It seemed Tine had forgotten about a very important part of enrolling in the music club- he had to actually know how to play an instrument. And the thing was, he would’ve been patient enough to scrape by on the guitar except for the fact that P’Dim was very serious about only choosing those who could truly, genuinely play. Even worse; he only had one week to prepare before he’d be put on the spot and forced to scramble some sort of meaningful tune together. He’d felt a little more reassured when Pear said she’d help him out, but was quickly let down when he realized there was no way she could refuse Earn’s offer to teach her one-on-one, although Pear already knew most of the basics. That was why, at the moment, he sat alone in the club practice room, strumming a guitar till his fingers bled raw.
Tine couldn’t pretend like he wasn’t a tad annoyed at being ditched (okay; it made him feel like shit, but he wasn’t about to tell Pear that) but there was nothing he could do about it now except practice as much as he could. Not that that plan was going particularly well for him. Even though his fingertips were shredded from the hard strings and he was exhausted just thinking about the assignments waiting for him when he got back to his dorm, it wasn’t as if he had much of a choice. So, he sat pathetically cursing and licking his wounds as he desperately tried to crank out a C chord. It’d been so quiet in the shadows of the practice room except for the squeak of his chair and whine of the strings that he nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard the door creak behind him. Head whipping around, Tine squinted his eyes at the stranger that had slipped inside, their face obscured by sunglasses and a hoodie. It didn’t take him long to figure out who the mystery man was, though, when he caught a glimpse of a pair of lips that he was acquainted with far too well to be comfortable with.
Sarawat slid over towards the table that was nearly bent in half from the weight of the snacks put upon it, all of which had been graciously left for him. Tine might’ve stolen some if his stomach wasn’t churning at the thought of food. The hunger pangs helped him focus anyways. Taking a deep breath, he tried to ignore the presence beside him, instead putting his attention on the instrument in front of him. It proved useless, however, when the moment he pushed out a note, a voice from behind him called “Wrong." Wrinkling his nose in annoyance, he closed his eyes and breathed out slowly, before opening them and trying again. The same voice rang out once more. “Wrong.” Brows furrowing, he gritted his teeth and strummed yet again, this time throwing his fingers against the strings a bit harder than needed and hissing in pain as they dragged against his exposed skin. “Wro-“ “Look, do you think I don’t know that already?” Tine finally burst out, turning around with darkened eyes, lips pulled into a scowl. Sarawat looked at him in surprise, irises glowing honey brown in the low light, guitar held awkwardly against himself like a child who’d been caught- and with that amount of endearment, Tine felt his anger melt a little. No, he had to be strong! Sighing, he turned around fully and made direct eye contact. “I know you’re just trying to help-“ did he? “-but it doesn’t really give me much of a clue on how to improve if all you tell me is that I’m not doing it right. I’m tired enough as it is, I don’t need someone reminding me of every mistake I make.” His voice came out more burnt out than he meant it to at the end, and he winced a bit. Sarawat simply stared at him, eyes gaining that burning quality yet again that made him feel like he was set aflame. He couldn’t help but squirm in his seat a bit, suddenly nervous. Sarawat had a lot more social prowess than he did, and could probably end his life, sabotage his grades, and squish him like a bug with just a few words. And who’s to say he wasn’t exactly like Pear said?
This was precisely why he was a mixture of surprised, relieved, and almost smug (that last one was something he’d have to look into later) when Sarawat’s eyes softened rather than sharpened, an almost guilty crease in the furrow of his brows. His lower lip stuck out slightly in a half-pout, and he took a few steps forward. “I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean it that way. I just- well- my friends say, well, they say I’m very…straightforward.” Something about Sarawat’s small frown told Tine their word choice was not so matter of fact. It was the stuttering in that gentle voice that surprised him most though, the way he shifted back and forth and clutched tighter onto his guitar. “I’m sorry, I really am. I can help you if you want?” The sentence came out as more of a question than anything, and Sarawat’s gaze looked so hopeful with his excessive apologies that Tine couldn’t find it in him to say no. How could anyone? He was a weak, weak man. Nodding, he gave Sarawat what he hoped was a reassuring smile and scooted over from his place on the bench. The other boy’s eyes practically lit up, as he grinned and walked over before plopping himself down on the spot beside him. It didn’t take him long to take notice of Tine’s bleeding fingers, and his demeanor quickly changed to one of concern as he leaned over to get a better look.
