Chapter 1: I don't have so many stars but several scars.
"I have a love that is not mine, that fills my hands, dirty my days and loves them deeply and leaves its luminous mark on the walls, on the petals, on the thorns, on the footsteps throughout the house.
I have a love that is not mine and I can't find where to keep it, I don't know whether to hide it or display it, alert the world, shout it out just in case someone is looking for it.
I have a love that is not mine but begins to be comfortable among my books, returns at night to my arms.
I have a visiting love. I have your name on my lips."
Tengo un amor que no es mío, Edel Juárez.
His eyes are looking at the room full of people who shout names and words of encouragement but he does not really see anything. Applause fills the auditorium; his arms are full of flowers that he doesn't know very well who placed there. There is a band on his chest announcing him as the previous year Moon who is none other than the most handsome boy from the previous generation who has had to hand over his title to a freshman.
His name is Phupha Viriyanon and despite everything he could never feel up to that title or the expectations that all his classmates placed on him. And it is that in more than fifty years there had not been a Moon in the faculty of arts. That title seems to always be destined for the boys of the engineering faculty or those of medicine. For this reason, his title had been historic and everyone regrets that everything has come to an end.
And although Phupha knows that he did his best and that he participated in all the events in which his presence was requested, something inside him keeps telling him that without a doubt he has been the most mediocre Moon in the history of the university. Yes, he went to all the parties. Yes, he smiled at all the girls and was envied by the boys. And yet there is something in him that says it wasn't enough, that it never will be. There is a voice in his head, a voice that sounds very much like his father's, telling him that this is his punishment for leaving that village in the mountains where he should never have left. His father said that he had been arrogant in thinking himself valuable enough to break the tradition of being a forest guardian like all the men in his family. His father said that his mother had died because of him just half a year after he had announced that he had been accepted to a prestigious university in the capital.
And a boy who carries that guilt in his heart is someone who will never have the right to be happy even though everyone admires him. A boy like him can never feel that he deserves that recognition, even if it is a vain recognition that is based on his appearance rather than on his talent for painting. But now that he's put the band on that freshman from political science, he knows things will get better. He will finally have to stop pretending that he can always smile when the only real thing for him are those terrible sleepless nights where he usually paints until the morning dawns. At last he can be the anonymous entity he always wanted to be, a dream shattered by the unanimous vote of his classmates who chose him as the most handsome boy of the generation, of course.
And even though he can't see it, he really is handsome. His athletic body, the result of long walks through the mountains of Pha Pun Dao, his hometown, stands out from all the others. His dark brown eyes shine almost as brightly as the lights in the auditorium and the tired smile on his lips is enough to warm any heart. He is an attractive boy by all accounts. A boy who was born in a town where everyone says, if you count a thousand stars any wish of your heart will come true. Yes, he knows a lot about stars even though he doesn't have many of them and instead, he understands better about scars that don't heal, that refuse to let him alone.
The new deafening applause from the crowd snaps him out of his abstraction. Beside him, Torfun, his best friend and the Star of the past generation smiles warmly at him. Phupha smiles back at her and wonders, not for the first time, if he too will one day stop feeling guilty for not being able to reciprocate the feelings of that girl who has saved him from loneliness more than once. Even when she studies education, the two have become close thanks to all the events they have had to share as she is the most beautiful girl on campus. In fact, everyone assumes that the two of them are the most envied couple in the university and the two of them have not wanted to deny them. Although Phupha has told Torfun a thousand times that they should say something so that she doesn't lose the opportunity to find a boyfriend, she tells him that it's fine like this: no boy dares to bother her if they continue to believe that she is the lucky partner of the most attractive boy in the faculty of fine arts.
"Are you going to the party that Nam organized for both of us?" asks Torfun whispering the words in his ear, which of course, raises the chatting of the other students and makes thousands of flashes crash on their skins.
Phupha scrunches his nose at the thought of the crazy parties his friend Nam, a second-year medical student who seems to have adopted him and Torfun, usually throws at the beginning of the semester, and the thought of having to put up with more noise makes him feel on the verge of fainting.
"I don't think so, I have to check some articles for my class tomorrow," says Phupha feeling relieved that he doesn't have to lie because it's true. “The anatomical drawing teacher is really strict and we agree that realistic drawing is not my forte. Perhaps if I understand the theory, the practice will not be a disaster.”
“Come on, Phu, even I'm not late with my homework,” says Torfun laughing at him and yes, by the faces of her classmates, Phupha knows that the next day nothing will be talked about other than those shared laughs and whispers in middle of the ceremony.
"I need some peace of mind, Torfun," he says honestly, and looking into his eyes, she knows that her friend is being totally honest, as honest as when he responded to her confession of love by telling her that he wasn't the kind of guy who could love a girl, not in the way she expected.
"Okay," she says, still smiling at him. “And if you want to leave before someone drags you to the festivities, I would leave right now if I were you. Run, if anyone asks, I'll tell them you had an important call to take.”
Phupha smiles gratefully and kisses the girl's cheek gently before placing the flowers he was given on the ground. Phupha hurries out of the auditorium before anyone notices that he's late coming back. His steps take him to the central library of the university. The young man feels that as he walks away from the auditorium an enormous weight is lifted from his shoulders, he feels light, even somewhat joyous. It's over, it's finally over.
A smile spreads across his lips and then he begins to whistle one of those songs he used to play on his flute, the one he hasn't played in months. He does it without realizing it, he feels too good to think that lost music is one of the things that hurts inside him. He reaches the library and runs to the small drawer where he keeps his books and slings a black backpack over his shoulder. He really has to make progress in his reading; he has to remain the top student in his class even in those subjects where everything is difficult. He wants to show that he is more than just a pretty face. He wants to show that he has talent. He wants to show that he is enough, at least in the field of art, what he does has to be enough.
The truth is, he doesn't know where he's going. The hot afternoon of Bangkok invites young people like him to lose themselves in the noise and hubbub of parties where refreshing alcoholic beverages abound but that is not his style. He is simply looking for a quiet place where he can get lost, a place where there is no one who knows him, a place that reminds him of the tranquility of his mountains.
Phupha's heart aches in his chest at the thought but he quickly pushes it away. No, at least for today he doesn't want to feel sad because he is free, finally free. Now he can think about being himself and he doesn't care that everyone will be disappointed in him when they discover that deep down he's nothing more than a boring old being living in the body of a college boy. Torfun and Nam have always known what kind of person he is, and if they don't hate him for being this sullen and terribly disciplined boy who has a hard time socializing and talking about himself, the truth is that the others don't matter that much.
Suddenly his eyes collide with the sign of a small cafeteria that looks deserted. At first glance there is nothing that catches your attention in that place, it is a cafe like any other with yellow walls, plants and colored armchairs that look comfortable and soft, but the name of the establishment makes him smile.
"A tale of a thousand stars," he whispers, feeling in the name of that place comforting warmth that invites him to enter.
And that decides everything. Phupha thinks he has found his new favorite place because there really are no people there, not even taciturn students like him. Phupha grabs the handle of the wooden door and hears the familiar sound of a bell as he crosses the threshold.
Days later Phupha will think that that sound was undoubtedly a sign from the universe, something like an angel's harp that welcomes you to a lost paradise, a paradise hidden from the eyes of others. Yes, it may seem crazy that an abandoned and ordinary coffee shop has made him think something like that, but there, behind the bar, there is a bright, almost heavenly smile welcoming him.
The owner of that smile is wearing a navy blue apron over a white t-shirt. Phupha freezes in the middle of the room and knows what an idiot he's doing staring at him like that but he just can't look away. That smile makes him stupid. That smile is like a glimpse into a new world. That smile is, at least at that moment, all for him.
"Welcome," the boy says, and there's something in his sweet, lively voice that makes Phupha think the boy meant the word.
"I... uhm, is the service still available?" Phupha asks because he knows that asking that stupid question will guarantee him to be able to look at that guy for a couple more seconds without looking like a complete psycho.
"Of course, we close at midnight," he says, still smiling. “You can sit wherever you want and I'll take your order in a second. Today's recommendation is the fruit tart, don't forget to try it.”
And the boy smiles at him again. And hundred neurons are dying in his brain and a thousand butterflies fluttering in his stomach, that's what's going on inside him.
Phupha nods but doesn't say anything else even if he wanted to. He doesn't even know where that terrible desire to not take his eyes off that smile comes from. How is it possible that in such a cruel world there is someone who smiles like that? How is it possible that a boy like that exists? Clumsily, Phupha chooses one of the tables by the window, the one that leads directly to the bar where the other young man is arranging small plates of cake oblivious to Phupha's curious gaze, oblivious to the terrible revolution within the young painter's heart.
He is really handsome, Phupha thinks and his cheeks blush and he can't help it but that's the truth. The boy from the cafeteria is too handsome with that delicate face, those soft round cheeks and the smile, yes, that smile that makes Phupha want to start painting him, at least drawing him. Phupha has always been moved by the beauty of the world, the absolute beauty of nature or landscapes for example, but never the beauty of a person. But it is that boy in front of him is a work of art in himself. That smile of his has the beauty of the seas or open skies full of stars, the kind of skies not seen from Bangkok.
And even though he knows it's silly, even though he knows maybe he's gone crazy, Phupha hurries to get a blank sheet of paper out of his binder and a piece of charcoal out of his art case. No, he has never been good at realistic drawing but his teachers never tire of repeating that it is not enough to have talent, you have to put it into practice. And yes, maybe he is still drunk with freedom or maybe it is the aroma of coffee that surrounds him but the boy decides that he will let himself go because there is no artist who can release a blow of inspiration when it arrives, there is no artist who can escape the muses.
And something in the warm smile of this stranger who is his only company in the cafeteria makes him think that he has met a muse face to face. His muse, yes, he doesn't know his name but he knows that from now on he will be called "the boy who hides a thousand stars in his lips".
Phupha smiles with that name and continues drawing without knowing, or perhaps suspecting that this is only the first of many days in which he will come to that cafe to look for all the stars that no longer burn in his heart in the smile of that stranger.
Chapter 2: Looking for a partner to fly.
Phupha Viriyanon has been coming to his cafe for the last four weeks, and there is something in Tian Sopasitsakun that is trying very hard not to think about the reason. Although he pretends to be completely absorbed in cleaning up the dessert bar, his eyes can't help but drift once more to the boy who also seems engrossed in his sketchbook, the same one he has brought with him all those afternoons.
Tian wonders if Phupha—because he knows his name, come on, who in the university doesn't know who Phupha Viriyanon is?—is waiting for someone special even though his eyes hardly stray from the blank sheets of paper he's drawing on. His right hand seems to move with a life of its own. It is to say, there's no reason to explain what an absolute miracle it is that the hottest guy on campus is there in that little coffee shop his grandmother opened for him as a birthday present. A gift that, to be honest, is the only thing that has kept him afloat during those months.
His grandmother wanted him to have a source of income that didn't depend on his family's wealth, and now that he's had to move away from all of them, Tian can't help but wonder if she didn't know beforehand that he would run away from home soon after he got into the veterinary medicine school. Of course, that decision did not please his mother at all, who was already bragging about his future as an engineer with her friends. His father, on the other hand, was more understanding but Tian could sense some bewilderment at his decision. Be that as it may, what his parents think is no longer any of his business. In addition to giving him that cafeteria, his grandmother had named him as her universal heir to everyone's surprise, but no one could change the woman´s last will, so he could do what he wanted with his life.
"Build a life you love and live without fear," she had told him before closing her eyes forever. “And look for a partner to fly, Tian. Find a partner to fly with for a long, long time.”
A sigh escapes the boy's lips, drawing Phupha's gaze, and Tian feels himself blushing helplessly. Phupha's dark eyes are intense and the boy thinks it should be illegal to be this attractive. His recurring client's pupils don't move away from him and Tian gives him an apologetic smile which the other boy responds with a shy smile and a slight nod before returning to his sketchbook. That has been the story of their interactions so far and something in Tian wishes he could walk up to Phupha and strike up a conversation with him, no matter the subject.
There's something about Phupha that calls to him powerfully and Tian feels a little embarrassed that his life has become such a fucking cliché because he's attracted like an idiot to the hottest guy on campus. He doesn't know what's wrong with him but it's been like that since the first afternoon Phupha was there. Seeing him, Tian wondered if he hadn't walked into his cafeteria by mistake since the campus New Moon and New Star party was the place someone like Phupha needed to be. Longtae, his friend from the Political Science faculty who had been named the Campus Moon that year had told him that that was where everyone would be.
But Phupha had chosen to walk into his little shop instead of being anywhere else. Phupha had walked through that door, flooding everything with his presence, and there he was: too dazzled, too coward to approach a living college legend. However, Tian was sure that no one could blame him, how the hell do you speak normally in front of someone so handsome? No, that shouldn't be possible for any mortal. Also, what to tell him?
"Hello, Phupha, I'm Tian and like 90% of the population of this university, I like you, do you want to have a coffee with me?"
No, no, that wasn't even an option. Trying not to blush, Tian decides that he should start doing something else rather than continue imagining impossible scenarios. It is clear that Phupha has found something like an art studio in his cafeteria; for him it must be a place where he can relax and Tian doesn't want to take that away from him. Plus, it's nice to have him there even though his heart flutters and his stomach turns into an angry beehive every time he looks at him.
Yeah sure, all his doctors have told him not to subject his heart to too many strong emotions but he's only human and the agitation Phupha causes him is like a breath of life and not a threat of death. He knows that his heart is weak, all his life he has had to fight with it. He knows that his heart could fail him at any moment but he doesn't even think about it when Phupha walks through the door of the cafeteria and greets him with that shy smile that seems to have stayed in the deepest part of him.
In fact, his heart feels full of life right now; it hadn't felt like that since that terrible fight with his parents that caused him to become independent from them. Everyone tells him that he has been ungrateful to them but he just couldn't accept it, it was too much for him. His parents had gotten him a new heart, a heart that they had paid for him because there is nothing that the Sopasitsakun family cannot buy. They have got him a compatible heart that would guarantee him a life free from danger, a new life, a life that would not have an expiration date so soon.
But thinking about that, thinking about the possibility that a person would be left without that opportunity simply because they did not have the same power or the same money as their parents was unbearable. The very idea of receiving a heart in such a fraudulent way disgusted him. Nobody could convince him that this was how the world worked, he did not want to be part of that world and if one day they found a heart donor for him, it would have to be through the waiting list where so many people were waiting. Not before. Not above anyone.
“Excuse me, can you bring me another cup of coffee?” Says Phupha's voice suddenly and Tian turns to look at him with the same inevitable smile of every day.
"Of course," he replies. "Do you want a slice of pecan pie? It's the first time I've baked it.”
"It's not necessary," Phupha says, smiling kindly, and then adds shyly, "But I bet it's delicious."
Tian nods and wants to melt on the floor at the compliment but knows it's silly. Yes, yes, in four weeks that is their longest conversation, but why the hell is he making such a big deal out of it? Phupha is being nice; it is evident that under his facade of unattainable conqueror Phupha is kind and warm.
Does Phupha know what it does to mere mortals? Something tells Tian that no, he must not notice and if he does, he must already be scared because Tian thinks his emotions are obvious. That smile of stupid joy that is painted on his lips every time he sees him walk through the door of the cafeteria must be like a huge banner that says: hello, do you want me to give you my heart forever? I can give it to you with your next cup of coffee although I must warn you that it is a bit sick and it has given me problems since I was born.
The boy laughs to himself as he carefully prepares Phupha's cup of coffee, putting all his effort into the process. It was his grandmother who taught him how to prepare coffee from an early age, just as she gave him her recipe book of International desserts. And suddenly, her grandmother's voice is heard loud and clear inside his heart: look for a partner to fly with, look for a partner with whom to share a long life.
The smile on his lips suddenly freezes because even though his grandmother's words are as sweet as the pecan pie he's just sliced thinking he'll make Phupha try some anyway, he doesn't have a long life to share. Every day that his eyes open and his heart decides to keep beating is a miracle. His mornings are always uncertain and the mere thought of condemning Phupha to live a tragic story at his side makes him feel terribly sad.
So no, he won't do anything. For the moment it is enough to see him there every day, that is, after a month it is more than evident that he will continue to go there, isn't it? It doesn't matter that Longtae makes fun of him, or that he keeps insisting that he can introduce him. Phupha is something like a dream too beautiful for him and as long as possible, he wants to continue dreaming.
And he doesn´t want to lose the magic of every afternoon. He doesn't want to miss out on that sweet anguish that fills his chest when the sun begins to set, which is a sign that Phupha is to come. Tian doesn't want to lose the joy he feels in making coffee for him or the joy he feels in baking as he thinks that Phupha will be the one eating his desserts. Yes, he knows that he should pay more attention to his studies than to the dreams in his head but first year is not that difficult and he knows that he will get A's in all his subjects but right now there is nothing more important to him than to live those moments or to feel a chill when Phupha's eyes rest on him. No, he won't have a life long enough to live epic love stories like the ones his grandmother used to tell him. He may not be able to visit that cliff his grandmother told him about where people used to make love wishes to the stars. In fact, those stories are the reason behind the name of their coffee shop.
