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music is not in the notes, but in the silence between them

Chapter Text

Cabaret clubs always looked ugly in the full light. The fluorescence highlighted all the stains and scratches, the worn patches on the velvet seats, the scuff marks on the door from servers kicking them open with trays balanced in each hand. This one was a little newer than some Pran had seen, still clinging to its early lustre, and Pran had seen his fair share over the last three years. They weren't bad money, especially if you knew your way around the sound equipment, and it was steady (or as steady as you could get in this industry). 

He was standing on the stage with several other hopefuls responding to an advertisement for vocalists and dancers in a new show starting in September. He'd already had to pass two preliminary video auditions just to be here but now he was finally standing in front of a small panel of interviewers. It was a standard audition, checking their skills across the board, but it was all done pretty casually. The panel consisted of the producer, the stage manager and the director, who took lead. The first two were the regular po-faced interviewer-types but the director was large and flamboyant. They introduced themselves as “Toto, they/them,” and spent the whole time cracking jokes to keep things light; it was definitely the most fun Pran had ever had in an audition. 

Toto seemed particularly excited to learn about Pran's perfect pitch, even more so about his knowledge of sound systems. They pulled Pran aside after the other candidates had been sent away with a “You’ll know by Monday,” and alarm bells of the ‘Overtime Required’ variety started to ring in his head. Pran decided to hear them out though; gigs were few and far between these days, thanks to Covid, and his small YouTube videos weren't going to pay the bills anytime soon. He could dedicate a few months of his soul doing too much for too little, if it meant he had enough money to pay his rent at the end of them. 

Toto talked to him for an hour about the work he’d done both backstage and on it, his compositions and theoretical knowledge, his experience in choreography, the time he’d won the chance to do a month’s training in South Korea; their list of questions was exhaustive. At the end, they put the contract in front of him to be signed straightaway. 

“I thought this audition was for a show starting in September?” Pran asked, confused.

“It is, but I’m also dealing with gaps in my chorus line. Covid means I’m losing singers for weeks at a time.” Toto shrugged. “Plus it would be useful to have another tech on hand, just in case.”

“When would you want me to start, then?”

“As soon as possible.” An alarm on Toto’s phone started ringing and he glanced down at it, tutting. “I’ve got to fulfil some filial child duties now. Why don’t you come back this evening to watch the show backstage and we’ll talk more about it then? Take the contract with you and read it before you come back.”

Pran bit his lip thoughtfully. Well, there was no harm in reading it.

Pran left the club ten minutes later with the contract folded neatly away in his bag and stopped off on his way home to do some much needed grocery shopping. He bought meat for the first time in weeks to celebrate this possible end of his sad money situation, took it home and stretched it too thin into a curry that he knew from experience would last him at least a week. As it simmered, he read through the contract with a fine-tooth comb but, other than a few superfluous but harmless clauses, saw nothing of concern. Then, after eating, he headed back out into the horrors of public transportation. 

There was a brief moment of awkwardness with the bouncers at the back entrance, wherein he tried to explain the situation, but they weren’t inclined to listen. Luckily one of them radioed Toto who came to whisk him inside. He was given the whistle-stop tour of the busy backstage before Toto set him up with a chair in the "green room" (the corridor) in front of a monitor that was showing the empty stage. Then, they disappeared through one of the many doors which Pran had already forgotten what was behind.

The show began and the room bustled around him, constantly filling and emptying with people barely dressed in feathers and lace and glitter, or crew members in black running from one door to another. From dressing rooms, he caught snatches of people talking and arguing and singing warm-ups and he had to admit that part of him had missed this. 

The organised pandemonium sometimes made it hard to hear what was coming through the speakers but Pran was just about managing. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it certainly wasn’t bad either. The choreography was all sex and sass, though that wasn’t anything new for cabaret. The songs were fast, but simple and repetitive; Pran couldn’t see it being long before he picked up the backing vocals. Toto came back after a few songs and pressed a drink with an umbrella into his hand. 