“I-I’m trying to build callouses,” Tine quickly explained, suddenly feeling as if he had to defend himself. Sarawat looked up from beneath his fringe with worried eyes and his heart nearly stopped. Sarawat was so close he could smell the sandalwood and cinnamon on his skin and clothes, along with a hint of sweat. He was pretty sure he was going to have an aneurysm before he learned any semblance of musical cohesiveness. “Is it okay if I touch your hands?” Tine nodded wordlessly, hardly able to register anything other than Sarawat’s shampoo. Gently, ever so gently, he reached forward and took one of Tine’s hands into his own, before shuffling through his guitar case and pulling out a small roll of bandages. Tine finally snapped out of it to tilt his head in confusion. “Do you just…carry those around?” Sarawat turned and gave him a soft smile, unrolling the gauze. “When I was first learning guitar, I did the same thing as you, and played too hard. Even now if I play too much my fingers bleed sometimes. I used to have a disinfectant too, but…” Somehow this man, who Tine had by now decided was the essence of perfection and needed to be protected at all costs, had the audacity to look guilty. He quickly spoke up, wanting that expression wiped off the musician’s face as soon as possible. He’d be happy to never see it again. “It’s okay, I have some stuff at home.” That was a lie; Tine hadn’t had the money or the time to get proper essentials and actual food in weeks, but he figured a little white lie never did anyone any harm, right?
Sarawat nodded, seeming to calm down a little, although he still appeared a bit dejected. He gently dabbed at the blood with a cotton swab before wrapping a bandage around each of the affected fingers. It was the most weirdly soothing experience Tine had ever had. His hands were smooth, somehow soft and rough at the same time, refreshingly cool as he continued his ministrations. When he finished, Tine had half the mind to chase after his touch. Good thing he still had enough sanity to stop himself, swallowing down his shame at being so damn needy. He didn’t need to burden another person with his weird clinginess; he was lucky he had enough people as it was who were willing to deal with him. He was pulled out of his thoughts when Sarawat asked him a question, and surely it wasn’t Tine’s imagination telling him Sarawat was a bit closer than needed, was it?
“So, why’d you decide to join the music club?” Tine spoke without thinking. “For Pear.” Something flashed through his companion’s eyes that he couldn’t quite place, and when he spoke next, something seemed more strained in his words. “You…like her?” Tine raised his eyebrows, turning to face him with a smirk. “Of course I like her. Are you saying that you don’t?” Sarawat’s expression turned to one of horror and Tine burst out into laughter. When he was finally able to speak again, he shook his head at the ear splitting grin on his face, which grew even wider at Sarawat’s confusion. “I’m just joking, it’s okay. I know you didn’t mean it that way. I don’t have a crush on Pear, because if I did I’d be in for some unfortunate realizations.” Sarawat only looked more befuddled and Tine remembered that he was still a relatively new student. “Pear’s a lesbian,” he explained. “And in fact, she has a crush on someone else right now.”
Tine wasn’t sure if it was relief he saw on Sarawat’s face or something else. The other boy suddenly got a look in his eye that didn’t bode well for Tine’s fragile emotional state. Leaning in just enough to make Tine swallow down the rapid beating of his heart, Sarawat sported something akin to a smirk. "I'm surprised. Someone as pretty as her isn't usually single." Tine got the distinct impression that Sarawat wasn't really talking about Pear at all. Quickly shoving down his suspicions, he cleared his throat and turned his face away so his companion couldn't see the heat surely blooming across his cheeks. "Er, well, yes. If everything goes well, she won't be single for much longer." Tine was suddenly reminded of his idea back at the club welcoming ceremony, when he'd seen Sarawat and Earn talking. He still wasn't quite sure about it- was it really okay, to form a friendship with someone only to get interpersonal information from them?- but he figured it was probably his best bet in getting details about Earn. Gnawing at his bottom lip in contemplation, he swallowed down his nervousness and turned back to look at Sarawat. "Can I take you up on that offer to help me now?" Tine held out his injured fingers with a sheepish smile. "As you can see, I'm not exactly doing great on my own here." I've got to start somewhere. First step is getting into the club, then I can worry about the details.