Yes, he knows that a story of a thousand stars will not be real for him but he has those afternoons. And while his hands place the coffee and the small plate of pecan pie on the tray and he starts walking towards Phupha who has left the drawing book for peace and is now concentrating on reading a huge book full of diagrams and annotations that seems complicated , he feels happy and no one can ever take away that happiness that is completely his.
Hearing him arrive, Phupha smiles at him again and Tian puts the coffee cup and pecan pie in front of him making Phupha's eyes fill with questions.
“It's on the house,” Tian says, trying to sound casual. “I hope you like it.”
“Thank you,” Phupha says and Tian notices a blush on Phupha's cheeks and oh, good lord, he's so beautiful it hurts to look at him.
So he just smiles again and slowly walks away even though what he really wants is to stand there and watch Phupha's reaction when he tastes the pie. But that is something he would not dare to do. That is why he walks calmly towards the bar and tries to distract himself by arranging for the fifth time the small packets of cookies that he prepared the night before.
And despite the effort he puts into looking away, his treacherous eyes search for Phupha again and the image they collide with is enough for Tian to think it's the happiest day of his life because Phupha brings a piece of pie to his mouth and when he tastes it, his eyes close and his lips form a gesture of complete delight, the kind of delight that people feel when they taste something really delicious.
And then Tian feels the urge to tell Phupha that he's looking for a partner to fly because his grandmother told him it was important. Tian wants to tell him that he ticks all the boxes on his list just because he is him, even though before he met him the possibility of wanting to share his life with someone hadn't even occurred to him. But the condemnation of his heart falls on him and the flames of his soul are drowned with the cold of reality. And he says to himself that it is better to continue dreaming and wishing that Phupha continues to attend that evening appointment every day that has become part of his daily life. That's all he dares to wish for, and Tian knows that flying around Phupha from afar isn't such a bad idea either.
Chapter 3: I have gone crazy in three seconds; you have a magnet in that mouth.
He knows he's being rude by pretending to be listening to Torfun without giving her his full attention, but he can't help it. As his friend tells him about one of her fellow students who has just asked her out for the twentieth time, Phupha's eyes are lost in the distance, fixed on a point, the one where the cafe boy is smiling.
Being able to look at him outside the coffee shop is like a miracle and proof that this boy is not just part of his imagination because everyone can see him and he is sure that his colleagues must adore him. Even looking at him from afar, Phupha can once again feel that magnetic energy that urges him to get up from his seat to run to him and say hello or just start making a fuss so that he can say: hey, I'm here, can you see me? I wish for the evening to fall so that I can reach you. I would like to be close to you. Everything is better when I'm near you.
But obviously he won't do anything. So he focuses his eyes on him and seeing him laugh in the middle of a group of girls and boys, all dressed in the uniform of veterinary doctors in training, makes Phupha feel amazed that he can learn more about him. The cafe boy is going to be a doctor and that makes Phupha feel a tinge of pride because it means that his muse is completely intelligent and that he will dedicate his life to the welfare of animals.
It is beautiful to discover that and he knows that he will think about that little fact all day and that, while trying to pay attention in his classes, the image of the boy laughing with his friends while wearing his uniform will haunt him and he will not put up a fight because come on, thinking about the boy makes the days go by between clouds of cotton and that sweet agony of waiting to be able to be with him alone and in silence the entire afternoon. Well, there are some days when the little coffee shop sees more customers but no one stays there as long as he does and in fact he silently thanks all the gods that his muse doesn't feel the need to kick him out for spending more than four hours at a time doing nothing but drawing, studying and drinking one cup of coffee after another.
It's been a month and a half since the first time he saw him and during all that time, Phupha has not stopped going to the cafeteria. He usually arrives at the same time because he has always been a man faithful to the routine and also, knowing the exact time of the meeting makes the anxiety to see the boy decrease exponentially. Yes, yes, in addition to being a lousy friend, he also knows that he has gone crazy because since that day he found that cafeteria he has done nothing but wish he could be there all day.
Everything is crazy, but it is as if the muses spoke through him and urged him to go after a beautiful dream that is there, within his reach, but which he does not know how to hold on to. That is to say, the sweet madness that fills his days and nights has not been enough to find the necessary courage to at least ask the boy´s name even when he is the kindest, sweetest and most patient person in the universe because instead of kicking him out of his establishment, he has begun to add to his usual orders of coffee and fruit, a slice of the dessert he has prepared that day.
In fact, it is the boy who usually engages in short conversations with him more frequently. The two of them talk about the weather more than anything and sometimes he asks him what he thinks of the cake of the day and Phupha sincerely praises him because he likes to see him smile, it's beautiful to see how his eyes shine and his lips fill with stars when Phupha tells him that he prepares the best desserts he has ever tasted. And he's not even lying because back in the mountains, the truth was that there weren't too many resources to prepare the kind of desserts that that boy prepares.
"Phu, I'm boring you, right?" Torfun asks and Phupha's eyes detach from the cafe boy's laughter and he suddenly realizes how terrible his behavior is.
"Forgive me, I got a little distracted" he says as his eyes look at the ground and then Torfun turns to look towards the direction where Phupha's gaze was before.
And he knows that Torfun will find out and he hates himself a little for letting that happen. During all those weeks the cafe boy has been a secret, something like a hidden talisman that he doesn't talk about for fear that someone will end up taking it away from him. He hadn't wanted to talk about him with anyone because he doesn't even know what to say or what explanation to give. He doesn't know how to talk about his madness, he has never known how to talk about his own heart.
“There's a guy in that group who can´t stop looking at you. He's very handsome, you know," she says with a mischievous smile and Phupha's cheeks turn terribly red and he knows he won't be able to hide anymore.
"A boy?" Phupha gasps but knows the tremor in his voice and that stupid blush creeping up his neck to his cheeks is just giving him away more strongly.
“Yes, a boy from Veterinary Medicine school, do you know him? He looked away from you when he realized I was looking at him,” says Torfun with genuine curiosity. “Phu, is he the one you've been meeting with every afternoon? Nam and I have been making several bets regarding your late-night disappearances.”
And although Torfun's words are kind and warm because she is like that herself, Phupha feels a terrible shyness and a threatening cold covering him from head to toe. He has never spoken out loud on that particular subject. Although he knows that both Nam and Torfun understand what kind of person he is, that does not remove the fear or shame of being discovered because in the midst of his madness he did not have time to remember that it is not normal or right for a boy to feel like this for another. That's what his father said. That is another reason why his mother, perhaps, died of disappointment.
"Phu, are you okay?" says her friend and puts her hand on his, making Phupha look at her with his dark eyes full of guilt and a silent plea that seems to ask the girl not to hate him.
“I shouldn't feel this, should I?” he says at last. “Torfun, I don't even know what I feel.”
“Well, it must be something beautiful because now you smile more than before,” says Torfun with affection and Phupha wonders again why she isn't ashamed of him or why she doesn't tell him that it's cruel to feel something like that for a boy whom he barely knows and not for a girl like her.
“I don't even know his name,” Phupha says and even though he was afraid to speak about the cafe boy out loud he realizes that he actually needs to get all that confusion out of his heart.
"And why don't you ask him?" she asks with a tender smile.
“I do not want to bother him.”
"Phu, he looks at you too when he thinks you're not looking at him," she says, laughing amusedly. “I think he is also interested in you.”
"I don't think so, he's just nice. He is nice with everyone who walks into his cafeteria. I don't want to scare him; I don't even know what I'm doing.”
“Men! Why don't you ever make things easy?” Torfun complains tiredly and Phupha can't help but laugh at his friend's exasperation.
And then Torfun bursts out laughing too and Phupha feels again that he is not alone, that Torfun is there and that he can tell her about the boy from the café because she is not going to laugh or tell him that he is abnormal. So he tells her everything. He tells her about his afternoons in the cafeteria and how his anatomical drawing teacher has praised endlessly his portraits of that boy's face. He tells her about the butterflies in his stomach and how all the light in the universe fits into that boy's smile. Phupha feels shy saying such things but Torfun listens and supports him. Phupha tells her that he must be acting crazy but he doesn't know what else to do. He is not a sensitive boy, much less intelligent because the cafe boy's smile really makes him feel weak and at the same time makes him fly to the sky. Everything is a mess. He's a mess but it's also so nice to be it.
"You're not crazy, you like someone a lot, that's all," says Torfun with a tender sigh.
"Should I do something? What am I supposed to do now?” Phupha asks with real interest.
"You have to talk to him, approach him, maybe buy him a coffee," she says and Phupha is tempted to take out his notebook so as not to forget anything Torfun says. “Actually, I think that would be nice, don't you? You say he's been giving you desserts, why don't we make one for him? I can help you! But you have to find out what he likes, tell him you want to thank him for letting you draw in his coffee shop, I don't know. Phupha, something tells me he wants to get closer to you too.”
"Really, Phu, you have to take the opportunity and take risks, that's what the brave do," says Torfun and Phupha wants to thank the heavens because Torfun is really wise in these matters. “And you are brave and you know? I'm so glad you found someone like that guy.”
Phupha smiles shyly and gets up to place a quick kiss on the forehead of this girl who is like a sister to him. She's right. He has to do something because his heart's desires are too strong. He can no longer stop what he feels: he has to know more about that boy. He has to find out if it's true that he also wants to be close to him.
The two continue talking about the possible scenarios to make the conversation with the guy from the cafe flow and at that precise moment, two guys approach their table. One of them is Phupha's fellow student, Rang, who walks very close to none other than the new Moon of the campus, Longtae. Phupha still can't fully explain why those two hit it off so easily after Rang showed up to one of the award ceremony rehearsals but he's not going to question it. The two of them get along great and that's all that really matters.
"Phu, Professor Chaiwimol asked me to tell you that you need to go seeing him in his office tomorrow afternoon," Rang says by way of greeting.
"Did he tell you what the reason is?" Phupha asks, feeling a little uneasy at the thought that his anatomical drawing teacher might be upset with him.
"No, but apparently it's not a bad thing, he was too happy when he asked me to send you his message," says Rang, shrugging his shoulders. "Do you have plans for this afternoon? Longtae and I are going to the movies with one of his friends, what did you say his name is?”
"Tian, actually there he is," Longtae says calmly and then starts to wave to someone in the distance and Phupha feels his heart catch in his throat when he notices that it's the cafe boy who is waving back at Longtae. “But I doubt he wants to go, lately he adamantly refuses to close his cafeteria in the afternoons, so I won't insist too much... do you want to go?”
"I have too much homework to do and Phu already has a date with someone, right?" Torfun says and Rang and Longtae give him an interested look that makes Phupha feel even more shy than usual.
“Is Chief Phupha Viriyanon, lord and master of all hearts in this school, dating someone behind our backs?” Rang asks with his usual mocking air. “Phu, tell me who he is, Nam and I have candidates but we can't decide on anyone, so go ahead, drop it, I could use the information.”
“The truth is that I don't understand why you and Nam are my friends,” Phupha replies and Torfun and Longtae burst out laughing.
"Because you love us, chief, that's why," Rang says with a wink and Phupha rolls his eyes at the nickname Rang has called him since they met in college. “Anyway, Torfun: spy on our boy and tell us everything later, will you? I can't keep living with so much mystery. I'm going to create a chat so we can discuss Phu's romantic life in detail.”
"Weren't you in a hurry to ask Longtae's friend if he wants to go to the movies with you?" Phupha asks and Longtae gives him an apologetic look.
“Yes, it is better that we reach Tian before he decides to go back to lock himself in his kitchen to bake, once he enters there, there is no human power that can make him leave. See you later then." Longtae says addressing Torfun and him, and takes Rang by the arm to lead him in the direction of Tian and thinking about it Phupha realizes that, without looking for it, he´s just discovered another wonderful fact about the café boy.
"Tian…" he says softly, reverently, almost as if he's speaking a sacred word.
"It's a cute name for a cute boy, don't you think?" asks Torfun knowingly.
"His name is Tian.”
Tian, Tian, a thousand times Tian. Phupha repeats the name in his mind and every time he does it the word sounds like music, it's as if all the happiness in the world could fit in that name. And Torfun feels completely moved; she doesn't even feel sad anymore knowing that she will never be in the life of her best friend something as full of magic as that boy named Tian who still doesn't know how lucky he is because he has stayed to live in the heart of Phupha. And the girl decides that she has to support him and that she has to encourage him to live that story whose first chapter is Tian's name. All Torfun wants for Phupha is for him to be happy. Torfun wants Phupha to be able to meet love face to face so as not to let it go.
And Phupha wonders if knowing Tian's name isn't a sign from the universe. A sign that he must be brave and that he has to take the first step. Because if he does, he may regret it for a moment, but if he doesn't, he knows he will regret it for the rest of his life. And he may be guilty of a thousand terrible things but he's not a coward, not when he really cares about something. He has to talk to him. He has to get to know Tian a little better so that he can try to understand some of those mysteries that pull him with the full force of gravity.
Chapter 4: You are a ticket to heaven, everything changes when I see you.
His kitchen is a mess and a cry of exasperation escapes his lips as he burns his hand on the oven door again. Inside him, he's sure that starting to bake in his mood was a blunder from the start but it would have been worse not to be doing anything.
There is a swirl of unpleasant emotions inside his heart and the reason for all of them is so stupid he shouldn't be feeling this way to begin with. But he can't help it, he's tried everything and he just keeps dying of disappointment and jealousy because yes, that's what happens: he's dying of jealousy.
The smell of burning suddenly fills his nostrils and Tian wants to cry as he hurries to turn off the oven. He knows he should calm down but the memory of Phupha laughing and kissing that girl on the forehead, Torfun the last year's Star of the university, is enough to make hell burn inside him again.
Yes, yes, he too had heard the rumors about Torfun and Phupha being the most envied couple in school but had simply decided to forget them. Of course the two of them make an adorable couple and Tian had had to pretend he was having a blast with his classmates as his eyes wandered over to Phupha and Torfun who were chatting animatedly in the distance. They must have been planning a date. Surely they were planning their wedding.
An annoyed scream comes out of his mouth and Tian tells himself to stop thinking stupid things. He knows that he has no right to feel this way because the only relationship between him and Phupha is a business relationship. Phupha is a regular customer of the cafeteria, yes, but nothing more. They aren't even friends and Tian's stupid feelings don't matter because they are only his and Phupha doesn't know anything about them but if everything is so clear, why does it hurt so much?
Tian flops down on the kitchen floor after opening the window to let the smoke from the oven begin to billow out. He planned to bake orange muffins that afternoon, and now the remnants of the failed plan lie at the bottom of the oven in a charred heap that looks a lot like the state his heart is in.
Thinking about it, the boy can't contain himself anymore and lets a couple of frustrated tears come out of his eyes without stopping them. His grandmother used to say that when pain comes one should feel it without fighting with it but this pain is too stupid, he feels like the biggest stupid guy in the universe in fact.
But what he feels is intolerable. Tian's heart aches because Phupha has never smiled at him the way he smiles at Torfun. Phupha has never talked to him like he talks to Torfun. Phupha has never looked at him the way he looks at Torfun and maybe he will never be able to because come on, he is not the prettiest girl on campus, he is just an idiot who thought that dreaming would be enough for him but who was planning for several days a way to approach Phupha and now nothing makes sense.
The tears continue to roll down his cheeks and he lets them out because maybe that way it will all end faster. The envy he feels is not rational, he cannot feel that way simply because he has just realized that despite the beauty of his dreams he is really just a minor character in Phupha's life. He is just the owner of a coffee shop and Phupha is a customer who may soon get bored with his coffee and desserts and must learn to live with it.
Also, although the memory corrodes his heart like boiling acid, the truth is that Phupha looked happy talking to Torfun; he had never seen him smile like that. The other times he'd looked at him from a distance around college, Phupha was still the serious, handsome boy he always was. But next to Torfun, Phupha seemed to shine and that's what they say happens when people are close to someone special, isn't it? And Torfun must be Phupha's special person as everyone says and maybe Tian's only involvement in that story is that he will be the person who will prepare their wedding cake.
“Stop being so dramatic,” he says out loud because this last idea, making Phupha's wedding cake, makes him laugh through his tears. “Seriously, Tian, you should calm down now, get your shit together!”
But he can't and he keeps crying. He hears someone open the door of the cafeteria, which at that time is still closed, but he doesn't mind hiding his tears. The only person who has a key to the place is Longtae, and Longtae has seen him in worse situations than that, so he knows his friend won't judge him.
"Tian!" says his friend's voice from the entrance. "Do I have to call the fire department?"