They sat down beside him to see what he thought, cracking jokes and dropping gossip about behind the scenes drama.  They were funny and clearly passionate; “I know we’re still relatively new and small fry in a big shoal,” they’d said earnestly, “But we’re learning everyday - just you wait, one of these days, we’ll be the talk of the town.” Pran had to admit, they made it feel exciting. Then again, after six months trying to do it all solo, working with anyone again was probably going to feel exciting and Toto still hadn’t actually told him what they were expecting him to do. 

Despite trying to hold onto his reservations, Pran was just starting to relent to the idea that working here sounded fun when there was the sound of someone bursting through the back entrance. They weren’t visible yet but Toto seemed to have sixth sense for exactly who it was because they shouted, “You said you'd be fifteen minutes late, not half an hour! You’re on in five minutes, Pat!” 

The name sparked a memory that Pran had to force down with painful practice, eyes fixing on the bump and grind that was happening on stage as if disinterested in the newcomer. It wasn’t an uncommon name but every time he heard it, his heart still jumped into his throat.

“Ah sorry, Toto, rugby practice ran over.” 

The heart in his throat tried to climb into Pran’s mouth. 

He slowly looked over as the speaker rounded the corner, his whole body cold and his stomach full of lead. Everything around him crumbled to dust and he was left terrifyingly alone with the sharp, dark eyes and broad, shrugging shoulders of a boy he had never expected to see again in his life. 

Pat didn’t see him at first, too focused on Toto, and Pran turned away, ducking his head and trying to slouch down behind Toto’s bulk. He wondered if it was really so bad to owe money to a loan shark to pay his rent instead. 

He managed less than thirty seconds of grace before it came.

“Pran?” 

Pran sighed, resisting the urge to close his eyes and pretend he had suddenly fallen into a coma. He brought his gaze up to meet Pat’s with what he hoped was a nonchalant expression and a light dusting of surprise. Given the tumultuous storm of emotions that was raging in his brain right now, he highly doubted he managed it.

“Pat.” He didn’t know what else to say.

“You two know each other?” Toto asked, looking between them both in surprise. 

“We went to school together,” Pran replied a little curtly before Pat could even open his mouth.  

“Oh, excellent, you know someone already!” Toto proclaimed happily. “Although maybe not for long if this guy is late again!” They rounded back on Pat who apologised once more, even as he smirked. This was obviously a game they’d played a few times and Pran let it play out, grateful to be ignored. 

We went to school together he’d said, as if that covered everything between them. It was about as accurate as saying a tornado was just wind. 

Toto packed Pat off to the dressing rooms to change. Pran knew Pat tried to catch his eye as he passed but he pretended to be fascinated by what was happening on the screen, commenting to Toto about the slight loss of clarity happening when the girls sang their top notes. He told him he could have a look at the sound equipment and see if he could fix it, hoping Toto would take him there straight away so he wouldn’t have to sit through whatever Pat’s performance was going to be. Unfortunately Toto just said not to worry about it and that Bie, their usual sound guy, wouldn’t like it if Pran suddenly turned up to fiddle with the equipment mid-show. Pran couldn’t even be annoyed; he would have felt the same way.

A crew member turned up to ask for help with something and Toto vanished for another few songs. Left with no good distractions, Pran was tense, waiting to see Pat pass back by on his way to the stage, barely noticing the other acts and downing the sickly sweet drink he’d been given. He wondered what Pat could be doing. Drumming? Was there a band playing tonight? Or maybe he wasn’t even performing; he might just be on stage as crew, sorting props or backgrounds between numbers. He certainly wasn’t going to be singing. Pran still remembered his incredibly bad rendition of Just Friends after Pran had finished writing it. (The memory still made him smile, despite everything.)

Toto returned just as one set ended and another bustle of performers burst through on their way to the stage. Pran was preoccupied with Toto talking about the drama he’d been called away to deal with, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw a wall of oiled muscles, black mini dresses and a flash of white. Pretty standard for cabaret, but it must be a big number. 

"Oh that reminds me," Toto interrupted themselves, watching the performers pass. “You said earlier you had some experience in music production?” 

