condos since I divulged my plan of staying close to campus while saving money on rent and commute.

P’Gulf also had some good suggestions for me to look into. I’m using whatever little time I get between club activities and assignments to check them out. He also offered to accompany me during these visits and I didn’t turn him down even though I probably should have. It was nice to have someone experienced next to me, guiding and asking the questions I didn’t think of while making sure I’m not getting scammed by any fraudulent landlords. This must be how having an older (protective) sibling feels like.

We haven’t found a place that fits my budget yet. But I’m hopeful it will only be a matter of time. If everything fails then P’Gulf mentioned referring me to a flat share arrangement that some of his friends are involved in. So, I’ve got nothing to worry about.

I know he said to drop the ‘Phi’ but I keep forgetting to sometimes. Gulf is really a godsend, helping me from tight spots like a true white knight.

<*>

 

Win almost snaps the book shut; bile and fury rising inside him similar to a rabid animal prone to attacking without a just cause. He thought he would be okay with Bright being overly friendly with Gulf. Had even resigned to the fact a little (maybe not really so little anymore) crush is inevitable given the circumstances. But having to actually read the open admiration spewing from Bright’s neat handwriting is rolling his stomach and giving him ulcers.

He never considered himself to be an overtly jealous or possessive person. At least if pushed, he would award himself four out of five points on this scale. Guess, the ratings will have to be updated to highlight this recent development. 

The amount of emotional and psychological whiplash he’s suffering recently is causing him to deem his brain is simultaneously stuffed with cotton and leaking from his ears. Perhaps he needs a break? He needs to set aside the journal for some time and get a grip on reality. Give himself a day or two to enjoy his grandparents company and then he will return to his Bright’s addiction again. Yeah. That sounds feasible, although he wonders if he can truly last forty eight hours without breaking this rule.

A flash of the Polaroid, an intense spurge of colors against a dull background – yes, he is correct in his assumption that it depicts a grinning Gulf (and only him to Win’s major discontent) – halts him from following through and anchors him to the cold reality of the moment. Realizations, not entirely new or welcome, flash forth stopping him in tracks as a red traffic light.

Their rough drive plagued with sudden weaves and twists accompanied by loud blaring of horns and cajoling tones of artists from the car’s audio system does little in the way of consoling him. It doesn’t really matter whether he picks up reading a day from now or a month later – these entries won’t change and Bright’s feelings or fate certainly wouldn’t change. It dawns on Win again that he’s playing catch up with past events. If Gulf or First were around to share Bright’s joys and grievances then there is nothing Win can do about it. Getting insanely territorial now is not going to solve anything. He literally has no claim to Bright, has no right to throw a fit over Gulf (and even First) earning Bright’s trust and respect, much as it pains him to admit.

For one crazy minute, Win wants to forget he ever opened this damn book and fell head-over-heels for its adorable owner. Doesn’t appreciate this novel vulnerability and lack of control he’s experiencing among other things. Wants to erase the flips in his gut, the freaky coincidences and whispers of fate and destiny ringing in his ears like siren calls. Wants to root deep inside his conscience and rip that instinct urging him to reach through those pages and embrace the lonely and hurting boy in a loving hug. But also wants to find a way to make his crazy urges come true. Win doesn’t want this strange encounter to remain a fancy narration for his friends for laughs, no. He wants this to transcend past the fantasy levels of happenstance and merge smoothly into the quirky planes of veracity where Bright will become a tangible and solid presence in his life.

He startles, nearly shooting from his slouched position again (saved by the seat-belt) when P’Run hits the brakes quite hard. “Shia.” The picture almost slips from his fingers and thankfully gets trapped within the pages to his relief.

“Sorry na. Shouldn’t be long. We’re almost there.” The catching grin didn’t falter, except a curious glint is laced within the momentary look P’Run sends towards him.