Tian doesn't answer and simply hugs his knees, ignoring his friend's question in an Olympian way. Longtae comes to him and gives him a look of absolute surprise but says nothing. The two have known each other since they were children because his grandmother took care of him when the boy's parents died in a terrible accident that happened back in the village between the mountains where people count stars to make wishes. Longtae was therefore one of the children protected by his grandmother and perhaps because of this, the two managed to become the best friends in the world. That's why Longtae doesn't say anything and just sits next to him while gently hugging him.
"Tian, you shouldn't cry like this over a burnt dessert, I'm sure if I help you now you can have it ready before we have to open" Longtae says calmly but Tian doesn't dare to look at him.
"I'm not crying on that," Tian says and hides his face in his friend's light sweater and the boy's familiar scent makes him feel a little calmer.
“What´s the matter then?”
"It's just that Phupha and Torfun are going to get married and I'll have to prepare their wedding cake," Tian says in the middle of a sob and an incredulous smile appears on Longtae's lips.
The boy, who is a skinny boy with a kind and attractive face, tries to suppress his laughter because he knows that Tian is serious, he is always like that. Tian is usually too sincere with his feelings and to be honest, Tian's feelings have been dependent on Phupha Viriyanon's visit to his coffee shop for weeks now so Longtae can get an idea about the imaginary predicament Tian is in because come on, the boy can be extremely rational and intelligent when it comes to studying medicine but in other matters, Tian is usually carried away by his emotions that are always intense and explosive like the ones he must be experiencing now.
"I think you have the wrong information, my friend," Longtae says trying to sound calm. “Your handsome boy and Miss Torfun have never thought of getting married that I know of.”
“Well, they seemed like an adorable couple a while ago, you know?” Tian says and Longtae can feel the terrible jealousy that overwhelms his friend.
“Things aren't always what they seem, Tian,” Longtae says calmly.
"But the two of them did, come on, you were there," Tian says, giving him a furious look. “The two of them were talking so happily and he kissed her in front of everyone, Longtae. And don't get me started on the way he looks at her because I'm going to cry even more.”
“Tian, breathe, please.”
“I do not want to.”
"Yes, you do," Longtae says and Tian wonders not for the first time, how is it that his friend can always stay calm in any situation, Tian thinks that Longtae learned that from his grandmother in a better way than himself.
And as much as he wants to spend the whole day crying, Tian's sobs slowly subside as Longtae holds him and pats his back in an unwavering show of moral support. It's as if Longtae's closeness reminds him that nothing is as terrible as it seems in his mind and that, even though it seems impossible, all that jealousy and disappointment he feels will eventually fade too and that the world will not end even if his heart hurts.
“I know I shouldn't feel this way but I can't help it, Longtae. I know I'm being ridiculous but you know? I was planning to talk to Phupha today but for what?”
"Did you plan to talk to him? Talking to him as in a conversation that has nothing to do with the weather and how delicious your desserts are?” Longtae asks with real surprise.
Because even though Tian hasn't stopped talking about Phupha since Phupha visits the cafeteria, his friend had told him that he didn't want to take another step forward even though it was clear that Tian was starting to have feelings for Phupha and that dreaming about him wouldn´t be enough sooner rather than later.
“My anatomy teacher has assigned us an atlas of the native animals of Thailand for our final project,” Tian says, and Longtae notices that his friend is beginning to be himself again. “I thought I'd ask Phupha to help me with the drawing of the models, you know, I could get the best grade if I hand in an atlas made by a real artist.”
"Of course, and you could also talk to Phupha more often and get closer to him, get to know him more," Longtae says with a hint of amusement.
"It was a foolproof plan, right?"
“Why are you talking in the past tense?”
“Longtae, you know that my intentions weren't exactly disinterested with this plan but now that I know that Phupha has someone special, I don't know, what if Torfun gets jealous?”
“My friend, remind me not to leave you alone for too long. Tian, you have created an amazing soap opera in your mind!”
"Which soap opera are you talking about? It's true! Don't try to lie to me; you know there's something between the two of them! Everyone at the university says the same thing.”
“Yes, and they also say that your family bought my title as the campus´ Moon,” Longtae says and Tian is speechless.
"That's a lie," Tian whispers at last.
"Well, the rumors about Torfun and Phupha, too," Longtae says flatly. “They are friends, he does not see her as anything other than a little sister whom he wants to protect. In fact, a while ago, Rang and I invited them to the movies, and do you know what they said?”
"What?" Tian asks with genuine interest but not carried away by the hope that Longtae's words are bringing to him.
"Both of them refused. Torfun said she had a lot of homework and Phupha, well apparently Phupha had a date, an evening date he hasn't missed in weeks.”
“A date?” Tian asks and his heart wonders who is the person Phupha is going on a date with and he wants to cry again because if not Torfun, then who?
A date he hasn't missed in weeks... Oh!
"It took you a while to understand, seriously," Longtae says, breaking into laughter at Tian's surprised face.
“LONGTAE! I HAVE TO BAKE EVERYTHING! I HAVE TO CLEAN UP THIS MESS! LONGTAE! HE WILL COME, HE WILL COME!”
“Yes, I'm sure he'll come,” his friend says and Tian gets up from the ground and nothing else in the universe matters.
“You have to help me, please help me,” Tian says and Longtae is glad that Tian's episode of misery is finally over. “If you help me, I'll make Rang's favorite cookies so you can finally win him over, okay?”
"I'll help you but you don't need to make cookies.”
“Longtae, I'm going to take a step I didn't think possible with Phupha and you're going to do the same with Rang. We are in this together, you cannot abandon me. We have to encourage each other. Don't leave me alone, what if Phupha refuses to help me?
"He's not going to say no to you," says Longtae, also getting up from the ground.
"Neither is Ran! So come on, no more tears. We have to have everything ready to open on time.”
Longtae is tempted to say that it wasn't him who was in tears less than five minutes ago but keeps his comment to himself because Tian is shining again with all the summer sunlight and he doesn't want his friend to lose that. Longtae knows how much it must have cost Tian to make the decision to talk to Phupha and find out how far they can go. Longtae knows that Tian cannot think of having a normal life like him and all his classmates due to his health problems which are unavoidable and are a threat to the boy. But as Tian returns to preparing the ingredients for the day's dessert, Longtae realizes that this story about to be written with Phupha may be a way for Tian to cling to life. And Longtae doesn't want to lose his friend but if it must be like that, he at least hopes that Tian will live a happy life until his heart tells otherwise.
The boy pushes that terrible thought out of his mind and grabs the necessary cleaning tools to lessen the mess in the kitchen before starting to prepare the place. Tian is in charge of ventilating everything and the aroma of burning begins to fade slowly, and then it is replaced by the aroma of orange that is an indicator that the dessert that day will be a delight like everything that Tian prepares. An hour later everything is ready and although it is a little late, Longtae realizes that he will be able to make it to his movie date with Rang on time.
"Tian, I have to go now," says the boy.
"Okay," Tian says, and Longtae is pleased to see that he's already smiling like always.
"I wish everything goes well with your first real conversation with Phupha," Longtae says and Tian nods enthusiastically.
“I wish Rang would dare to kiss you at last while watching the movie,” Tian says seriously and Longtae feels his cheeks turn red.
“What? We both know it can happen, so don't waste any more time, I'll be cheering you on.”
“Me too, when Phupha leaves you have to tell me everything, okay?”
Tian nods with all the enthusiasm in the universe and watches his friend leave the cafeteria. The clock on the wall indicates that it is late, the cafeteria was supposed to be open for more than half an hour. Feeling expectant, Tian goes to the cafeteria bathroom to check that his hair is tidy and that there are no traces of burnt muffins residue on his face. His eyes are a little red from his crying episode but he hopes it's not too obvious.
Then, Tian puts on his usual navy blue apron and as he does so, his eyes collide with Longtae's cell phone, his friend must have undoubtedly forgotten that he left it there. Thinking of catching up with him, Tian picks up the phone and begins to walk briskly towards the cafeteria door. The doctors have told him that he must avoid running at all costs, so he does not do it but his feet betray him and when he goes out into the street, he feels that he loses his balance and the fear of the imminent fall on the ground makes him close his eyes but it is not the ground but a pair of strong and warm arms that receive him.
"Tian, are you okay?" asks a soft voice that makes him shiver.
It must be a dream, mustn’t it? It must be a dream because that's Phupha's voice, and if that's Phupha's voice that means he's in Phupha's arms. And when he opens his eyes and his gaze collides with the worried face of none other than Phupha Viriyanon in all his glory and majesty, he tells himself that he must be in heaven, yes, definitely. Phupha's arms are holding him and he wants someone to stop time because he wants to live in them for the rest of his life. Let no one do or say anything, Tian Sopasitsakun is in heaven.
“Tian?” Phupha asks once more and Tian gets chills because his name in Phupha's voice is so beautiful and… wait a second.
"Do you know my name?" Tian asks with a nervous smile.
"Your friend Longtae told me," he says shyly. "Does it bother you if I call you by your name?"
“No, no, you can call me whatever you want,” Tian says and mentally congratulates himself for not having finished that sentence with a "you can also call me the love of your life" because he really thought to say it
Phupha smiles in a pleased way but doesn't say anything else and Tian realizes that he is being silly but Phupha is so close and he hasn't let go and no one can act like a normal person if the boy of your dreams is holding you in his arms, right?
And neither of them seems able to get up, it's as if neither of them wants to walk away. The two are lost in each other's eyes, time has stopped and Tian discovers that being in Phupha's arms is his own direct pass to that heaven that a single look from the two of them has created.
Chapter 5: I forgot that my heart was a bit broken; within seconds, you repair what you touch.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
He couldn't sleep the whole night but he isn´t tired. Although his eyes are rimmed with deep bags under his eyes, he feels alive and alert, it's as if his eyes are looking at the world for the first time. Right now he is walking towards Professor Chaiwimol's office and he doesn't feel any nervousness. In fact, since the afternoon he spent talking with Tian yesterday, his heart seems new too. It is as if the light of Tian has enveloped him, as if some of the stars of that boy's smile have stayed to live in his own being.
A soft smile is drawn on his lips as he remembers the previous afternoon for the umpteenth time, in reality he has relived it a thousand times. He has replayed his favorite moments endlessly and wishes he could tattoo Tian's smile on his forehead. He has never been good at socializing but between him and Tian everything went smoothly. He doesn't want to be a hopeless romantic, but for several moments it seemed to him that his soul had already met Tian in a thousand other universes and in all of them, both had found each other feeling that instantaneous connection that arose between them. Next to Tian everything seems simple. By Tian´s side he can forget that there are thousands of scars on his heart.
The smile widens on his lips and although that would not be like him, the boy wants to start dancing as he walks. He had never felt like this before, as if everything in the universe was possible for someone like him. And it is incredible that a boy who was born surrounded by mountains and lack of many things now feels like the owner of the universe simply because in his life there is a person who looks at him as Tian does it.
And yes, he knows that he is letting himself be carried away by what he feels. He knows that perhaps Tian doesn't even feel the sea of confused emotions that wash over him. He knows that Tian just needs an artist to help him with his final project but that doesn't matter too much because Tian chose him anyway, didn't he? He chose him when he could have chosen anyone else because it's no strange for medical students to often approach art students to ask them help with their anatomical models. But that's as good a start as any other for Phupha whose only wish, to be able to be close to Tian to get to know him better, is now a reality.
Phupha sighs and his mind travels once more to that moment when he held Tian tightly in his arms when he realized that he was about to fall. At that moment, Phupha had already looked at the closed sign above the entrance door to the cafeteria and had been about to turn around thinking that perhaps Tian had accepted Longtae and Rang's invitation to go to the movies. But then the door opened and Tian seemed in a hurry and when he saw him stumble, Phupha ran to him to catch him in his arms and help him regain his balance.
"Tian, are you okay?" he asked and realized that he had called his name even though he hadn't asked him before.
"Do you know my name?" Tian asked in turn and he could only reply that yes, Longtae had told him.
And then Tian had told him that he could call him whatever he wanted and the two of them had stayed still, looking into each other's eyes without moving away from each other. Phupha was aware that he should have let him go but how to do it? He couldn't because Tian's eyes were looking at him as if he was a beautiful miracle. He couldn't walk away from him because having that boy in his arms felt good, it felt right.
"We should go in," Tian said at last. “People are going to start pointing fingers at us if we stay like this forever, don't you think?”
Phupha had nodded and feeling that it cost him a terrible effort he let go of Tian simply to follow him into the cafeteria. He knew that it was more than likely that people would start pointing fingers at them seeing them so close and considering the speed with which the rumors spread in the school, it was best to get out of sight of everyone. It was still too early for people to talk about him. He didn't want anyone to talk about something that was so special to him even though it hadn't started yet.
So Phupha had entered the cafeteria feeling more self-aware and didn't ask anything as Tian closed the door behind him and didn't change the closed sign. The boy looked tired but the bright smile on his lips was shining brightly as he approached him. Phupha felt his heart beating a thousand miles an hour because Tian was close to him again.
"I think you've had a rough day," he said to break the silence that was surrounding them.
"It was a hectic day, yes," Tian confirmed, looking at him apologetically.
"Your eyes look tired, it's like you've been crying, is everything alright?" Phupha said softly, feeling a bit shaken at the possibility that someone had made Tian cry.
"Yes, yes, it's just... well, it's just that I tend to get stressed in a simple way," he said, trying to downplay the matter. “It was actually silly: I had a problem with some of my peers, you know, people who want you to do all the work for them.”
“I'm sorry you have to work with people like that, I think we can't help it,” agreed Phupha feeling amazed to be talking to Tian in such a simple way.
"Of course, but I think everything will be fine, I think it's better than fine now." Tian assured him, giving him a warm look that made Phupha feel a tremor in his chest.
“Really? I noticed that the cafeteria was closed, were you planning to have a day off? I wouldn't want to take away your time off.”
"Oh no, no! It's just that I'm late,” Tian said quickly. “I had a problem with the dessert of the day but I've solved it, seriously, although maybe it's a good idea not to open, anyway there are usually not many customers this day of the week.”
"I also think it's better that you rest, I can come back tomorrow" Phupha said feeling a little sad but he could wait, the most important thing was that Tian could rest.
“No! I mean, of course you can come back tomorrow but, well, if you're not too busy, do you think you can stay here a little longer?” Tian asked with such a sweet expression on his face that Phupha wished he could give him the whole world. “There's something I need to talk to you, and the truth is, you just saved my life by not letting me fall in the street, so, well... I have orange muffins and coffee to celebrate that you saved me from making a fool of myself. Phupha, please stay a little longer.”
"You know my name too." Phupha said, unable to help feeling moved by that little detail.
"And who doesn't? You are the crush of the entire university, it is impossible not to know your name,” Tian said as if that were the most obvious fact in the universe.
"Do you know my name because I'm your crush too?" Phupha asked with an amused air, wondering why the hell it was so easy to tease Tian like that.
"It's a possibility, but don't let it go to your head, we're a pretty big fan club," the boy said, winking one of his eyes mischievously.
Phupha knew that Tian was only joking with that answer but something in his heart filled with hope because in a mysterious and magical way everything was flowing between the two. Tian was so easy to talk to and the boy seemed so comfortable with him. Then, the two of them burst out laughing a little nervously and Tian was quick to say that he was going to go to the kitchen for some muffins, a sandwich because he was really starving, and a cup of coffee for Phupha and tea for him.
"Do you want me to help you prepare everything?" Phupha asked.
"It's not necessary, you can sit in your usual place," Tian said calmly. “And Phupha...”
"Thank you for staying here with me."
Tian hurried towards the kitchen, and Phupha looked after him, wondering what Tian wanted to talk to him about. The boy didn't really have a single clue about the matter, but that didn't diminish the joy he felt at the wonderful fact that Tian wanted to talk to him. Minutes later, Tian came out of the kitchen with a tray full of sandwiches and muffins, something that made Phupha realize that his partner was really hungry. Tian put the tray on the table and held out a couple of plates to Phupha who took them wondering if they could eat so many dishes at once.
"Please eat as much as you want," Tian offered, still smiling. “I can also make more coffee.”
"I think this is more than enough," Phupha said, taking a cup of coffee in his hands. “You should eat well now, you've had a long day and you need energy.”
"Definitely," Tian said as he took one of the sandwiches. “In the midst of such a mess, I completely forgot that I had been hungry since my first class.”
"Haven't you eaten anything since morning?" Phupha asked with a worried air.
"I don't usually have breakfast, I get up too late to prepare something," Tian said as if it were normal. “It is a bad habit that my family caused. At home everything was ready when I needed it and now that I live alone, I forget that I am the one who has to prepare everything before going to classes.”
"I can make breakfast for you," Phupha said without thinking, and Tian looked at him with a surprised air. “I mean, well, I always make way too much food in the mornings. I'm the one who usually feeds my friends so...”
"Should I have to pick up my order at the Fine Arts building?" Tian asked amusedly.