"Erm, yeah, some. Why?" Pran replied cautiously. 

"Hmm, I've got some songs that are going to need a key change." Toto told him with a vague air of mystery. He’d acquired another colourful drink and took that moment to sip it in a way that suggested he was hiding something.

"Why's that?" Pran asked suspiciously.

"I'll tell you after; this, you've got to watch." Toto gestured at the screen with a secretive smile and Pran turned back to it.

Nothing could have prepared him for Pat stepping out on stage in just a very low cut pair of jeans and some strategically placed glitter. Even the low-resolution sight on the monitor was enough to make Pran’s mouth drier than the Sahara. He took centre stage with a girl dressed in a white mini dress who sang a sultry version of Cravin’ by Stileto but Pran wasn’t paying any attention to her or any of the large number of backing dancers around them. His eyes were fixed on Pat. Every inch of him. His hips as he moved them through long, serpentine body rolls, his hands as he ran them over each perfectly defined muscle, his thighs as he spread them against the floor, knees circling to make his lower half dip and rise in a move that was probably outlawed in some countries. 

“It’s a good number, don’t you think?” Toto declared, breaking Pran out of the fog that had rolled over his rational brain.

“Ah, yeah…” Pat was standing beside the singer now, one arm around her back as he rolled against her. Where the hell had he learnt to dance like that?

“I want you to take it.”

“Excuse me, what?” Pran was fully snapped out of his reverie, staring at Toto and wondering if they'd lost their mind.

“For Pride Month,” Toto added, as if that cleared things up at all. “We always do a gender-bent show to mark it. I think you’d be a good fit.”

“I’m just a backing vocalist,” Pran replied, shocked, but Toto just smiled at him.

“What, you think I haven’t been to cabaret bars other than my own? I saw you at the Tinidee; you certainly weren’t just a backing vocalist there.” The name of his former workplace still made his gut clench but Pran tried not to let it show. “You have talent, why would I waste that?”

“I’m not-” Pran tried to argue.

“Going to do a lead song for a backing vocalist’s wage? No, definitely not, that’s why I left the lead singing clause in the contract,” Toto finished for him. Even though that was nowhere near what Pran had been going to say, it was enough to make him pause. More money did sound pretty good, even if it was only for a month. But working with Pat?

Toto could apparently sense his unease. “Look, I don’t know what happened at the Tinidee or why you kept it off your resume. I’m going to assume that it has something to do with the reason their manager was fired and blacklisted from the business, but I’m not asking for details. Just know that it’s not going to happen here.” 

Pran could tell by the look on Toto’s face that they’d made the same assumption that everyone had, but he was nowhere near ready to explain his real reasons for purging the Tinidee from his life story. He swallowed, staring down at the floor for a second. He inhaled slowly and pushed the tumultuous mix of memories back into the box he’d made for them a long time ago. 

“Ok.”

“So you’ll think about it?” Toto continued encouragingly. 

Pran wanted to agree but the apprehension was still there, just not about what Toto thought. “The lead dancer…”

“Pat?” Toto looked confused by the sudden change of topic.

“Is there any chance I could work with somebody else?” Pran asked hesitantly and Toto frowned.

“Pat already knows the dance and you already know him, it’s a perfect fit. What’s the hang-up?” It could have been argumentative but the question was asked curiously.

“We… didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye at school,” Pran answered, which was the understatement of the century but Pran had no intention of digging up his family history. Pran also didn’t mention how Pat had set butterflies off in his stomach since the day he’d looked over and realised the shy, secret smile Pat was sending across the classroom was for him

“School was a long time ago," Toto replied, not unkindly. "People change." 

Pran almost wanted to tell them that it had nothing to do with wanting Pat to have changed and everything to do with the fact that if Pat grinded on him like he was doing to that singer, he might spontaneously combust. 

“It's complicated," he said instead, because it was. Although a lot less complicated now than it ever had been; there were no parents breathing down his neck about every decision he made anymore. 