Gathering his bearings Win shrugs as politely as he could due to his current muddled temperament and rubs the nape of his neck. The roads have transitioned from the wide, populated outlook to narrower and curved paths. The buildings, food stalls, vehicles and general throng has also diminished to the occasional tuk-tuk rides, shops and residential properties along the way. They are probably minutes away from reaching his grandparents property and getting closer by the second, the streets becoming lanes.

Wetting his suddenly dry lips, Win looks down on his lap at the warm weight, its contents staking claim on prime real estate in both his heart and mind. The forest green cover appears innocent enough – beguiling him in ways his feeble resistance couldn’t stand a chance against withstanding, didn’t from the start.

Scratches at his chin a contemplative gleam to his eyes, if he’s to try and squeeze in another fix before he arrive home (and HAS to forgo this latest acquired habit for however long till he’s free again), now is his chance. For a change, the next two entries (unexpectedly) appear to be rather short and ideal for his last minute cramming. Except the out of character shaky handwriting and repeated scratches and ink indentations are bit concerning...

Brows furrowed, he runs a hand through his hair and unconsciously leans forward with a bated breath. 

 

<*>

Wednesday

I don’t think I can write tonight. Can hardly think, period. Maybe writing would really help. My therapist certainly insisted it does. But she is no longer my doctor and I’m in- in a different city now. Besides, even if I want to follow her advice, well, my mind isn’t exactly cooperating. And I just cannot relive it again right now … not when it’s still so…

I was right after all, it is too good to last and I should have…

One g-good thing is Mae and uncle Kik weren’t around when I came back. I don’t think I could hide this from them. I- I don’t know if I can manage it tomorrow either. I just can’t-

I will have to think of something…

~

 

Win sits up, eyebrows raised and frown deepening as he re-reads the cryptic lines. Seems the short entries don’t necessarily mean Bright was too busy or tired to be generous with his thoughts. He figures out the other alternatives just as sweat breaks out on his brow and his hands turn clammy.

It seems as though Bright has had a bad episode..? But was it a result of his periodic depression blues or did something bad happen to him? The vagueness of his bleak musings is starting to really frighten him.

Did anyone bother him in school or at work? Not for the first time, he contemplates the kind of attention Bright has been receiving at school. Apart from one or two accidental hints to name-calling and possible confrontations there weren’t any mention of the true extent of hard-time Bright faced inside their campus. Win can imagine though. As part of the student council, he heard enough complaints to understand which route these actions usually take. There’s physical violence ranging from tripping to out-and-out browbeating, stealing or hiding one’s stuff and generally making a person’s life miserable out of a sick sense of accomplishment. The fact theirs is an all boys school only further drives the intensity of harshness and pain behind these atrocities.

Win is again reminded of all those fights and despicable antics he heard and personally witnessed from the entitled assholes, Bright mentioned harassing him are capable of. A wave of pure hate and rage rocks him to the core. If those fuckers were involved in this, he’d personally hunt each of them down to seek vengeance and rain righteous fury on their backs.

“We’re here.” P’Run soft tone is a splash of water against his burning hot vessel.

WHAT.

Looks up to see a substantial sized gates looped in an intricate design of metal and wood slowly rolling aside to let their car in. A looming house and a direct pathway to the garage space is revealed to maintain at least ten feet of space which Win instantly see as couple extra seconds to spare. The second they reach garage, likely the maids (and even his grandparents) will bombard him to with help with his luggage and generally showing him inside. In the next instant, he’s diving back to the page woefully sparse compared to the previous records.

He outright ignores how odd his behavior could be constructed from P’Run’s view. Simply couldn’t afford to indulge in stuff like that when his literal sanity hangs in the balance. Bright’s next accounts are bit larger and hopefully sheds light on what happened to him.  

~

 

Thursday

I, er, ditched school today. Told Mae I was down with fever and since I never played hooky with studies before, she didn’t suspect anything. The silver lining of last night’s incidents is that I did look like death warmed up. Mae took one look at me and believed my lies. She didn’t have to check my temperature to realize I’m no good outside of bed today and order me to stay put. P’Gulf on the other hand kept checking on me all through the day…

I’m stalling, I know. Don’t really want to talk or think or write about this. But P’Gulf’s kind words and offers to listen are making me want to do something I promised myself never to do again, if I could help it: cry and fall apart.