"Or I can see you every morning at your faculty building" Phupha said feeling his cheeks fill with blush but actually it made him happy to think of being able to see Tian every morning.
"I don't want to abuse your kindness but it sounds so good," Tian said dreamily. “I haven't had a homemade breakfast in months. But Phupha, my building is too far from yours.”
"No problem, I have a motorcycle," Phupha said confidently. “I am being sincere with my proposal.”
"I'd feel like a parasite doing that, especially considering there's another favor I have to ask of you."
“What kind of favor?” Phupha asked feeling that no matter what Tian asked, the only possible answer was yes.
That was how Tian took a deep breath and began to tell him about his final project and how Phupha could help him draw the anatomical models that the professor had requested. And as he listened to him, Phupha thought that this was a wonderful idea. In his mind, a thousand possibilities suddenly became real because he would have to be close to Tian to help him and that was enough.
"Of course I can help you," he said immediately.
"Don't you have to think about it first?"
“No, the truth is that you are not asking me for something impossible, it will be a pleasure to help you.”
"But let me give you something in return, I can pay you. You can have all the coffee you want or thousands of desserts.”
“Helping you is enough, seriously. You have helped me without realizing it”
"Really?" Tian asked with a surprised look.
"Yes, this place has become my drawing studio and you are always giving me desserts, I am the one who owes you" Phupha assured with a grateful smile.
“It's not a debt, I thought I needed to feed you well, you know, you study so much.”
“And I thank you so let me help you, it is not necessary to talk about payments or anything like that.”
"Will you still come every day?"
“Yes, unless it bothers you.”
“It doesn't bother me, you can come whenever you want but...”
"Will you be free this weekend?"
"I'd like to show you the models we're going to work on. I have the books at home; it's dangerous to bring them here so could you have dinner with me? I'll buy something delicious, what's your favorite food?” Tian said filled with a contagious emotion that Phupha also felt in his heart.
"Let me prepare something for you, maybe that way I can convince you about preparing your breakfast" Phupha said wondering if he wasn't abusing his good luck.
"Aren't your friends going to be mad if their breakfast portions suddenly go down? What about Torfun? Isn't she going to get mad because you prepare food for a stranger?” Tian asked and Phupha noticed that the boy regretted having asked that question a little.
"Do you believe the rumors, too?" Phupha asked with some discomfort. “Tian, I don't know what you heard but I swear Torfun is my friend and she won't be mad if I make more friends.”
"I don't want to cause you trouble," Tian said sheepishly. “Forgive me for saying that.”
"You're not going to cause me any trouble, seriously."
"So it's a date?" Tian asked, his cheeks flushing adorably. “I mean, a business appointment, of course.”
"We have a date," Phupha said, feeling delighted because that phrase sounded wonderful. “And you're going to let me prepare something for you, right?”
“Yes of course. And I'll be in charge of the dessert, there are many that I haven't baked for you yet.” Tian said excitedly.
"Do you make your desserts for me?" Phupha asked feeling brave and crazy, but Tian was smiling at him in that way that erased all fears from his mind.
“I´ve already told you, I'm part of your fan club and I'm worried that you don't have energy to study, leave me alone,” Tian said and they both laughed again.
And the afternoon had passed between more jokes and a simple conversation where the two talked about themselves and their studies. They talked about all those things that people tell each other when they expect the other to tell them more about their existence. They talked about their classmates, their friends, and how annoying some of their teachers were. They talked about the two of them completely forgetting the hours on the clock and that there was a world outside that small cafeteria.
And when saying goodbye when Phupha noticed that it was already later than usual another small miracle happened: Tian hugged him gently making Phupha feel that he could stay like this for many hours without the need for him or Tian to say anything.
"Thanks for helping me, really," he said. “I am happy.”
"Me too," Phupha said, feeling the sun's heat burn on his cheeks.
"Go home carefully, send me a message when you get there, you already have my number" said his partner separating from him quickly, Tian suddenly seemed shy.
“I will, have a good rest, Tian.”
"Have a nice rest, Phupha."
And that had been it. Phupha walked home unable to stop smiling. He was not a boy who was used to experiencing beautiful things and that afternoon all the happiness he had not felt in years had been like a gift that Tian had been saving for him. He hadn't been lying when he said that being close to Tian made him happy. Tian's smile was like a balm on those parts of him that sometimes wouldn't stop hurting.
Phupha slowly came back to the present as his eyes noted that he had arrived at his anatomical drawing teacher's office. The young man entered the room noticing that it was too early and that there were not really many people there, but upon entering the professor's office, who was a middle-aged man who wore a pair of black glasses, he greeted him enthusiastically inviting him to sit in the chair across from him.
"Mr. Viriyanon, come in, I have excellent news for you," said the professor with apparent enthusiasm.
"Really?" Phupha asked in surprise.
“Yes, listen: I have been observing one of your drawings in detail, there is something special in this one,” the professor said as he extended the drawing to the artist and Phupha felt his cheeks fill with heat.
This was one of the most detailed sketches he had ever submitted. In it, Tian could be seen serving coffee at one of the tables facing a window where the golden light of the sun used to spill. Although the drawing was done in charcoal, it was undeniable that Phupha had been able to capture that effect of radiant light and shadows. This was a sketch from last week where their teacher had asked them to focus on the model's facial features, something Phupha had done perfectly without a doubt.
"Didn't I do it with the proper technique, Professor?" Phupha asked, trying to remain calm.
"Mr. Viriyanon, sometimes the beauty of art is beyond technique, don't get me wrong, your drawing is technically perfect, but there is also something else," the professor said, looking him in the eye. “It is something special, something that has to do with the light you are using and, above all, with your gaze. It does not show us the model as he is but as you look at him. The model has become art through your gaze, that's what happens.”
“I do not understand, Professor.”
"What I'm trying to say is that your portrait is one of a kind, it's the kind of portrait that can win awards, and that's why we're here. Tell me, Phupha, is the model a friend of yours?”
"Yes, he's my friend," Phupha answered immediately, thanking the heavens that he didn't have to lie about that.
"That's excellent, do you think we can have his permission to show this portrait?" the professor asked, and Phupha felt his face turn pale. “I want to submit this work to represent the university in the national drawing contest next month. If your friend agrees, I think you can really contend for the title. You have done an admirable job, Phupha, congratulations.”
"I'll ask him," said Phupha, making the professor smile with pleasure, but the truth is that he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
How the hell was he going to tell Tian that he had been drawing him without him knowing since he had met him?
AAAAAAAAAAH! I hope their first real talk didn't turn out so bad, I really hope you liked it. Thank you very much for reading this story, seriously. Love ya!
Chapter 6: The planets align when I see you; all the windows and doors are wide open.
The boy tries to breathe calmly because he knows that his heart should also start beating normally but it is almost impossible. His eyes never stop looking at the clock on the wall that announces that Phupha will be there in fifteen minutes and he knows he won't have to wait any longer than that. Phupha is always punctual and will be there in no time and damn, damn, damn why is he so nervous?
For the past few days, he has done nothing but talk to Phupha during the afternoons when the two of them are alone in the middle of the cafeteria. Between the two of them, that simple camaraderie of people who are definitely born to get along has been born. His grandmother used to tell him that sometimes, when meeting someone, it was as if your soul suddenly found someone very dear to you, someone you had met in another universe or in another dimension and whom your entire soul recognized.
From that first talk, Tian feels that it is like that with Phupha. There is something in his eyes that is warm and familiar; there is something in his laugh that makes Tian feel at home after flying thousands of miles with no clear destination. When he looks at Phupha or when Phupha says his name it is as if all the planets of the solar system are aligned and the world is perfect. When Phupha smiles at you it is as if everything in the universe is possible and doors and windows to thousands of beautiful possibilities open wide.
And the truth is that Tian doesn't really know what to do with all those possibilities. He knows he is taking a risk but there is no going back. Phupha must already know what he's feeling because he's discovered that he has no self-control when it comes to thinking stuff like: yes, Phupha, I'm the president of your fan club, and you know? I think I've fallen in love with you; it took me five days of talks and laughs, quite a record, right? By the way, I love when you send me pictures of adorable kittens every morning and when you tell me about the paintings you're working on even though you don't want to show them to me until they're complete. In fact, there's nothing about you that I don't find devastatingly charming, so will you please marry me?
Tian begins to laugh without being able to avoid it but the state of nervousness is real. Maybe it's all to do with the fact that even though he told himself this wasn't a date, it does feel like one. Phupha offered to bring all the necessary ingredients to prepare a traditional dinner and Tian accepted saying that he would take care of the drinks and dessert. And also he has in mind that this meeting is happening outside the cafeteria, Phupha will be in his house, that house that his grandmother bought for Longtae and him so that both of them could have a safe and warm place to go from to the University.
If it wasn't a date, then why did Tian put so much effort into his grooming? Why did he had to change at least three times before he found the right outfit? Why does he keep glancing at himself in the living room mirror? The boy who looks at him from his reflection is handsome without a doubt, his thin navy blue shirt gives him a refined air and he wonders if he´s not exaggerating a little with the formality. But it is that the intense tone of that blue makes him look like a television star and those types of people are charming, aren't they? And he wouldn't dare say it out loud but he wants Phupha to think he's charming, he wants Phupha to look at him and not be able to take his eyes off him because he's addicted to that look and it's so nice to feel it on his skin.
"Tian, stop pacing around the room like a trapped cat," Longtae says suddenly and his friend lets out a whistle of appreciation at the sight of him.
"Longtae, do you think I exaggerated?" Tian asks, unable to suppress his panic.
"No, not at all, but I think you're going to make our dear friend Phupha faint," Longtae says with total sincerity and Tian can't help the blush on his cheeks. “I hope that the man is ready to see you, without a doubt I think he will fall dead on the floor of love for you.”
“What? The man thinks you're charming even when you're wearing your blue apron at the coffee shop. Believe me: with that outfit you will kill him with love. You are really handsome, Tian.”
“Not as much as him, Longtae. Oh god, is that... do I really look good? I didn't want to look like, you know, too interested in looking good. I mean, obviously I care about looking good because if he thinks I'm handsome then maybe, well...Longtae! Why did you let me do this?”
"Because it's what you want, because this makes you happy and I want you to start believing that you deserve to live beautiful things," Longtae says with that serene wisdom that he must have inherited from his father who was the chief of the village where his friend was born. “Breathe; Phupha already thinks you're charming, I know that from a good source. So all you have to do is smile, tell him silly jokes, and let it all flow. Trust me, everything will be fine.”
“I love you so much, Longtae!” Tian says and hugs his friend tightly making him laugh.
“My little boy is growing up. I can't believe that you will finally have your first date and he´s nothing less than Phupha Viriyanon. I'm proud of you, Tian, but don't let Phupha take advantage of you, okay? Unfortunately I'll be back after midnight so I wouldn't want to find you and Phupha in a compromising situation. Also, have you asked your doctors if those kinds of things count as high-risk activity for your heart?”
"I can't believe you just said that, idiot," Tian says walking away from his friend who bursts out laughing guiltily.
“Okay, I admit I went overboard with that but we should make sure, I mean, we have to be prepared for everything.
"Thanks, Mom, I'll keep that in mind and if you don't have any other advice, maybe it's time for you to go, don't keep Rang waiting and just kiss him, for God's sake."
“Are you going to kiss Phupha on the first date?” Longtae asks and Tian shivers at the thought of…nothing, he's not thinking of anything.
"It's not a date," Tian says trying not to die of embarrassment.
"Yeah, well, whatever you say," Longtae says and the smart answer Tian was thinking of giving his best friend vanishes on his lips because someone is knocking on his door and Tian knows it can only be one person.
"Oh god, he´s just arrived," Tian says, holding on to Longtae's arm. “Phupha is here.”
"Well, let's welcome your prince, don't keep him waiting."
Tian feels like glaring at Longtae, but when the doorbell rings again, the boy realizes that he really has to open the door. Tian takes a deep breath, and when he opens the door, the sight of Phupha wearing a black T-shirt and sand-colored pants makes him forget to breathe. And it is that Tian was used to seeing him every day wearing the traditional uniform of white shirt and dark pants but now Phupha is there, looking like a prince that comes from a distant land and who has come down from his throne to see him. Tian notices that Phupha has arranged his hair differently and he looks so handsome that he has surely made all the mortals who saw him pass by on the street fall in love with him. Phupha is smiling a little shyly; the young man is holding several bags from the supermarket and his sketchbook, something that makes Tian smile too. Yes, yes, Phupha looks beautiful but he is still the same boy who has been in his cafeteria every afternoon. That boy who looks like a prince is still the same one who now usually laughs with him on a daily basis.
"Hello, Tian, I think I'm a little early.”
"Not at all, if you had taken a little longer I swear this boy would have come looking for you" says Longtae breaking the enchantment in which the two had fallen. “Welcome Phupha.”
"Hello, Longtae," Phupha says gently, but Tian notices that his eyes barely leave him and feels his stomach drop because Phupha's gaze is suddenly filled with thousands of emotions for which there are no names. “Tian, you look very handsome today.”
"Yes, that's my signal to disappear, I'll leave you guys at home, be good" Longtae says before walking away from the two and Tian feels his friend's elbow dig into his ribs before he leaves but it's just that he can't react.
Phupha is too handsome, that smile of his makes Tian's brain freeze and by all the gods has Phupha Viriyanon just tell him he looks handsome?
"I... well, if you say so, it must be true," says Tian, making an enormous effort to function properly again. “Although on behalf of the fan club I must say that it is illegal for you to look like this, seriously, how many heart attacks did you cause before you got here?”
Phupha says that Tian is exaggerating but the simple laugh that comes from his lips is enough to extinguish Tian's nervousness. Without waiting any longer, Tian invites Phupha into his home and Phupha tells him that it is a lovely house. Tian leads him into the kitchen and Phupha puts the grocery bags on the counter and Tian can barely take his eyes off him. But he doesn't feel nervous anymore, he's just happy. The boy is happy because Phupha is with him and not with someone else. Tian feels infinite and powerful because no one else in the university should have been that lucky, lucky to have him around, lucky to have been gifted that beautiful smile. Everything about Phupha is beautiful, and when Tian notices a label peeking out from Phupha's shirt, the boy is excited because that means Phupha was interested in looking good for him too, right?
"Let me help you with something," says Tian approaching him calmly.
"What thing?" Phupha asks.
"The tag," Tian says, and without much thought, the boy wraps his hands around Phupha's neck so he can remove the little tag. “Done, now it's perfect.”
“I forgot to remove it,” says Phupha and Tian realizes that the two are too close and although that closeness is delicious, Tian knows that he shouldn't get carried away; he doesn't want to make his partner uncomfortable.
"Were you late?" Tian asks, naturally moving away from Phupha, while he begins to take many ingredients out of his supermarket bags.
"No, no, but Nam and Rang wouldn't stop bothering me so I ended up running away from both of them," he says, laughing a little shyly. “My friends are too much sometimes.”
"Were they jealous because I'm taking you away from them?"
"I doubt it, in fact I think they were happy to get rid of me" says Phupha while he rolls his eyes but Tian notices that there is affection in his voice when talking about them.
"Do you only live with Rang and Nam?"
"Yes, Nam's father owns several buildings meant to be student´s rooms," Phupha says with some reverence. “Nam's father used to be the volunteer doctor in the village where I lived before coming to Bangkok. He always wanted to help me get out of the mountains so he doesn't charge me rent. Nam's family is good people, I am very grateful to them. And well, Rang refused to live anywhere else ever since I met him, Nam had no problem adopting another freshman into his house and here we are.”
“Were you born in a village surrounded by mountains?” asks Tian feeling again that need to know as many things as possible about Phupha who begins to take utensils from the shelves asking for Tian's approval with his eyes.
“Yes, Pha Pun Dao,” Phupha says, and something about the name of the place sounds familiar to Tian. “It's a rural place; it's quite far from here. My father is a forest ranger; he is the only one who lives in our house now.”
Phupha smiles at the mention of his father but Tian realizes that this topic is not something that makes Phupha feel good so the boy hurries to change the subject of the conversation and asks Phupha what kind of dishes he is going to prepare and he tells him that they are traditional delicacies from his birthplace. So Tian entertains himself by watching Phupha as he cooks. He tells him about the recipes and how his mother taught him how to cook from a young age even though his father always opposed it. Phupha tells him about his mother with a love so deep that it surely hurts inside the boy who keeps mixing ingredients and filling the kitchen with delicious aromas and Tian realizes how much he had missed a real home cooked meal. But Phupha's eyes are full of sadness and Tian doesn't know how to comfort that pain.
"Your mom should be proud, you're the first in the family to get into college," says Tian helplessly, trying to figure out the reason behind that sad look in Phupha's eyes.
“Oh, well, she was indeed very proud of me. She made my uniforms herself before, well... Mom was really sick. They always told me that she was never the same since I was born. Nam's father tried everything but sometimes there's just no way around it. Mom died half a year after I came to college.”