"What isn't?” Toto shrugged. They looked like they were talking from experience. “Talk to him. If you really can't work together, I'll get someone else to sing it. Sorry, but Pat's been here longer; my loyalty is to him."

"Yeah, right. I get that." Pran bit his lip again, worrying it between his teeth as he quickly deliberated. Was he really going to turn down the opportunity for a solo song because of Pat? It had been four years since he'd last seen him and yes, ok, they hadn’t exactly left things on good terms, but it hadn’t really been either of their fault. And wasn't he supposed to be leaving the past in the past? If Pat wasn't a dick about it, then there was no reason that they couldn’t bury the hatchet. 

(He also had enough willpower to ignore some abs, even if they were attached to a very regrettable high school crush.)

Pran steeled his resolve. "I'll talk to him."

***

His hands were sweaty. He wiped them against his trousers surreptitiously and shoved them in his pockets. He was leaning against the wall outside the men’s dressing room because he couldn’t quite work up the courage to go inside and talk to Pat directly, not in front of people. The crew were still moving back and forth through the corridor and Pran’s eyes followed them for want of anything better to do; they’d be the last to leave, doing all the final checks and those little last minute jobs that couldn’t be done until everyone else had left. 

The dressing room door banged open and the rowdy sounds of the performers winding down for the night blasted out as a group of dancers all walked out together. None of them were Pat. Pran chewed the inside of his cheek and shifted to staring down at his feet because he was starting to get curious looks back from the staff he was watching. There was quiet for a few minutes and then the door blared open with dressing room noise again. Pran's head whipped back up just as Pat walked by, his face buried in his phone.

"Pat." He looked over at the sound of his name, freezing mid-step when he saw Pran standing awkwardly in wait for him. Pran wished he could read his expression. “Can we talk?”

Pat turned to face him. He looked casual but Pran could see the tenseness in his shoulders that he always got when he was expecting a fight. “Okay,” he said with a little uptick at the end, anticipatory as if they were going to do this here, in full view of everyone.

“Somewhere…” a performer walked out of the opposite dressing room, wishing Pat good night as she left. Pran waited until she’d walked out of earshot before continuing, “...quieter.”

Pat didn’t look pleased with the idea but huffed out a “Fine,” before walking away so quickly Pran had to jog to catch him up. The urge to start an argument about it was unexpectedly strong - apparently four years wasn’t enough to break a habit of a lifetime - but he resisted it. He was trying to turn over a new leaf here.

Pat led them into a small break room, flicking the lights on as they entered. “No-one knows about us here; you don’t have to hide talking to me.” 

Pran scowled and he tightened his hands into fists to stop them from climbing out his pockets and revealing his nervousness with fidgeting. “I’m not hiding, I just don’t want everyone to hear about my business.”

“What business?” Pat asked, shifting his weight to one leg and looking the picture of insouciance. Wanker. 

Pran released his breath slowly to settle the itch of irritation he felt looking at the stance. He needed to focus on the bigger picture. “Has Toto spoken to you about next month?”

“What, pride month?” There was just a flicker of bemusement before Pat went back to looking disinterested.

“Yeah.” Pran confirmed, deliberately not saying anymore. Let’s see how long Pat could keep pretending he was blasé about all this.

There was a slight tightening around Pat’s eyes that showed off his annoyance, but then he shrugged. “Not really, they said they change people around a bit, genderbent or whatever." Pat waited a beat but then apparently couldn’t hold his curiosity back any longer. "Why?”

“They want us to perform together." Pran tried to sound as casual as possible. "On the song you’re lead dancer for.”

Pat blinked and then his mouth set into a tense line. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Pran replied, not knowing what else to say.

Pat pursed his mouth. “You don’t want to work with me?”

“I don’t want to…?" Pran repeated, staring at Pat helplessly. He supposed he should be grateful that that was what Pat thought, but did he really think that Pran would care that much about them just working together? Working together was one thing, gyrating against each other on stage, however? Bizarre enough to learn to do with a stranger, let alone with whatever Pat and he were. Was Pat really not bothered by that?  He tried to turn the question around. “Do you want to work with me?” 