Sarawat immediately perked up, reminding Tine of a puppy- funny, considering just a moment ago he was the perfect image of a sly cat. "Sure," he smiled, hoisting his own guitar into his lap and situating himself. "What chord were you trying to play?" Tine cringed. Was his playing really so bad that it was impossible to know what he was even attempting? Sighing, he glared down at the offending instrument in his hands and shrugged. "Chord C. Could you really not tell?" Sarawat bit his lip, clearly trying to hold back laughter. Rolling his eyes with a huff, Tine curbed the urge to pout in favor of closely watching his newfound teacher. Blinking in the realization that he was expected to start, Sarawat cleared his throat and shifted into a more comfortable position. The way his fingers rested over the strings was fluid, natural- like they'd been made just for this. Maneuvering his fingers into the correct position, Tine did his best to copy the other boys work. The way he did it made it look so much more simple than it actually was, and he couldn't help but feel a little silly at being so incompetent. Sarawat strummed, the sound clear and firm in the air, and Tine did the same. Yet again, even though he'd tried his best to get his own fumbling fingers to sit on the strings right, the sound came out grating and out of place. Frowning, Tine tried once more- only to be met with the same results.
About to give it yet another try, stubborn regardless of his abysmal abilities, Tine was stopped by Sarawat tapping his elbow and holding out something in his palm. Brows furrowing, Tine leaned in and took it in his own hand. It was small, smooth and triangular, whorls of brown creating the impression of dark wood. "It's a guitar pick," Sarawat explained. "You'll have to give it back to me after this, but you can borrow it for now. It won't do any good for your fingers to press harder, and that's the only way you'll get it to sound right." He said it so matter-of-factly that Tine only narrowed his eyes a little bit at the subtle jab at his musical capability. Taking a deep breath, he pressed his fingers to the guitar once again, strumming with the pick this time. To his great relief, the chord came out much more clearly, if not a bit harsh. He couldn’t quite keep back the smile tugging at the corners of his lips as he moved his fingers to a new position, plucking the strings as he felt he was finally getting somewhere. In the matter of a few minutes, Sarawat had helped him get further in his practicing than he had all night. Biting his lip in an attempt to hold back his excitement, he looked up only to see the other boy staring at him for what felt like the hundredth time that night. Clearing his throat, Tine averted his eyes and brought his hand up to scratch at the back of his neck, hoping the heat dusting it wasn’t too obvious. “Uh, thanks. I didn’t know a pick could help this much. Maybe I’ll actually have a chance of making it into the club now,” he joked, but Sarawat nodded seriously, a pensive expression on his face. “You will.” He said it like it was a simple fact, like nothing in the world could change it. It was strangely comforting.
Checking his phone, Tine watched his companion’s face crease into a grimace upon seeing the time. Giving him an apologetic look, Sarawat stood up and began packing up his things. “Sorry, I’ve got to go. Football practice,” he explained. Swallowing down the familiar disappointment rising in his throat, Tine hummed in understanding. “Uh…” Sarawat paused for a moment, giving him a strange look. It made Tine shift in his seat a little, doing his best to not look like a nervous schoolgirl, although he wasn’t too sure he succeeded. “You can keep the pick,” Sarawat finally spoke, gently, yet with a hint of a smirk in his voice. Tine couldn’t figure out for the life of him why. ”I’ll see you later.” With that, the boy departed with a wave, leaving the snacks and gifts left for him behind without a second glance.
As the door squeaked behind him and Tine turned back to his work, he missed the ear splitting smile the other boy was sporting as he walked down the hall.
Tine hated his friends. Hated them. They were useless and stupid and only served to make his life a living hell.
In other words, he was currently stuck as the designated driver while Ohm, Phuak, and Fong got shitfaced.
To be fair, at least Fong had a reason to. He’d recently been broke up with (again) and cheated on (probably) and could use a night to just whine and sob over drinks. His other friends, however, had no excuse. They were simply pawning their responsibilities onto Tine and he was incredibly resentful about it.
”Oh, c’mon, Tine, we’re not that bad,” Phuak slurred over his fourth glass of beer. Who knew how many shots he’d taken before that. Tine just grunted, refusing to make eye contact as Fong sniveled onto his shirt about muscled blonde guys taking away his goldfish, whatever that meant. The neon lights of the bar flashed periodically as partygoers grinded against each other with the cover of dancing, shitty music pounding through the speakers and rattling their glasses with its force. The whole place smelt like linoleum flooring and cigarettes, sweat and alcohol clinging to everyone’s clothes with the promise of a hangover in the morning. Tine found it was usually times like this, when he was the one who had to take care of everyone’s drunk asses, that he wanted a drink most. The pleasant buzz would make his friend’s foolish giggling a little bit more bearable. Alas, Tine was the most responsible out of all of them, and it was a heavy burden to carry.