“Phupha, I'm so sorry,” Tian says and puts his hand on top of Phupha's who has soon stopped decorating the rice and vegetable dish he just served. “I shouldn't have talked about this.”
"It is fine, talking about her is honoring her memory and I think she would have liked to meet you," Phupha says with a look full of tenderness. “Mom loved desserts, we could hardly afford to buy a cake on her birthday but we always made her happy. She would have loved to try everything you prepare. Besides, she's always with me, do you see this?”
Phupha takes between his fingers a silver chain that was barely visible under his black shirt and Tian can see that there is a silver ring attached to it. Tian takes it between his fingers and can see that there is an inscription on the ring.
"Phupha's heart," Tian reads softly, and Phupha's eyes suddenly light up.
"Mom always said my heartbeat gave her strength," he says lovingly. “This was her wedding ring and she engraved my name on it so that my strength would always be with her. When she died, dad gave me this jewel so my mother is always with me.”
Phupha's eyes are still full of sadness and Tian knows that Phupha is not telling him the whole story about her mother but he doesn't want to ask more. He knows that there are topics that are better not to talk about. He, for example, will never dare to tell Phupha what is happening with his heart disease, much less now that he knows that his partner must have spent much of his childhood taking care of a mother too sick to take care of him. .
"That's a beautiful thing indeed," Tian finally says and Phupha gives him a calm smile as he nods wordlessly, returning his attention to the dishes in front of him.
"It's better that we eat now, it shouldn't get cold," he says, ending the subject. “Enjoy your food, Tian.”
Tian nods enthusiastically and tells Phupha that it's best to go to the dining room and the two of them carry everything to the table. And when Tian takes the first bite of the main course, he feels like crying because he hasn't tasted something this delicious in a long, long time. Phupha's food tastes like home and is made with ingredients that none of his doctors would disapprove of. The boy eats in silence for a long time, enjoying one delicacy after another under the watchful eye of his partner who seems extremely pleased to see him react to his dishes like this.
"So, will you let me cook your breakfast starting tomorrow?" Phupha asks several minutes later.
“Please prepare my three meals of the day, where do I have to sign? Do you want to move in with me? I bet Longtae wouldn't have a problem if we sent him to live with Rang” Tian replies without thinking and Phupha laughs amusedly.
“I'm flattered that you name me your personal chef,” Phupha says.
"Yours is pure talent, is there a single thing you don't do well?" Tian questions sincerely.
"There are a lot of things I'm not good at, Tian," Phupha says, his eyes sad again. “In fact, now that you mention it, I need to talk to you about one of those things that I didn't do right from the start.”
Phupha's words make Tian suddenly shaken but he doesn't say anything. Phupha gets up from the table and walks over to the couch in the living room where he left his sketchbook when he entered. The boy takes the notebook in his hands and then, approaching Tian, puts it in his hands.
"You have to see what's in there, I think this notebook is more yours than mine by now," Phupha says shyly.
"Why?" Tian asks curiously.
“You have to see it and before you hate me, I know I did wrong but I couldn't help it. Tian, when I saw you I felt a stroke of inspiration and well, this is the result.”
Tian opens Phupha's notebook without being able to contain his curiosity for a second longer and as he does so, he feels his cheeks fill with blush because on the pages of that notebook there are hundreds of sketches of his face, his hands and his eyes. Turning the pages, Tian notices that Phupha's hands have been faithfully portraying him, several drawings a day according to the dates indicated in the notebook. The sketches later give way to complete portraits and there is one in particular, the one where he is serving coffee in front of that table where the golden sun seems to spill every afternoon that catches his attention in a powerful way. The boy in that portrait seems to possess a supernatural beauty, a beauty that only a privileged artist could capture. Tian knows that he himself is the model for that portrait, but he is also not, and that mystery fills him with a mad joy that he cannot help.
The boy in the portrait is himself existing in Phupha's eyes. The boy in that portrait is an artist's muse. Tian has become art in Phupha's eyes and that fact is enough to make him think that maybe, just maybe, that opens the window to the possibility that Phupha can also look at him with love.
Chapter 7: Suddenly I don't care what it costs: my heart wants to jump the fence.
Tian's eyes are full of light and a warm smile that makes him look cuter than usual is on his lips. He curves his lips under Phupha's attentive gaze who doesn't want to miss a single second of that reaction. Tian has spent the last five minutes looking at the sketchbook that Phupha handed him and despite what he had hoped, it seems that Tian isn't mad at him but Phupha doesn't want to claim victory just yet.
Before that day he had feared the worst because, what kind of person is capable of drawing another without knowing them, simply because there is something in them that pushes you to create as if your life depended on it? Phupha had spent that week fearing so many things because now that he and Tian were getting closer the boy didn't want to lose that. Knowing that at the end of the day he would be able to tell Tian about all the things that were on his mind was wonderful. In those days he had told him things that not even his other friends knew. A few minutes ago without going any further, Phupha had told him about his mother and had shown him that ring that was the only inheritance that she had left for him.
Tian was not only a stroke of inspiration in the field of art but Phupha realized that he also encouraged him to do more things, that he called him strongly and that with every little thing he did or said, Phupha felt the supreme desire to be able to open his heart to him and invite him to live in it indefinitely. Yes, his heart wanted to jump over all the walls he had learned to build around it since he was a child simply because of Tian who kept smiling sweetly in front of him.
"Did you really start drawing me from the first time you saw me?" Tian asked.
“Yes, I am truly sorry. I know it's wrong and I want to offer you a formal apology.”
"But you didn't do anything wrong," Tian said, looking up from the notebook to rest his eyes on him. “I mean, did you show these drawings to anyone?”
"Yes, my anatomical drawing teacher," says Phupha without taking his eyes off Tian, looking for the boy in front of him to see the sincerity with which he is speaking. “The teacher asked us to draw someone who would make us feel at peace, it is the first step before working with professional models. And well, Tian, without knowing you I felt calm watching you work. There is something in you that makes drawing so easy. I know I sound crazy but it's the truth.”
"I make you feel at peace, wow, that's the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me," says Tian without taking his eyes off him.
"It's the truth, Tian.”
"Does that mean I'm your number one fan, I'm your heart's favorite? Have you drawn anyone else?” asks Tian and Phupha smiles amusedly.
"I don't usually draw portraits, I've already told you. I like landscaping more, that's the truth but well, I think that when I met you I discovered a talent that I didn't think I had. In fact, if I'm telling you this, it's because my teacher thinks one of the portraits I draw of you might win a national contest.”
"Could a portrait of me win a national contest? Wow! I'm pretty handsome, aren´t I?”
“You're beautiful, Tian,” Phupha says without hesitation, and Tian's cheeks adorably flush.
“You drew me like this, I'm beautiful on paper because of you,” Tian says and Phupha starts to feel that it's too hot right now.
"I'm not just talking about the drawing," Phupha says and knows he has to hold back because his feelings for Tian aren't the focus of this conversation. “What I mean is, if you're not too mad at me, do you think you could let us show this portrait in the contest? The professor says that it should be exposed in an art gallery and also on the social networks of the organizers of the contest. The public vote is part of the competition so many people will see your portrait and that's why we can't do it without your permission. Believe me I understand if you want to refuse. I thought about refusing immediately, but I don't think it would have been fair to hide this from you for another minute either.”
"But I'm not angry," Tian says with a smile full of light. “Seriously, I'm actually flattered and want to post these portraits on my own social media and brag to everyone that I'm Phupha Viriyanon's muse. Well, I'm exaggerating a bit but that's the idea.”
“You can take photos of the portraits but the one we'll send to the contest, and use them as you please. I already told you, they are yours, Tian. To be honest, I also think you are my muse.”
The two boys are silent for a moment and Phupha's heart would like to scream: these drawings are yours as my own clumsy heart and as all my thoughts from dawn to dusk. But neither of them says anything and it seems that something is about to explode between the two. The two are still lost in each other's gaze and then, Tian puts aside the notebook and takes Phupha's hands in his and the young artist's heart is about to burst because Tian's skin is warm and there are sparks of electricity and fire surrounding them.
"If you keep telling me those kinds of things, I'm really going to start doing crazy things," Tian says, laughing a little nervously.
"What kind of crazy things?" Phupha asks, feeling his fingers intertwine with Tian's gently.
"For starters, you have permission to share my beauty with the world," Tian says, and Phupha laughs happily. “We're going to win that contest, I'm sure of it.”
"Does it really not bother you?"
“Not at all, I've always liked being the one who gets all the attention. You should have seen the kind of brat I was with my family. Everybody pampered me all the time, I'm charming, you know. So if the whole country will fall in love with a portrait of me, I think I can deal with fame well. So Mr. Viriyanon, you don't have to apologize. You can actually keep drawing me if it's something you want to do but can I keep all the drawings?”
“Of course, Tian” says Phupha and the boy notices that neither of them has let go of the other's hands.
"Oh, I'm so excited! Tell me everything, okay? What will they give you as a prize? When is the award ceremony? Can I start forcing all my peers to vote for you? Longtae and I need to create a large-scale strategy to get the entire university to vote for you. I need you to win Phupha, I need the whole world to know about your talent and I won't even be jealous if the whole country falls in love with you when you receive your award.”
Phupha bursts out laughing and feels his heart fill with relief but also with thousands of warm and comforting emotions. And as he begins to tell Tian about the details of the contest, without letting go of his hands, Phupha realizes that it won't be long before his heart urges him to do a thousand crazy things too. There is something that seems destined to explode between Tian and him. There is something that will not be possible to stop. And for the first time in his life, Phupha wants everything to emerge, everything to happen. Because holding Tian´s hand it does not matter how hard it is to jump all the walls and fences: he is willing to do it, he knows that he wants to discover what lies beyond.
What kind of world will he be able to discover if he doesn't let go of Tian's hand anymore?
☕ ☕☕ ☕☕ ☕☕
Phupha is focused on figuring out the exact amounts of paint he needs to mix to recreate the afternoon sun spilling over the mountains of Pha Pun Dao. The task of the color theory subject of that partial is to try to capture the various shades of a sunset and Phupha's mind tries to mix each tone properly despite not having his color palette with him.
The boy is listening to his favorite music in the deserted cafeteria of the faculty of fine arts. Phupha is waiting for his friends and also for Tian which suddenly makes his concentration break and his chest fills again with that sweet nervousness that floods him when he thinks of Tian. It's been over a month since their first real conversation and Phupha thinks it's about time his friends got to know him even if there is a risk that Rang and Nam won't stop teasing him until the end of the world.
But it was Tian who told him that he wanted to meet them all and Phupha couldn't refuse because well, it's Tian's wish and he can't deny him anything. Tian and Longtae have been working tirelessly with their mass voting campaign for Phupha's drawing which is now a formal contender in the national contest.
An amused smile spreads across his lips and he hears several nervous giggles from a group of first-year girls who send their regards in her direction. Phupha greets them back politely and they burst out laughing again and at that very moment a dark-haired boy with a serious face walks up to him shaking his head, no doubt disapproving of what he has just done.
"Stop giving girls hope," says the young man who carries a huge medical physiology book in his arms.
"I'm not giving them hope, Nam, it's basic human decency. I can't ignore their greetings," Phupha says as he removes his headphones.
"I don't understand how they're still after you when we all know you have a not-so-secret affair with Dr. Tian" says Nam laughing happily and Phupha can't believe that it wasn't even five minutes before the first of the jokes arrived.
"Does everyone know?" Phupha asks, rolling his eyes.
“Of course, Tian doesn't stop uploading photos of the portraits you make of him,” says Nam laughing amused. “Only a fool would not realize that the boy is marking his territory. And don't get me started on all those dates at his coffee shop and the others at his house, or the hundred-plus photos of the two of you on your phone. Everyone knows that you are the one who prepares his breakfast and that the two of you have a hard time saying goodbye when you take him to his building in the morning. You're a perfect boyfriend come on, you don't even need to make it official.”
“Tian is not my boyfriend,” Phupha says and he can't help a certain longing when he thinks about it.
"He's not because you don't stop being a fool, you should talk him about your heart, the boy adores you," Nam says seriously. “Also, Phu, you are the oldest one of the two. It's up to you to let your boy know about your feelings though I still think Rang is right and you should just kiss him until both of you are lipless.”
Phupha laughs wistfully at his friend's words and then simply sighs with some regret. Yes, he also knows that it should be like that, that he should be the one to take the first step. But he doesn't know how to do it, he doesn't know if it's safe to make a bet as high as the one Nam mentions. Also, the more he gets to know Tian, Phupha realizes that the boy is out of his league and that, although he does not mention it often, he comes from a wealthy family that has nothing to do with his own.
In recent days, Phupha has been thinking about how different he is from Tian and how someone like him really doesn't have much to offer a boy like Tian. Of course, none of that matters when the two of them are together but he can't put it aside, that's who he is. Phupha knows that he isn't worth much and that his most valuable possession is that old motorcycle that Nam and Rang helped him put together piece by piece with the earnings from their summer jobs. But besides that, he is just a boy with a dream too big for a person who was born in Pha Pun Dao.
"It's not that simple," Phupha says at last and Nam lets out an exasperated sound that makes Phupha laugh.
“Of course it's simple, but you've always liked to complicate everything and punish yourself for meaningless things, Phu. Don't tell me you keep thinking about all those stupid things your father used to tell you.”
"Sometimes I think about it but I know he's wrong, Nam," Phupha says with complete honesty. “Dad always said that feeling this way about another boy was dirty and an aberration but that's not how I feel about Tian, how could it be something like that? What I feel is too beautiful, you know? So much that I don't know if I really have the right to feel it, you know very well who he is.”
"He's your father's commander's son, so what?" Nam says sharply. “Rang already told us that Tian doesn't talk to his family, so darling, you don't have to worry about being the lowly born boy who wants to rob a billionaire heir since said heir has a fortune of his own and would follow you to the end of the world if you ask. Stop creating tragic soap operas in your head, will you?”
"And if Tian finds someone better?" Phupha asks, not knowing very well why all those worries fill him up now more than before, maybe it's because his story with Tian is now too real.
“Better than you? Bah! The boy kisses the ground where you walk, Phu. Look, not even I who have been your friend for life have done as many things as he did to support you in the drawing contest. What I want to make clear to you is that Tian doesn't want to be just your friend and it's your duty to tell him that it's not enough for you either. And when you say it, he will tell you that he loves you too, the two of you will kiss passionately as you have been wanting to do for the last month, we will all give you our blessing, we will organize your wedding in international waters and that's it, I just wrote a beautiful fairy tale , it's up to you to make it real.”
Phupha laughs shyly but Nam continues to look at him seriously. Yes, Phupha is not stupid and he knows that Tian keeps giving him signs and hints that the two of them can go to the next level immediately, but is that really okay? At night, before going to sleep, Phupha ends up convincing himself that the best time to ask Tian to give themselves a chance to be something else is after he wins the national drawing contest. Phupha has fantasized about that moment too many times. The boy imagines himself running with the award in his hands to give it to Tian and be able to look him in the eye and tell him that now he is no longer a nobody and that he wants to be more than the friend who lives thinking about him all the time. There is not much time left. The professor told him that in less than two weeks they would have the results ready, right now it is just a matter of waiting.
“Hello! Why are my boys so serious?” asks Torfun who arrives at the table and sits next to Nam looking at the two with curiosity.
"We're in the middle of a sentimental crisis, dear," Nam says, causing Torfun's eyes to fill with concern. “Phupha believes that he is not valuable enough to be Tian Sopasitsakun's boyfriend.”
"Oh Phu! Not again!” she says but takes Phupha's hand in her own. “Tian adores you, the two of you are adorable and perfect together. You both already have a fan club, I swear.”
"Another fan club?" Phupha asks, trying to divert the conversation to something more pleasant.
“I swear, the girls in my class don't talk about anything other than PhuphaTian. I've had to forbid them to take pictures of you but it's useless. Phu, people have even stopped talking about you and me and many girls have asked me how can I survive after losing your love.”
"Are you serious?" Nam asks with an amused laugh. “Phu, I think you're not the only one writing soap operas in your mind.”
The three of them break out laughing despite everything and continue to make jokes about the most unlikely rumors they have had to hear in recent days. Torfun then tells them that Rang won't be able to make it to the cafeteria on time as he received a detention because one of his teachers caught him making out passionately with Longtae in one of his faculty classrooms.
"Phupha, you should learn from that boy: Rang knows what he wants and doesn't let things as absurd as the basic rules of decorum stop him," Nam says proudly and Phupha rolls his eyes in disbelief. “Look, he has managed to pervert the campus Moon, Rang is my spirit animal.”
"I'm not going to pervert or kiss Tian in all the classrooms of my faculty, Nam," Phupha says firmly.