Pat was silent for a beat and then there was that stubborn expression Pran remembered all too well. “I asked you first.” 

Oh, so Pat wanted to turn this into a children’s spat. Well, they weren’t children anymore and Pran wasn’t going to sink to his level. "I don’t care if I’m working with you; I can be professional.” 

“You think I’m not professional?” Pat demanded, eyebrows raised in offence, and Pran scoffed at the man’s ability to turn anything into an argument.

“I didn’t say that.”

Pat looked him up and down as if amazed at Pran’s statement. “You implied it!” 

“No I didn’t! I just said I don’t care if I’m working with you. I was just answering your question,” Pran argued because apparently he was the only one trying to stay rational in this conversation.

“Fine!” Pat crossed his arms determinedly, pretending as if he hadn’t just lost an argument he’d tried to start for absolutely no reason. “I don’t care if I’m working with you either.”

“Good! Then there’s no problem,” Pran declared, also crossing his arms. Four years on and he’d still never met anyone with the power to infuriate him as much as Pat.

Pat shook his head, an exaggerated moue of indifference on his face. “Nope, no problem.”

“I’ll let Toto know I’m taking the job, then,” Pran replied airily, because he’d be damned if he was letting Pat know how much that expression still got under his skin. 

“Fine. I’ll see you at rehearsals.”

“Fine.”

Pat turned to leave, reaching out his hand to the door handle, and Pran wondered if he should laugh or sigh that their first conversation in over four years had been an argument. Except then Pat hesitated. He seemed to wrestle with something for a second before suddenly he looked back, eyes set with begrudgement. “Paa says hi.”

The statement threw Pran off his guard. “What?”

“I told her I'd seen you. She told me to say hi,” Pat repeated, jaw tense like he was performing some unsavoury duty.

“Oh, right,” Pran replied awkwardly. After their argument, the sudden change in tone felt like whiplash. “Tell her I said ‘hi’ back.” 

“I will.” Pran expected him to leave after that but he didn’t. He stood at the door, half-turned away but still twisted round to look at him. “So, are you back home now then?”

Pran swallowed. “Not… exactly. I’ve got my own place.”

“Oh, right.” Pat looked as awkward as Pran felt and Pran had to wonder why the guy was suddenly feeling the need to make small talk. “Uni dorm?

He swallowed back a bad taste of bile and shook his head with a smile that he knew had to look forced. “No, I’m not at uni right now.”

“You’re not at university?” Pat was staring at him as if the bottom had just fallen out of the universe and Pran tried another smile. It felt more like a grimace once it was actually on his face.

“No. I had to take a break to pay for the next semester.” Pran had gotten used to telling people he was paying his own way through university but somehow admitting it to Pat brought back all that uncomfortable reluctance and misplaced pride he’d felt at the beginning.

“Aren’t your parents-”

“We’re not talking. Haven’t for over two years.” Pran rushed over the top of whatever Pat had been about to say next. He’d learnt the hard way it was better to rip the bandaid off quickly on this particular piece of information and he knew there was no way he’d be able to keep it a secret for long if they were working together.

Pat gaped at him incredulously, turning all the way back around to face him. “Two years? Why not?”

“It… doesn’t matter.” Pran shook his head and looked away, hoping Pat would take the hint and drop the subject. With most people, it usually worked, but Pran had almost forgotten that Pat was not usual.

“What do you mean it doesn’t matter? They’re your parents,” Pat declared as if Pran wasn’t fully aware of how messed up his situation was right now. 

As if the fact they were his parents, but they’d still rather send him away to live at a boarding school for three years then let him sing on stage with the neighbours’ kid wasn’t a fact that he was acutely aware of. 

As if the fact they were his parents, but that after telling them he wanted to study music, he’d been given an ultimatum to study architecture or pay for his own tuition wasn’t something he had to live with everyday. 

Just because they were his parents didn’t mean that he owed them anything.

Pat was apparently unaware of the fury he’d just stoked because he continued. “You should-” 

“I mean, it’s none of your business, asshole.” He regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth but the word should had broken the control Pran had been trying to hold together.