He was busy wallowing in his self inflicted pity party when a familiar voice tugged him from his thoughts. Looking up in confusion, Tine’s face paled to a degree that was certainly unhealthy. The figure in front of him, seemingly not noticing his plight, laughed merrily as she flipped her braid over her shoulder. Her hair was dark and sleek, lips glossy and pink, eyes creased in happiness. Her nails were still perfectly manicured, her wrists adorned with a plethora of beaded and leather bracelets, but her clothing was more feminine than Tine had ever seen her in. The last time he remembered her, the version most clear in his memories, was her in her brother’s old varsity jacket, tear streaks on her face and rain soaked curls dripping onto the ground. And him, standing there petrified, nails digging into his palms as he begged her to stay-
He shoved the thought as far back in his mind as it could go.
The thing was, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t hate Milk. Even though her face had haunted him for months afterwards, the red marks where she’d gripped his arm so tightly never quite seeming to fade, he just- he couldn’t do it. And the thing was, he should , her and her stupid brother with his stupid eyes squinting at him like he was a problem , the way she left him holding back tears in the rain as she yelled that it wasn’t her, it was him , and that maybe if he’d just tried harder, or loved better, or talked less or been more calm or stopped being so goddamn clingy-
Tine was getting distracted again. He needed to stop. He needed to run, before she saw him, before this tiny world he’d crafted around himself, this safe haven, all came crashing down.
Standing up abruptly, Tine ignored his friend’s complaints as he yanked Fong up by the elbow and clumsily left a tip. Out, out, out, he needed out . Dragging his friends behind him almost aggressively, he clenched his jaw as tight as it could go, everything passing in a blur as he walked them into their dorms, waved them off with promises of a longer outing tomorrow, trudged back to his own pathetic room and realized, all of a sudden, in the dimming light of the lamp Type had gifted to him that never quite worked right, that he was alone.
In high school, Tine thought every single person was ‘the one’. His bisexual awakening had been a bit of a shock, young and acne-covered and fresh out of middle school, but he’d powered through it regardless. Whichever person he fell head over heels for would certainly find him tolerable, deal with all his rambling and snort laughing and chewing with his mouth open, and they’d love him anyway. And, he always told himself, every failure was just a learning experience. That was what his mother always told him, after all. But his mother dealt with monsters of men for years, and Tine weathered break up after break up, learning he was too much and too clingy and too nervous and too distant and too close all at once. He smiled too much, he should eat healthier, he cared way too much about all his friends, he was too feminine, every single little thing that made him him getting picked apart until he was nothing but scraps clinging to bone.
People liked to call him a player. After all, why else would he have had so many relationships? But really, he just fell so hard, so fast, saw the good and the love in people so easily, that when he wasn’t attending to someone’s every need, he felt empty, purposeless. He’d clean his room four times within the same week, go through several different diets, do his homework over and over until it was early in the morning and the result was hardly legible. Everyone was letting him know what his faults were, and he just had to fix them, and if he just did that then maybe someone would stay. He had to be strong, confident, flirtatious but not overbearing, physical but not clingy. It was exhausting. It was all Tine knew how to do.
And the thing was, he was working on it. Trying his best to heal, although part of him (most of him) still denied he’d ever been hurt in the first place. Learning that it was okay to eat more than salads, that one treat wouldn’t ruin any shred of likability in him, that yes, he could wear sweatshirts, and that for fucks sake, his current crush wasn’t going to hate him because he smiled too loudly . But it was hard, some days feeling impossible, when it was so much easier to fall back into his old habits of nitpicking every part of himself until he hardly felt real anymore. He thought he’d been progressing, but of course, one night of seeing someone from his past, and he was screwed.
Ignoring the tightness in his stomach that told him he should make something more than cheap ramen, the itchiness in his eyes from tears he refused to acknowledge, and the tang of blood on his tongue where he’d bitten his lip too hard, Tine turned off the lamp. He didn’t want to see himself anymore, not when it was little more than a reminder that it was just him in here, that there was nothing he could do about it.
No, instead, he crawled under the covers, buried his face into that body pillow he could never quite sleep without because he needed to feel held, and forced himself to sleep.