"What about the ones at the school of veterinary medicine? They say that the laboratories are quite romantic, you know, dark and out of sight of everyone,” Torfun assures him and she and Nam burst out laughing and Phupha hates them but he also loves them and everything is less complicated when the two of them are there.
Phupha is about to tell them that this isn't the kind of encouragement he was expecting from his support network but someone walks up to his side and the boy feels his cheeks fill with heat as Tian's arms wrap around his neck and he doesn't even care that Nam and Torfun are going to bother him all afternoon because of that scene.
“Phu! I couldn't take it anymore so I came early!” says Tian and Phupha feels the same hint of infinite happiness when he hears Tian calling him by the nickname that everyone close to him uses.
"What couldn't you bear?" Did something bad happen?” asks Phupha and Tian separates from him simply to release him and sit next to him, ignoring in an Olympic way the presence of Torfun and Nam who dedicate themselves to exchanging complicit glances in silence.
"Something magical happened! Do you remember my friend Tul who went to study abroad for two years? Well, we hadn't talked in years but he got back in touch with me because his mom told him a portrait of me would be on display in one of her art galleries but hey, never mind. The point is, I convinced him to ask all of his classmates and friends of friends of his classmates to vote for you, and guess what?”
"What thing?" Phupha asks feeling moved by so much emotion in Tian.
“We managed to double the number of votes on your portrait! Listen! At least in that area no one can beat you because it's a huge number and oh, I'm so excited! I know I'm here early but I had to tell you, it's lucky your friends aren't here yet and...”
"Hello Tian," Torfun says immediately as Nam waves his hand to Tian with an amused smile.
And the young vet student's cheeks turn bright red and the boy looks so scared that Phupha can't help but wrap one of his arms around his back.
“I did not see you! Oh no! You must excuse me, it's just that I'm too excited, I... I'm really not rude, it's that, well...”
"This is Nam and this is Torfun, I swear they don't think you're rude" says Phupha and Tian greets them with a deep bow and an irresistible and charming smile.
"I'm Tian Sopasitsakun, please excuse me," says the boy. “It's a pleasure to meet you. I wanted to meet you so much. Phupha always talks a lot about you.”
“Not as much as he talks about you, I swear,” Nam says and Tian smiles at him in a pleased way.
“Don't worry, Tian,” says Torfun. “We also wanted to meet you so don't worry about anything and go on, tell us more about that unbeatable amount of votes, how did you and Tul get it?”
Tian's smile lights up on his lips again and Phupha is pleased to see that the boy immediately stops feeling shy and starts to be the always lively Tian who can enchant everyone with his smile, with his words and with all the light that comes off of him. And there it is again, that desire to finally jump the last of his barriers, the one that tells him he's not good enough but if he wasn't, would Tian do so many things for him? Obviously not, it is clear that Tian would take his hand on the other side of the fence and not let go and then everything is decided because Phupha knows that he must be brave. It is the last great jump. The time has come to take his heart out of his chest and hand it over to Tian. And he will do it after receiving his prize, yes, that's right: no matter what it costs, no matter what he lacks, he really wants to know if Tian also wants to live another kind of story with him.
Chapter 8: I see that I don't want to live without you and that all my wishes somehow depend on you.
A longing sigh escapes his lips as he wipes down some of the coffee cups he has just washed. His eyes keep falling on Longtae and Rang as they share a slice of strawberry cake amidst sweet looks and laughter filled with secrets that no one but the two of them will know. They both look adorable and of course Tian is very happy for Longtae because come on, it was torture to hear him say that Rang would never feel anything for him and now he's really happy for his friend but... the origin of his sigh has everything to do with the silent wish in his heart of having something like that for himself.
He knows that he had never allowed himself to wish for something so beautiful because his heart is a ticking time bomb but Phupha makes him feel so alive, Phupha makes him wish he could have a thousand things he can't have. And perhaps the greatest blessing of all – or perhaps it's also a curse – is that he knows Phupha could give him anything he wants. What there is between the two is more than evident, everyone notices it. Tian knows that the way he looks at Phupha is the same way Phupha looks at him. Tian knows that it would be enough to throw himself into the void and that Phupha would catch him in his arms. Tian knows that it would be enough to tell Phupha that nothing he says is a joke and that in reality he feels a thousand different things for him and each one of those emotions is more beautiful and colorful than the other. But he doesn't say it, so nothing happens.
Sometimes he has also thought about just kissing him because there are moments in their many dates where the two remain silent and between the two there seems to be no more room for words, in that silence it seems that there would only be room for a kiss. That kind of kiss that opens the doors to different worlds. The kind of kiss he's been dreaming of ever since Phupha first walked into his coffee shop.
Tian's hands stop working and the boy's cheeks blush at the thought of feeling Phupha's mouth on his. Tian doesn't know if his heart could take it, kissing Phupha must be like an explosion. But still, he wants it badly and he knows he's getting cheekier with each passing day and Phupha must notice, right? And sometimes Phupha says beautiful things or takes his hand and doesn't let go and Tian wishes he could forget everything and just live as if his life wasn't doomed to end at any moment and... why? Why can't he be a normal guy like Longtae? Why is his heart so weak? Why didn't he accept the transplant?
Tian feels embarrassed to have such thoughts but that idea has haunted his mind for days and days. And it is that if he had accepted the transplant now he would not have to worry too much but it is that before he did not have a strong enough reason to go ahead. Of course, pursuing his dream career made him happy, and his little cafe helped take his mind off everything else. But up to that point, Tian felt that he had had a good life and that he could say goodbye to it without feeling like he was leaving something unfinished.
But now Phupha is there and Tian hadn't wanted to live as much as now. Phupha makes life seem like something worth living even though there are cruel things in the world and pain is there, lurking around every corner. Phupha makes him wish to live forever because something tells him that the reason he is in this world is because he was destined to meet him.
Tian knows that if he hasn't jumped into the void with Phupha it's because he's afraid since he hasn't been completely honest with him. Phupha doesn't know that that morning without going any further, he started to feel dizzy again and that is never a good sign. Tian knows that soon he will have to go to the hospital where he has been treated all these years. Tian knows that his heart plans to betray him again and he just wants to cry but he doesn't because he is waiting for Phupha's friends to arrive at the cafeteria.
Everyone is planning Phupha's surprise birthday party next week, and as selfish as it is, Tian wants to be a part of it. When Torfun added him to the chat so they could plan everything without Phupha finding out, Tian was the first to offer to make the birthday cake and open the doors of his coffee shop for the party to take place there. Yes, maybe he can avoid going to the hospital for another two weeks, that's not a long time. In two weeks they'll have a break from classes due to a national holiday so he can say he´s going to visit Tul or something. Two weeks is not a long time. Tian knows he can be strong for two more weeks, he has to be.
"Tian?" a worried voice suddenly calls and the boy feels a little scared when he sees that Torfun is sitting in front of him.
The girl looks at him with a hint of concern and there is so much affection in her eyes that the urge to cry grows stronger inside him.
"Hello, Torfun," he says trying to smile.
"Do you want to show me your kitchen?" she says casually but Tian realizes that she is giving him the perfect excuse to disappear from the gaze of others.
"Yes, yes, I promised you, right?" Tian says naturally as well. “Follow me, Longtae will take care of everything.”
Torfun nods animatedly and before going after her, Tian asks Longtae to call him if anyone needs anything, to which his friend and Rang tell him to stay calm, they'll be on the lookout for any eventuality. Tian feels the need to retort that they're both lying because they seem to have eyes only for each other's faces but instead he just nods and starts walking towards the kitchen where Torfun is waiting for him with a warm smile.
"You're not feeling well, Tian," she says and doesn't use the tone of a question. “You're a little pale, did you have breakfast today? Have you eaten something?”
"No, I forgot," Tian says with some embarrassment. “I know I'm going to sound like a spoiled brat but I'm used to eating what Phu cooks for me but I didn't want to bother him today. He had to prepare for the trip to that university in the north where they will announce the winner of the contest. It's his big day.”
"The big day, yes," says Torfun, still smiling. “He and Professor Chaiwimol had to travel very early in the morning to be on time at the place where the prizes would be awarded, are you nervous?
“No, of course not, Phu is going to win.” Tian says flatly and Torfun nods confidently.
"Then why are you so sad, Tian? I know I'm being nosy but I'm a little worried about you. Did something happen with Phupha?”
Tian stays silent for a while looking into the eyes of that girl who is so sweet and whom he has begun to love too. Now Tian understands why everyone adores her and there is something in her that reminds him so much of his grandmother, perhaps that way of listening and always being there to support whoever needs it. Torfun is a person worth trusting. Torfun is a wonderful girl for a thousand different reasons and Tian feels close to her because he knows that no one but the two of them has ever felt anything real for Phupha. And maybe if he tells her about his problem, everything will be clearer, right? She knows Phupha well. She will surely have an idea of the kind of reaction he will have.
This is how Tian finds himself telling her about the heart condition he was born with. At first it was not so serious, his parents thought he was a weak child who would need more attention but later, he even showed discomfort when doing things as simple as eating. The doctors said that although he would always be more tired than the others, the boy could live without any problem taking the appropriate medications and other care, but two years ago the final sentence had arrived: if he did not undergo a transplant, the heart of his chest it would simply stop working, and Tian had accepted that as gracefully as he could.
Tian also tells Torfun about how his parents had moved heaven, sea and earth to get him that heart. Tian tells him that they had bought one for him but that the mere idea of being part of such a large-scale organ trade had made him refuse because he knew his grandmother would never have allowed such a thing.
"She wasn't like my parents," Tian says desperately, and Torfun reaches out to take his hand. “I'm not like my parents either, I don't want the world to revolve around me because of my last name or because of the enormous fortune that dad has amassed through his work in the government. When I separated from them, I knew that I could be a normal person and as a normal person I am on a waiting list to find a donor. But I know it's hard, I know if I find it will be a miracle and before Phupha this didn't matter to me in the least, you know? But I don't want to tell Phupha because it would make him suffer and he has already suffered too much. I don't want him to have to be by my side to watch me die the way he watched his mother die.”
"Tian, I know this is all terrible and I appreciate you letting me know but I know Phupha won't go away from you if you tell him," she assures him lovingly. “Phupha is a strong man, you know? I think in many ways, life has made him mature a hundred times faster so things like this wouldn't scare him. You are very important to him, I thought you knew that.”
"I know, yes I know and that's why I feel worse," Tian says out loud for the first time. “I have always known that my life is in danger and yet I approached him under the guise of my anatomy atlas. And everything seemed to be going so well, but you know? I'm starting to feel sick in the mornings and that's not a good sign. I don't want Phupha to see me like this, I couldn't bear it.”
"Don't you want him to look at you how?"
“Sick, broken, and weak,” Tian says, holding Torfun's hand tightly. “I don't want him to have to go through all that. Torfun, I had this stupid idea to make him happy but how can I do it? A sick boy can't make anyone happy.”
Torfun approaches him and hugs him gently and Tian feels tears well up in his eyes but he doesn't let them out because anyone could enter the kitchen and Tian doesn't want to worry anyone. But Torfun's arms are warm and for the first time in days he doesn't feel alone. So he just stands there, grateful to be comforted by the warmth of that girl who has slowly become his friend as well.
"A boy like you would make Phupha happy in any situation and I'm telling you because I know him very well, I know perfectly well that right now there is no one more important than you in my best friend's heart," she says without letting go. “That's why I know Phupha would hold you and be with you all the way, Tian, because I know you'll still have a long way to live. You are a doctor too so you know that there are thousands of new advances in all fields, maybe we should get a second opinion. Tian, Nam's father must know something about it, he is one of the top research doctors in the country. We can ask for his opinion, I know that Nam would be happy to help you and Phupha would be with you throughout the process. Listen, you don't have to go through any of this on your own. Right now you are important to many people and we will all be with you. Nothing bad will happen, okay? But you have to tell Phu, tell him the same way you told me.”
"What if he hates me for keeping it from him until now?" Tian asks with some fear. “He has always been honest with me, Torfun.”
"He knows that there are many things that fear prevents us from saying, he's not going to judge you, Tian," says Torfun. “He will stay by your side and so will we. I'm sorry but we have adopted you into our little family. You are not alone, Tian. You don't have to face any of this on your own.”
Tian nods and hugs Torfun tightly and both guys stay like that for a long time before Longtae knocks on the door to let them know that Nam has just arrived. And although he feels a little better and Torfun's words sound sincere and comforting, the boy knows that he will have to reflect on everything alone later, but not at that precise moment when Phupha's friends, who are now his own friends, will be there planning a birthday party.
And when he sits in the middle of everyone and the talks and plans begin to be heard in the middle of his cafeteria, Tian is once again the same cheerful and outgoing boy who comes up with a thousand and one ideas to make Phupha's surprise party something unforgettable. Tian also asks everyone what is the best gift idea for Phupha and it is Nam who tells him about something wonderful, something that will make Phupha truly touched and happy. And in the middle of that conversation everything becomes simple again. In the midst of everyone's laughter and words, Tian returns to feeling like a normal boy whose only concern is being able to confess to Phupha that he dreams of him every night. Perhaps he should first talk to him about his feelings, the second will be to talk to him about the state of his physical heart and if Phupha accepts his confession, then everything else will be easier, won't it?
The question fades from his mind when he hears the cafeteria door open and Phupha walk in wearing his most formal university uniform. The young artist looks handsome and elegant but there is something new in his eyes, something that had not been there until that very moment and that shines with the intensity of a thousand stars.
Everyone falls silent and Phupha walks directly towards Tian who does nothing but smile at him in welcome and when he arrives in front of him, Phupha invites him to get up from his seat just so he can hug him without caring that all his friends are gathered there. And Tian feels the fear recede and his own arms wrap around Phupha's back. He doesn't know what that gesture means but it's not necessary. Tian has missed him all day, that's the truth, and being able to hug him after a day full of fear is just comforting. He missed him too much. They were only apart for a few hours but he missed him too much. Also, being in those arms makes it easier to believe that everything will be alright. Phupha's arms, one way or another, seem destined to never let him down.
"We won," Phupha says as she pulls him away from him a bit so he can look into his eyes and say that word with a smile that hides the summer sun itself.
“The contest?” Tian asks excitedly.
“Yes, my name was announced during today's event and the university will have a ceremony for me to receive the award but it's official: we won, Tian.”
“Both of us?” Tian asks in surprise. “But you are the artist, Phu.”
"No, no, none of this would have been possible without you. We won, Tian. Both of us, me and you, okay?”
Tian is about to reply again but stops because at that very moment Phupha's lips gently touch his forehead and although that action has caused a terrible stir in the cafeteria because Nam, Rang and Longtae are really whistling like there is no tomorrow, he and Phupha don't seem to care. The two stand still, one very close to the other, and Tian discovers that no, it will not be possible for him to push Phupha away, not anymore, not after all that the two of them have been through. And it is that despite everything, in Phupha's eyes there are a thousand stars and Tian wants to count them and make a single wish as people who believe in that legend of the mountain village do: wish that Phupha never leave his side, that Phupha stay by his side indefinitely, at least until his heart stops beating because he could make him happy. Yes, that's what he wants and now that Phupha's lips are on his skin he knows he won't let him go but he has to find the courage to be honest, not today, not now that everything is a celebration, but soon.
So he closes his eyes and raises a prayer to heaven asking his grandmother to take care of him and that nothing will allow his heart to take away that precious thing without which he would no longer want to exist.
Chapter 9: You make the hell inside me go out.
The boy can hear the hubbub around him and feels somewhat nervous. Waiting behind the curtain of his college auditorium, Phupha tries to take a deep breath, telling himself that this award presentation will be no different from the events he had to attend as the Campus Moon.
Although to tell the truth this will be a slightly more elegant ceremony as some of his professors will give speeches in his honor and then they will present him with a diploma and a check for an amount that Phupha has never seen together in his life, which makes him feel a little intimidated but Nam has told him that he should enjoy it. Phupha, however, thinks he will keep it all in that savings account his mother opened for him and passed into his hands last year after she died. The truth is that he is not a guy who is used to spending money and if he thinks of spending something on himself he will do it to ask Tian out on a real date, a date that is up to a guy like him.
His cheeks flush a little but that's the only selfish desire he has as he thinks about the prize money. It is evident that he is not a man of the world but he can ask Longtae about the places Tian would like to go or he can make Torfun find out because she has become close to Tian as well. It doesn't matter, he really just wants to be able to take Tian to a beautiful place, a place that doesn't have to do with the cafeterias or restaurants on campus. A place that could be the perfect setting for his confession because now that he's won, he feels he's ready. The whole country talks about his talent and Tian's portrait will be auctioned off for the benefit of the university but Phupha thinks that has made him someone worthwhile. He's not just your average art student anymore, no: now he's the first winner of the national drawing contest the university has had in twenty years.