I’m not ready to face it yet…

~

 

Friday

Ditched school today as well and Mae thankfully didn’t say anything. Guess, I still look bad then. Kept in touch with P’Gulf and it helped to know I have someone in my corner.

Okay. I guess writing would also be a way of letting out of my system and I NEED to stop thi-this incident from having power over me. Besides, I do intend to thank the person responsible for helping me and well, the first step would be to overcome the trauma and face it. If I could write it and treat it as a-a something that isn’t a big deal, then it will surely come true…

Um. Here goes nothing.

So, I- was kinda jumped in school returning from the music club. It’s those asshole seniors who kept following me around. I, um, don’t really recall much. Parts of it were fuzzy out of fear and the other I was blindfolded… They er, took me, well dragged and carried mostly, somewhere and I- I made a lot of noise. Their punches hurt (nothing new) but the fear of their promises scared me more than anything… I didn’t remember much of it except for blurry flashes (and rather wild nightmares).

Luckily, P’Gulf was looking out for me (as he promised) and brought his friends to help when he noticed I’m in trouble. I don’t know who they are but they came in the nick of the time and saved me. P’Gulf said his friend took care of me while they handled those bastards and well, I’m absolutely and utterly grateful for everything they did.

I don’t know who my saviour was … P’Gulf said that person is a really good friend of his and a very nice guy (obviously he must have been). But I wanted to thank him in person for saving me from getting… er, hurt badly. I heard P’Gulf and his friends faced disciplinary action for putting those bastards in hospital because they didn’t reveal my role in the story. I offered to come clean before the principal but P’Gulf refused to put me in that position. It seems his friend, the guy who saved me, took care of everything without having to bring up my name. Those seniors were expelled and dealt with appropriately.

I just don’t have words to explain how I feel- I don’t have to be afraid anymore or hide from th-them anymore. And I don’t have to- feel the need to skip school anymore.

~

 

He’s still reeling and processing everything when a gentle hand lands on his shoulder. Win startles badly, jumping out of his skin and a sheepish P’Run scratches at his neck, shifting his feet, a guilty flush spreading across his tan face.

“The elders are waiting for you inside. Your suitcase is already sent up to your room. I thought, um you might want to carry your bag uh…” He pointedly stares at the journal in Win’s hand.

“Haargh. Oh, um, yes.” Win scrambles, fumbling with unclipping the seatbelt and rushes to exit the car. He snatches the bag from P’Run’s hands with rushed thanks and hastily stows the book inside.

“Everything okay…?” P’Run is studying him carefully. “You’re awfully pale as if you seen a ghost?” The older guy sniggers in attempt to make a joke out of it, but Win is in no mood to reciprocate. He waves off with some indistinct excuse or the other that he frankly doesn’t care about.

Setting off in the direction of the house and paying no attention to P’Run’s pensive humming, Win tries to regulate his breathing and racing heartbeat. The words swim in front of his eyes. Bright blindfolded and attacked, Gulf and his friends to the rescue, disciplinary action that was revoked the next day, and those bastards in hospital later expelled.

Every step Win takes and every exhale he releases eases a bit of tension from his rigid shoulders and tightly coiled frame.

He could paint the events from Bright’s re-telling in a startling clarity, of the nerve-wracking fear his Nong must have been in that moment and his pleas for them to stop. Those bastards deserved more than ending up in hospital with broken bones and getting expelled. It just wasn’t enough in his opinion. Bright may not remember much from that encounter, clouded as most of it was in hues of terror and fatigue, but he on the other hand had no trouble vividly recollecting every haunting second of that horrible incident.

Because Win was present in that deserted crafts room along with Gulf and his friends that night kicking those fuckers seven ways to hell.

 

>*<*>*<