Pat’s expression shut down, the surprise vanishing under a dark scowl. He jutted his chin out stubbornly; an expression so nostalgic that Pran suddenly felt 13 again. “Fine, it’s none of my business, then.” Pat spun and stormed out of the door.

“Pat…” Pran called but he was already gone; he sighed in frustration, hands rubbing over his face. So much for his professionalism.

He dropped his hands to his sides, balling them into fists and resisted the urge to kick something. Why was it, whenever he was near Pat, it never ended well? Obviously, this whole thing just wasn’t meant to be. He hadn't come here for a solo part anyway, just to make enough money to pay the rent until the gig circuit picked up again. He'd just tell Toto that he was flattered to be considered, but he and Pat were like sulphur and phosphorus: fine alone, but liable to go up in flames when struck together.

He closed his eyes, breathed in and out slowly, and then left the room in search of the high-spirited manager. 

***

"Pran! Did you manage to talk to Pat? It went well? I've got a copy of the track here for you to work from, plus your chorus parts for you. You’ve got six weeks to learn your solo, but ideally I want you on stage with the chorus by May, what do you think? I’ll sort out some extra rehearsals with some of the singers for you, of course." The barrage rolled over Pran and he found himself nodding before realising he was agreeing to the first part, as well as the second. "Great! You and Pat will look fantastic together! His hot bod, your cute dimples: killer combo! If it's half as good as I think it’ll be, there will definitely be another solo slot for you when we unveil the new show in September!"

"Actually…" Pran trailed off looking at Toto's cheerful face. He tried to push it out: Sorry Toto, I don’t think Pat and I can work together after all, I’ll just keep to the backing vocals, but his mouth stayed frustratingly closed.  

"Hmm?" Toto’s eyebrows rose expectantly.

It wasn't even really a decision. He'd barely thought the thought before it was coming out all on its own: "Actually, I forgot to get Pat's number, could you give it to me?" 

And then it was too late to take it back. 

"Of course!” Toto beamed. “You guys need to find some time to rehearse since everyone else is pretty familiar with the routines. Even if they're doing opposite parts, it won't take them long to learn -  you'll need a little more time though!"

"Yeah. Right." Pran forced a smile. Was he really doing this? Surely there were other jobs out there?

But he knew, even if there were, none of them would be offering a solo slot this easily. He owed it to his bank account to at least try to make up with Pat. Plus he really didn't want to create a sour atmosphere between himself and his boss on his first day; he got the feeling Toto would not be someone you wanted to be on the wrong side of. (And if he was really honest with himself, the idea of going back into a hostility with Pat, another hated pressure from his family and so far removed from what he’s always wanted, left a sour taste in his mouth.)

Toto texted the number over to him while they were still stood there and then asked if Pran had remembered to bring the contract back to sign. 

“Ah sorry, I left it on my desk at home.”

“No problem, bring it back tomorrow or next week sometime.”

Pran thanked them and promised that he would before heading out into the late April night. It was too late for the subway so Pran had to take the night bus, which stopped a good twenty minutes away from the unsavoury neighbourhood that his pokey bedsit was in and took the most convoluted route possible whilst getting there. He spent the whole journey trying to compose his text to Pat in his head and, as he finally unlocked the door of his apartment, he thought he had some idea about what he was going to say. 

He walked through the small galley kitchen into the main room and dropped his keys on the desk, which was really the only furniture in the room except for a few plastic plants, a built-in wardrobe, the futon and his music equipment. It was easy to see what all his money was spent on. He dug his phone out of pocket and noticed the notification light was flashing. He unlocked the screen to read it: Four messages from an unknown number. He frowned at it, trying to think of who it might be. Maybe someone who'd changed their number recently and he'd forgotten? He tapped on the notification to open them up.

[unknown:] Hey. 