A small hint of pride fills his heart but immediately the boy feels guilty as he remembers the words his father said when he called him to invite him to the award ceremony. Now the boy knows that this was a mistake from the beginning but that night he was too happy, too ecstatic because for the first time in his life he had achieved something. The boy had called the forest officers' base where his father kept watches every night and his father had answered on the first ring as was his custom. And like a fool he had told him about the award and the recognition. He told him about his newfound talent but the icy cold silence on the other end of the line was the main indicator that Phupha had made a huge mistake.
"I told you not to call me unless your life is at risk or you need money," his father had answered bluntly, "What do you want me to do? Do you want compliments? I bet all those people who will give you the award will, and you haven't really done anything important. You made a cute drawing, that doesn't change anything in the world.”
"My teachers told me that my family could come to the award ceremony," Phupha had continued, feeling how all the cold of the mountains got into his heart. “That's why I called, I thought you might want to come.”
"I'm too busy, there are rumors of tea leaf traffickers again but that's not important to you and the fancy people you're getting involved with right now, is it? I'm not going to the capital just to watch you get some stupid award. You made it very clear that my presence was not important in your life when you left here looking for something better, right?”
"Dad, stop saying things like that," Phupha begged in a hurt voice.
“I only speak the truth, you have always been too weak to bear it and that is not my fault. Listen, Phupha, I have to hang up, we may have an important call. And again, I remind you not to call unless you need money or have something really urgent to tell me.”
And that had been it. With those simple words his father had made his heart turn back into that hellish wasteland full of nothing it used to become after talking to him. Phupha had been silent, looking out the window, thinking that his father had no qualms about letting him know that he hated him, that he would always hate him, that he would never forgive him for making his wife sick and for leaving the mountains of Pha Pun Dao. Phupha did not understand why he still felt the need to be approved by his father. It is now more than evident that his blood bond is all that unites him and his father and that he must stop trying to convince this man that he is a valuable boy.
It's incredible that the only family he has left treats him that way and perhaps Phupha would have been swept away by sadness but remembering the racket and the thousands of congratulations and beautiful words that his friends and Tian had said to him, he told himself that for the first time in his life he wouldn't let anything his father said get to him. Tian has told him that he deserves that award. The judges who are experts in drawing have decided that his portrait is the best. Phupha has won fairly and now he is going to celebrate.
The boy who unleashes the hell that burned within him with huge flames of shame and guilt no longer exists. And yes, maybe the only person left in his family would not go to see him receive his award but the family that he himself has found in Torfun, Nam, Rang and now Tian and Longtae will be there with him. He doesn’t really need more. He is sure that Tian's smile upon seeing him receive the award and the joy of his friends are all the recognition he needs.
"Mr. Viriyanon, it's time" says one of the teachers in charge of the event with a bright smile and Phupha nods and follows her to the stage where someone has already announced his name.
The applause that greets him is loud and the boy feels endless flashes crashing into his skin. It seems that the entire university and not just his faculty has gathered in the auditorium to shout his name and applaud with enthusiasm when a man in a smart suit places a gold medal in his hands and a leather folder inside which is his official award as the winner of the contest. And people keep shouting his name but suddenly Phupha discovers Tian in the first rows and he is smiling at him with all the light of the universe on his lips. Tian is holding a huge bouquet of white roses in his hands, there must be more than a hundred and Phupha can't help but feel agitated and happy because he knows that Tian bought that bouquet for him. And the voices of his professors and the directors of the faculty are like an unintelligible sound for him because his eyes cannot take off from Tian who smiles and with gestures tells him that he should pay attention.
But it is that Phupha feels that without Tian he would not have been able to be there. Tian has brought thousands of beautiful and good things into his life that he didn't think he deserved, but when he looks at that boy's smile, everything is possible and everything is right in the world again. And the hell inside him goes out, the noise of all the horrible words he's had to hear in his life ceases to matter. All that matters is Tian's smile and that, after that award ceremony, Phupha finally feels like a man worthy of him.
☕ ☕☕ ☕☕ ☕☕
Tian puts the bouquet of roses in Longtae's hands and the boy rushes to hug him without waiting another second. Phupha lets himself be enveloped by the warmth and aroma of that closeness and regrets having his hands occupied with the little box where his medal rests because that doesn't allow him to hug Tian more tightly. The two of them stay like that for a while until Longtae starts coughing and his friends come to his side to hug him and Tian.
Although without a doubt this is the most ridiculous group hug ever, Phupha doesn't care, he's too happy. Nam and Rang keep yelling and making noise while Longtae smiles in the distance, apparently not bothered that Tian used him as a human vase.
"Our boy is so important and famous now!" Nam says smugly and Phupha rolls his eyes.
“I know! Our professors don't talk about anything other than his legendary talent; do you know that all of Tian's portraits will be on display starting next week in the faculty art gallery?" Rang says with a whistle of pure admiration.
"Rang, that was supposed to be a surprise!" says Phupha and the boy notices that although everyone has stopped hugging him, Tian has taken his hand and Phupha won't let him go.
"So Rang is serious?" Tian asks with his eyes full of emotion. "Is that why you asked me for permission so that more people could see your sketches?"
"That's right, I wanted to take you to the gallery when everything was ready," Phupha says a little shyly. “I wanted you to be the first to know about it.”
"But I'll be the first to see it, right?" Tian asks and although he smiles, Phupha can't help but notice that the boy looks pale and quite exhausted something that has been happening a lot this week.
"Of course you'll be the first to see it," says Phupha, trying not to worry too much. “Tian, did you have any breakfast?”
“Uh? Oh yeah! Longtae and I had a quick meal before our classes,” says the young man, avoiding looking at Phupha. “Why do you ask?”
"You look a bit tired," Phupha says, beginning to feel that something is wrong.
"It's partial exams season, I haven't slept as much as I should, that's it," Tian says casually. “Stop worrying about me, I'm fine, shouldn't we go celebrate twice today?”
"Why twice?" Phupha asks, trying to put the worry aside.
“Oh my, Phu! Did you forget your birthday again?” Torfun asks incredulously and everyone gathered there looks at him in the same exasperated way.
But yes, he has forgotten it. Phupha looks at them all with a look of confusion on his face, but after thinking about it for a bit, the boy realizes that it's true, it's his birthday. The truth is that he has never made a fuss about it, at home, that date was only remembered by his mother who used to cook some of his favorite dishes with him without his father knowing the reason. At home his birthday was not important but apparently his friends think it is.
"I´ve just remembered," Phupha says a little shyly. “But you don't need to do anything, seriously. In fact, I was thinking of inviting you to a nice place to eat.”
“Oh, we appreciate your generosity, chief!” says Rang. “But you're not going to ruin our plans.”
“You have to come with us to the cafeteria,” Tian says, his eyes full of emotion. “Don't ask any more questions and come with us, Phu.”
Phupha is tempted to say that with him, he would be willing to go to the end of the world but he just nods and his friends applaud and thank Tian for keeping Phupha from being a fool. The group of friends burst out laughing once more and that's how they all walk towards Tian's cafeteria. Although the conversation goes back and forth between everyone, Phupha realizes that he has not let go of Tian's hand. The two of them are acting as if being together is something usual and it doesn't seem strange to their friends that they now walk hand in hand.
And in the midst of it all, Phupha smiles with a hint of gratitude and immense affection towards these people. He knows that no one but them would think that his life is valuable enough to celebrate it. He loves them all, he loves them deeply and Phupha thinks that the real gift of being alive for another year is having the joy of being surrounded by people who laugh with him, who celebrate his triumphs as if they were their own and who have prepared a full-blown surprise birthday party for him.
Entering the cafeteria Phupha's eyes widen because everything is full of colored balloons, lights and signs with his name wishing him a happy birthday and congratulating him on the prize. Phupha can see the love with which his friends prepared all this and he feels so moved that he wants to cry but instead he lets go of Tian's hand to start hugging them all to thank them for being there with him and being for him that family that he thought had been lost forever with the death of his mother.
Everyone responds to his hug by telling him that he has nothing to be thankful for and that fame has undoubtedly made him cheesy, but Phupha does not apologize for what he does. He has never been good with words but he hopes that hug can let everyone know how lucky he is to have them in his life.
"Let's eat!" says Torfun suddenly. “Tian, Nam and I shine with food, you have to eat everything, do you understand?”
Phupha and everyone else nods because the smell of the food is really delicious so the boys begin to give an account of the banquet amidst more laughter, congratulations for the cooks and endless toasts where everyone wishes the best to Phupha. The boy is tempted to say that he already has many things he never dreamed of thanks to each one of them, but he shyly nods to everyone's words and when it's time to cut the enormous chocolate cake that Tian prepared, Phupha blows out the candles wishing that this newfound happiness can last for many, many days and that Tian's beautiful smile continues to illuminate everything and Phupha also dares to ask that Tian accept his heart and tell him that it is possible to start a new story together: a story that neither of them regrets and that does not cause them fear.
Phupha wants to hear in Tian's voice that the meeting of the two was more than a coincidence drawn by fate and that the two want to fly together. Phupha just wants to know if another beautiful dream can come true, if Tian wants to make that dream come true for both of them.
The party goes on and when everyone around him is too tipsy, Tian beckons him to come with him somewhere else. His friends notice how the two of them get up from the table but nobody says anything about it. Perhaps they are too affected by the many cocktails they have had in their honor or perhaps they have all realized that he and Tian need a moment alone.
Be that as it may, Tian extends his hand to him and leads him towards the kitchen and then towards a staircase that leads to the second floor terrace. Phupha follows Tian without letting go of his hand, feeling nervous and agitated. He doesn't know what Tian is going to tell him or show him, but Phupha suddenly realizes that this may be the right time to confess to Tian what his heart has felt during those months.
The light of a huge full moon illuminates the terrace which is full of colorful plants and flowers. From there you can also see the bright night of Bangkok and Phupha thinks that without a doubt this is a romantic place to be able to make a confession like the one he has kept in his heart.
"I haven't given you a birthday present yet," says Tian when the two stand in front of a small wooden stool on which there is a black box adorned with a huge silver bow.
"No need, you gave me a beautiful day and you were part of the surprise party," Phupha says confidently.
“I knew you would say this but I really wanted to give you a gift, a gift that you can always remember me with,” Tian says and there is a hint of sadness in his eyes that makes Phupha get a little closer to him.
"Tian, I think that no matter what happens I will never be able to forget someone like you" Phupha says and his heart beats vehemently because yes, the time has come.
He feels it in the air, he feels it in the moonlight. His feelings no longer fit in his heart; he knows that even his mountains back home couldn´t contain it. He has to say what he feels. He has to shout it. He has to tell Tian about his heart because it's impossible to hide it for another second.
"Then don't ever forget me and think of me when you give birth to beautiful things through this gift, yes?" Tian says and puts the box he has prepared in his hands. “Happy birthday, Phupha Viriyanon. This is a happy day for me because you came into the world and perhaps from that day on, you were destined to meet me. I wish your days are full of happiness and I wish I could celebrate at least another fifty birthdays with you.”
Phupha smiles in a moving way and his heart aches in his chest because Tian's smile is beautiful, Tian is beautiful and he is there, with him, and Phupha also thinks that the only reason his life has meaning is that meeting with Tian, that's why his mother brought him into the world despite everything. And even though he knows he should open the gift, Phupha forgets everything and just hugs Tian very tightly and feels the boy's arms wrapping around his back.
And yes, without a doubt, he is having the happiest birthday of all those he has had in his life so far. Tian has taken him by the hand and now the two of them are about to fly through the sky. So Phupha tries to fill himself with all that bravery that Tian's arms are radiating. Yes, that is the right time to say it all because it has never had to do with the place: it is about Tian, since he first looked at him, everything that his heart sings in each of its beats has always been about Tian.
Chapter 10: I want everything with you, I´m unafraid with you.
No one can blame him for falling in love like a fool; it's the first time he's done it. Before Phupha, all the romantic notions that his classmates talked about, were for him nothing more than something far away, something belonging to fairy tales.
But sometimes it turns out that all the happy endings in the world seem to insinuate themselves in someone's eyes and in that instant, Phupha's eyes are telling him the most beautiful story in the world, a fairy tale that no one but the two of them has ever heard. In Phupha's eyes is the beginning of a sweet and warm story, the kind of stories that people can't write because they could never find the right words.
There's a shy smile on Phupha's lips, the kind of smile someone gives you when they're about to say something important, something unforgettable, and Tian is dying to hear it. But he also wants Phupha to look at the gift he gave him, so he separates from the other boy simply to ask Phupha to open the box he decorated that same morning, even though going up to the roof to store it there was exhausting and the reason why he has felt tired during the whole day.
But right now the tiredness doesn't matter. His eyes are fixed on Phupha who opens the gift box as if it were a very fragile work of art and Tian marvels once again that in a boy as strong as Phupha there is also room for delicacy and grace. Phupha's hands that can hold him tight are the same hands that draw carefully and attentively, and that is a beautiful mystery.
When the gift box is open, Tian can't help but smile at the amazed gesture of his partner who takes the traditional flute that he had made exclusively for him. Phupha then lands his eyes on Tian's face and there is so much sadness mixed with gratitude in that look that Tian feels like getting closer to him. So he asks Phupha for the two of them to sit on the bench on the terrace.
The two stare at each other with big smiles on their faces. Both boys can hear the laughter and ruckus coming from the cafeteria and are glad to be away from all the noise. That particular world where only the two fit is a perfect shelter to hide from the eyes of others. That warm night in Bangkok is the best setting to start writing all kinds of stories.
"Nam told me you used to play for your mother," Tian says softly.
“One of the volunteer teachers who used to teach at the Pha Pun Dao School taught us how to make music but only I was delighted with the power of creating songs,” Phupha says with that wonderful ease with which he usually tells him about his life in the mountains. “Mom and I always liked the sound so I put all my efforts into learning how to make real music.”
"You haven't played anything since she died, have you?" Tian asks in a whisper.
"No, it hurt too much," Phupha says with a sad smile.
“Do you think it will stop hurting if you play for me?” Tian asks, his eyes full of hope.
And he knows that maybe he is giving himself more value than he has in Phupha's life but he really wants to hear him play. Phupha is an artist in a thousand different ways and he also wants to know that side of him, that side that is made of the music of the mountains and the painful memories that Tian would like to exorcise for him.
"Tian, when I'm with you, everything stops hurting," Phupha says simply, and Tian's heart beats wildly.
"Then play for me, please," Tian asks. “Play a song that has happy memories for you.”
Phupha smiles and without saying anything else, he brings the flute to his lips and from the first note, Tian knows that he is listening to a happy song. That is a song to which a mother and son danced under the gaze of the stars. That is a song with which Phupha's soul knew the joy of seeing the smile on her mother's lips. Of course Phupha isn't telling him anything but Tian can see it in his eyes. Phupha is with him but his heart must be traveling to the mountains and the wind that comes out of his lips to create music is scented with the scent of tea leaves that all the villagers in that place sell to survive. Phupha's music is a caress to the soul and if possible, Tian thinks that he has fallen in love with him again. Tian feels that he has been in love with Phupha all his life, even before he met him.
And that thought is so beautiful that it fills his eyes with tears. Being in love is crazy but it is also a miracle and it would be terrible to reject something like that. He is in love with Phupha and he wants to say it, he wants to shout it. He wants to engrave it on fire in his heart because being in love with the boy who continues to play that song in front of him is the most beautiful thing that has happened in his life and the place where he is, it is the place where Tian should be too. And how can you resist a second more to that? How can he keep telling himself that he doesn't want with all his might to throw himself into the void holding Phupha's hand without caring about his past or his uncertain future?
"Why are you crying, Tian?" Phupha asks after he stops playing and the boy hastens to wipe his tears with a soft white handkerchief he has taken out of his pants pocket.
"It's just that it's a very beautiful song," Tian says, trying to overcome the tight lump in his throat.
"Mom used to say that it was the song of a hornbill that flies through the sky next to the one that will be its companion for life," says Phupha with a shy smile and Tian feels that the whole world vibrates around him because Phupha is talking about birds and of companions to fly.
"Do hornbills only have one mate for the rest of their lives?" Tian asks helplessly.
“Yes, they do, they are monogamous. Mom and I used to go to the forest to see them fly and sing but it was sad when one of them lost its partner.”
“When a hornbill dies, the other one stays waiting for it all its life in the same place where they used to live together. It does not leave there, no matter how long his wait is. The hornbill that survives the other dies waiting to see its mate return.”
"It's so sad," Tian says, feeling his heart about to break.
"But that ending isn't what matters, Tian," Phupha says with a bright smile. “Birds and people who love another don't care about the destination, it's the journey that matters, it's all the places you'll see next to the partner you fly with. That's what makes that story beautiful, don't you think? All the places they saw together, all the adventures they had and the days that became eternal memories.”
“Do you really believe that?” Tian asks, holding Phupha's hands tightly. “If I told you that I want to fly with you for a long, long time, would you be afraid that my life would have an end? Would you stay with me even though it's possible that one day I might leave you alone? Would you love me even though the most certain thing is that one day I will break your heart?”