[unknown:] didn't mean to piss you off, i shouldn't have said anything. i guess it's kind of a sore subject for you

[unknown:] sorry

[unknown:] it's pat btw

Pran stared at the messages. The bastard had beaten him to the apology. An hour and a half agonising over what to write: wasted. Pat must not have known that Toto would choose him over Pran; he probably thought he had to make up with him to keep his lead dancer slot. Fine, Pran had no problem taking advantage of that. 

He considered just texting back ‘it’s fine, let’s just forget it’. It would be easy to accept the apology and continue without losing face, but Pran had said he was a professional. If Pat could manage an apology, so could he.

[Pran:] I’m sorry too. You were just surprised and I overreacted. 

There, it was done. Now they could move on.

[unknown:] i wasn’t surprised i was angry 

Pran laughed disbelievingly. Just when he thought they might be able to bury the hatchet, Pat just had to dig it back up again. Who the hell did Pat think he was to get angry at Pran about whether or not he spoke to his own parents? He had no idea what they’d been like after the transfer. They’d always been controlling, but after finding him at the Christmas concert they’d managed to kick up another five notches. 

He was just in the middle of typing back ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ when the next message came through.

[unknown:] they’re your parents, they should be standing by you no matter what

[unknown:] unless you killed someone

[unknown:] did you kill someone?

The anger rushed out of him all at once. 

Pran collapsed down on his desk chair, staring at his phone. Looking back now, he realised Pat hadn’t actually said that he thought Pran should talk to his parents, Pran had just assumed that’s what he’d been about to say. Mostly because that’s what everyone else he’d ever told always told him: Just try reaching out. They’re your parents; you should have a good relationship with them.  

None of them had known anything about his parents though. He’d forgotten Pat did; Pat knew exactly what they were like. Pat knew Pran had been grounded every time he got mud on his uniform. Pat knew Pran had had to save up for his guitar, hiding it at the school to teach himself how to play. Pat knew Pran hadn’t even been allowed his phone when it was coming up to exams, in case he got distracted from studying. 

He worried his lip, remembering the tin can thrown through his window one night with string tied through the bottom and Pat on the other end saying “I’m bored, what are you doing?, Pat cutting up his own student ID to make a guitar pick when Pran forgot to bring his to the music room, Pat giving him his jacket to hide the grass stains on his shirt from where they’d been play-fighting on the way home. ‘It’s complicated,’ he’d told Toto. What an understatement. 

He read back over the messages, mouth tucking into a small smile as he typed a reply.

[Pran:] No I didn’t kill anyone, obviously.

[unknown:] good, as long as i’m not working with a murderer

[unknown:] or a pervert

[Pran:] You’re most likely to be the pervert here.

[unknown:] i am the perfect gentleman!!

Pran laughed, shaking his head. He could just imagine Pat’s put-out expression, the angry pout and knotted eyebrows.

[Pran:] Only because you can’t get a date. 

[unknown:] i’ll have you know i am in a very committed long term relationship thank you

Damn it, it should not have hurt to learn that.

He thought of Pat and Ink in high school, their easy flirting and the way they smiled at each other; could they still be together? After all this time? Pran bit his lip and forced himself to keep the tone light.

[Pran:] Poor girl. Send her my condolences.

[unknown;] who said it was a girl?

Pran forgot how to breathe, staring down at the message in shock, which meant he saw the picture as soon as it came through. It was a very battered, washed-out plush toy with a bland expression. It looked like someone had been chewing on its ears for years. Pran realised he’d seen it before through the window into Pat’s bedroom when they were kids. He still had that old thing?

[unknown;] nong nao and i are very happy together

Pran realised he’d been played.

[Pran:] You’re crazy

[unknown;] your jealous

[Pran:] *you’re

[unknown;] shut up

[unknown;] me and my lover are going to bed now i’ve got class tomorrow morning

[Pran;] You don’t have to tell me everything you’re doing

[unknown:] i'm just being polite

[Pran:] Oh, you have manners?

[unknown:] asshole

Pran grinned. Nice to know some things never changed. 

[Pran:] let me know when you're free next week

[unknown:] ok

Pran smiled to himself. Maybe this wouldn't be as bad as he'd thought.