"Tian, if you wanted to fly with me, my heart would never break," Phupha says with terrible, devastating and beautiful certainty and Tian knows that the boy speaks the truth.
And new tears come out of Tian's eyes who can't help but give up. He's tired of fighting, he's tired of being afraid. He wants to know the whole story, he won't be able to live on just the crumbs. He wants to have as much as possible from Phupha's hand. He wants to feel that by the side of that boy he can say goodbye to all the fear that has prevented him from giving him his weak heart from the beginning. He also wants to enjoy the trip without thinking about the tragic ending that the story of the two will surely have.
"Phupha..." Tian whispers without letting go of his partner's hands.
"Tian?" asks the boy in front of him with full attention.
"Listen to me, will you?" Tian asks and Phupha nods as his hands tighten around his.
"I'm listening to you, Tian.”
“I'm in love with you,” Tian says directly and his voice is heard loud and clear, without any tremor.
And the smile on Phupha's lips is filled with moonlight. The boy's eyes tell Tian that he had never heard anything so beautiful and Tian is happy that he can be the one to cause so much light in that gaze.
“Phupha, I'm in love with you but not in the way that everyone in your fan club does, no, it's something else, it's something huge that I don't even know how to define,” continues Tian feeling that after saying the first words, the rest will be a thousand times easier. “I'm in love with you and I couldn't help it, I don't want to help it. And I know I didn't even have to say it because I've always been more than obvious, how could you not know? I fell in love with you from the first cup of coffee I served you, maybe even from the moment I saw you walking in the central library. Phupha, I'm in love with you and I don't want to be just your friend and although I'm scared because I know that all this can end in tears I can't hide it anymore. Phupha, I can't promise to make you happy for the rest of my life, I think no human being can do that, but do you think you could hold my heart? Do you also feel something else for me?”
Phupha's hands caress his cheeks now, and Tian knows that's the answer he's looking for because right now, Phupha's hands hold him as if he were something precious, something that might disappear if he doesn't treat it gently. Phupha's eyes hide a thousand secrets and yes, the thousand stars that have been there since he received his prize in the drawing contest are still there, they shine, they expand. Tian thinks that those thousand stars have become an entire universe. But still, Tian wants to hear the words. He needs to hear it. He needs to know because his heart feels weaker and weaker with each passing hour.
"Tian, I don't know much about sweet words, but I do know that you have transformed my heart," Phupha says with that calmness of his that always makes Tian feel protected. “I know I'm not a special person but all that I am can hold your heart if you let me, if you want me to. I feel many things for which I don't have a name but it can all be summed up as I'm in love with you too, Tian.”
There are fireworks inside, they explode and color the night sky. Phupha's words make his heart pound again but right now Tian wouldn't mind if it stopped because he's happy. Phupha Viriyanon is in love with him, what kind of universe is that where the sweetest dream of his life comes true?
This universe tonight seems to come from a new world. Tonight is a world where Tian doesn't have to think about his own finitude. And then, as if the moon weren't already sick of miracles and lovers like him and like Phupha talking about love under its beams, Tian feels Phupha approaching him and oh, good lord, it's going to happen. Something magical will happen and since Tian has never been patient, it is his lips that rest on Phupha's and everything is soft and warm and how beautiful it is to be alive when Phupha Viriyanon is kissing you.
The young artist's lips are warm, moist, and move gently over his. No, it's not the explosion Tian envisioned, kissing Phupha is more like being a flower whose petals open wide in the shy spring sun after a long winter. That's it, that's how it feels. Kissing Phupha is the undeniable joy of everything that opens its way to life with a desire for everything, without fear of anything. Phupha is kissing him with his stars, scars and dreams. This is Tian's first kiss and something in the shy awkwardness of his partner's lips tells him that it is also the first for Phupha and why is he so happy to discover that? And Tian wishes that kiss would not be the last. Tian wishes that Phupha's lips continue to create music on his and that everything is like in the movies and that Phupha's kisses heal his heart and that his kisses heal all the wounds in the soul of that beautiful boy who separates of him just to take a breath and then kiss him again.
And yes, they are silly wishes, they are wishes of a heart in love that faces the cruelty of the world feeling powerful because it is about to know love. However, although he knows that the world will not change even if his feelings are reciprocated, Tian thinks that wishing for beautiful things has never hurt anyone, so he asks the gods who want to listen to him that what he feels is enough to keep him alive and to be able to continue kissing Phupha like this until the end of the world.
After a while and many kisses, the two separate slowly, they do not look away from each other's eyes. They know they won't be able to stay on that terrace all night, but they wish they could. There are moments in life that should be eternal and Tian wants to live in that moment with Phupha indefinitely.
"Your fans are going to die of envy when they find out you have a boyfriend," Tian says confidently and with a hint of flirtatiousness that makes Phupha laugh.
"I guess so, my boyfriend is the most handsome boy in veterinary medicine school," says Phupha, smiling at him in that sweet way that he only uses with him.
"You're a lucky boy, there's no doubt" says Tian and caresses Phupha's face knowing that now he can do thousands of things that he would only have dared to dream of before.
“I am the luckiest, Tian. Thank you for making me the luckiest and happiest boy on this planet.”
Phupha's lips kiss his again, and Tian feels something inside him ache because he hasn't been able to find the courage to tell Phupha the other side of the story. Yet how could he tell him now? How to stop kissing Phupha to tell him that perhaps the two of them will not be able to have what they have discovered at that precise moment even for a couple of weeks? That is why the boy is silent. Tian seeks to hide from the truth at least for that night; one more night will not hurt. He is too happy to think about tragedies. The happiness that inhabits him makes everything else seem unimportant.
Several minutes later, the two young men return inside the cafeteria after receiving a message from Nam who says that everyone is about to leave. They have to sleep. In the midst of the hubbub of the celebration, everyone forgot their morning classes. And when they both enter the cafeteria, it is evident that everyone knows that something has happened between the two. The knowing smiles and expectant looks of all their friends let them know that there is really nothing to clarify or mention.
"Are you an official couple now or do we have to give you another five minutes to decide?" Nam asks.
“An official couple? Bah! I just asked Phupha to marry me, I'm not going to risk his fans daring to think that it will be possible to steal him from me,” Tian says with total seriousness and the ruckus that breaks out in the middle of the room makes him smile again.
"Wait a second, Phupha, you said yes, right?" Torfun asks and Phupha looks at her reproachfully because apparently her best friend doesn't trust him.
"Of course I said yes and all of you will have to pay for our wedding," Phupha says and this time the burst of screaming and laughing is worse.
Rang proposes a final toast on behalf of the new couple and everyone begins to help themselves to what will undoubtedly be the last cocktail of the night. After congratulating them and wishing them the best, the group of friends say goodbye to each other but give Phupha, who will be their designated driver, time to say goodbye to Tian who feels a certain sadness at the thought that they will have to separate until the light of a new morning can bring them together again.
"Please rest, I'll bring you your breakfast early," Phupha says and Tian hugs him gently.
"I'll sleep well, I promise," he whispers. “You have to rest well too, it was a long day full of emotions.”
“It's been a beautiful day, Tian,” Phupha says before kissing his lips once more. “I´ll see you tomorrow.”
"It's already tomorrow.”
Tian can't help but smile again and kisses Phupha one last time before his friends start honking Nam's car horn urging him to stop being a clingy boyfriend and drive them home as he should. Tian laughs guiltily and breaks away from Phupha just to watch him walk towards his friends who probably won't stop teasing him all the way but Phupha doesn't seem to mind the jokes. Phupha must be happy too. It is Tian who has brought such happiness to him and knowing that makes Tian feel infinite.
The boy closes the cafeteria door and is about to start cleaning up the battlefield that Phupha's party has become, but the pain in his chest that always heralds a dark episode begins to manifest. It's terrible and brutal and Tian can only manage to hold on to one of the chairs before consuming his last seconds of consciousness calling out to Longtae who had stayed in the kitchen trying to tidy up everything there. Tian doesn't know if his friend has heard him. Tian doesn't know if he will open his eyes again or that time his heart will stop beating forever. Tian doesn't know anything, absolutely nothing, but before losing himself in the blackness he can still be grateful for not having left this world without knowing what a kiss from Phupha Viriyanon's lips was like.
Chapter 11: Show me the meaning of being lonely, so many words for the broken heart.
His eyes feel heavy, they are about to close. Contrary to what he would have expected, Phupha feels a soft drowsiness envelop him from the moment his head makes contact with the pillow. He knows that insomnia will not torture him that night; he knows that finally after months and months, he will be able to sleep like a normal person.
The boy lets his thoughts wander freely towards that magical moment when Tian confessed that he is in love with him. Phupha takes pleasure in repeating the words a thousand times, he makes them his own and he wants to hold them forever in his chest. Tian, someone as beautiful as Tian, is in love with him. The memory of the words is then joined by that of the kisses. If he closes his eyes, and that's what he does now, Phupha feels the same warmth he felt when he kissed Tian for the first time. Phupha feels intoxicated by that feeling again and the desire to lose himself in Tian's lips is there again. He wishes it was already morning. He wishes he could have stayed to sleep in Tian's arms, although the boy doubts that they would have closed their eyes, he knows that the two of them would have spent that night discovering how many kisses fit on each other's lips.
What unites them, those feelings that fill their hearts, it is too new. Everything is new. Everything is a mystery that Phupha wants to reveal little by little. For the first time in his life, Phupha wants to know what the morning will bring him. Phupha imagines himself already preparing Tian's breakfast as he has done all these months. He imagines arriving at Tian's school to deliver the dish from that morning. He can even see the smile with which Tian is going to receive him and Phupha knows that he will greet him again with a kiss and that the two of them will stay there, kissing again without caring that everyone around them turns to look at them, what does it matter anyway?
Phupha wants everyone to know, he's not going to hide it. Phupha wants everyone to know that Tian is his boyfriend and that the two of them are in love and happy. Everyone will know about his heart because what he feels is beautiful and Tian feels the same way about him and how was it possible? How many stars had to align for his dream to come true? The boy smiles because although he never counted a thousand stars on the cliff of Pha Pun Dao where many people wish for love every new year, that dream that he didn't know he had inside him until he met Tian came true.
What he feels is so strong, so pure and so full of light that Phupha does not believe that his body can contain it, but even so, sleep lulls him little by little. His eyes close fearlessly. He knows that tonight he will not have nightmares because Tian will inhabit each of his dreams and what is better than that: reality right now is more beautiful than any dream. That's why Phupha falls asleep without worrying because that way, the morning light will carry him faster into Tian's arms.
☕ ☕☕ ☕☕ ☕☕
Phupha nervously looks at his watch. He knows that he has arrived early at the place where Tian always waits for him with a smile on his lips. Hundreds of students rushing to their classrooms pass him. Some of them wave to him, some of them point to him. They all know who he must be looking for and Phupha tells himself that he must be patient. Perhaps Tian overslept because the party ended so late. Maybe his morning class is canceled and that's why he's not there. Also, he was only twenty minutes late but Tian is always punctual. Maybe he should text him. That's it. Phupha takes his phone out of his pocket and decides it's a better idea to call him. The boy brings his phone to his ear hoping that the ringing on the other end will turn into Tian's voice but nothing happens and his heart begins to worry.
Phupha tries to call at least five more times but there is no answer. The young man looks at the instant messaging application where he usually talks nonsense with Tian but the boy's last connection was yesterday before the award ceremony. And Phupha feels that something hurts inside him. It's not like Tian not to answer; it's not like Tian not to be in school. That's when Phupha calls Longtae but the call he makes isn't even linked. The voice on the recording tells him that the boy's phone is disabled and Phupha feels like he is about to pass out.
The minutes follow their course. After half an hour of fruitless waiting, Phupha decides that it is better to go to the coffee shop but when he gets there, he finds the closed sign on the door which is also strange because it is Longtae who attends the place in the mornings. Phupha tries again to contact Tian's best friend but can't, anyone answers. Phupha feels that something horrible has happened but he doesn't know what. Phupha doesn't know what to do so all he can think of doing is stare blankly at his phone and when an incoming call from Rang appears on the screen, Phupha is about to reject it but thinks better of it.
"Phu? Where are you?” asks his friend immediately. “Classes will start in fifteen minutes.”
“Rang, I can't find him,” says Phupha and notices that it is difficult for him to speak, that it is difficult even to breathe.
"Who?" Rang asks, he sounds confused.
“Tian, he doesn't answer me, he's not in class and I called Longtae but there's no answer either and...”
"Longtae must be busy in the cafeteria, he hardly ever answers his cell phone at this hour," Rang says reassuringly.
“No, Rang, I'm outside the cafeteria. There is nobody here. Neither Tian nor Longtae is here.”
“Really?” Rang asks, and Phupha notices that his friend is starting to get scared too. “Longtae didn't say anything to me. I... wait a second, will you? I'll try to contact him, and if I can't, I'll meet you in front of the cafeteria in twenty minutes. Don't move from there, Phu. I'll see you in twenty minutes if I can't get through to Longtae.”
Phupha tells his friend that he will wait for him but each minute is more distressing than the last. Phupha doesn't know who else to turn to and deeply hates himself for not being closer to more people. The boy thinks he should have stayed in school, he should have asked Tian's classmates if they know anything. Phupha tells himself that as soon as Rang arrives, the two of them will do exactly that but he also hopes that Longtae will answer and that it's all a misunderstanding and please someone tell him that Tian is okay.
However, his hopes are not rewarded when he sees Rang running towards him breathlessly. Judging by the look on his friend's face, Phupha knows that he can´t have gotten an answer from Longtae. Rang looks worried and paler than usual. It's so strange to see him like this, not wanting to joke that it makes Phupha's concern increase exponentially.
"Longtae doesn't answer, I don't know what's wrong," Rang says, his voice cracking from his running and his concern. “I don't know where he is, chief, I don't know where else to look for him. Before coming here I went by the house of the two but there is no one there either.”
"This can't be happening, Rang," Phupha says, feeling something inside him begin to snap. “This makes no sense.”
Rang nods, and while it's terrible to see the worried look in his eyes, Phupha feels that at least someone fully understands the desperation he's feeling. Rang is as scared to death for Longtae as he is for Tian. The two stand still for a while looking at their cell phone screens as if expecting Tian or Longtae to call suddenly but that doesn't happen.
"Maybe we should ask about their whereabouts in their faculties," says Phupha knowing that if he doesn't do something he'll go crazy. “Go to Political Science School, I'll go back to Veterinary Medicine school.”
Rang nods and the two start running towards their destination. Phupha reaches the esplanade where all the students usually gather before walking to their classrooms or heading to the laboratories. Everyone is surprised to see Phupha Viriyanon in such a state. Phupha asks everyone if they have seen Tian. Phupha asks them to send him a message if they know anything about Tian and even though people look at him weirdly, Phupha doesn't care, he's too scared.
As the day progresses, everyone begins to whisper under their breath and soon, a rumor spreads throughout the school that Tian, Phupha's unofficial boyfriend, has run away from school with the campus new Moon. That's the juiciest gossip of the day. Phupha has to find out about all the rumors because Torfun, who met him in the cafeteria of the science faculty, carefully reads all the communication chats between students where she has also asked them to send her messages if they know something about Tian.
"They're all stupid," Torfun says with a hint of weariness. “They keep talking about stupid things, nobody really knows anything but they love to think that we are living in a soap opera. Sorry Phu, I don't think asking all these people was helpful.”
"At least everyone now knows that Tian isn't here, at least I know that no one has seen him but I need to find him, Torfun," says Phupha feeling that he is about to burst into tears. “I have to find him, I have to know about him or else I'll go crazy.”
But he doesn't find Tian and surprisingly, he doesn't go crazy either.
☕ ☕☕ ☕☕ ☕☕
Two weeks have passed since he last looked at Tian and Phupha still hasn't heard from him. The dramatic rumors of his companions have suddenly changed to sincere concern that is a thousand times more terrible. Torfun has learned that the professors at the school of Veterinary Medicine have contacted the boy's parents even though they know they don't talk to him but even the Sopasitsakun family have no idea where Tian is.
Meanwhile, Phupha feels like he's walking through life on autopilot. Although he continues to do his homework, he knows that everything is wrong inside him. He barely eats, he hardly sleeps. His anatomical drawing teacher hasn't even asked him to turn in his homework that week because he knows that the model for all the drawings he's done is one of the two boys who have disappeared from the university without a trace.
Phupha has never felt loneliness like this, this kind of loneliness that comes after having known the warmth of a home. And it is that during all those months, it was Tian's presence that accompanied him wherever he went. He has always been rather a lonely boy but that absence, that nothingness that seems to devour him a little more each day has nothing to do with what he had felt before. Phupha feels that he will never be able to get used to it. Phupha has not stopped going to the school of Veterinary Medicine to continue asking Tian's classmates if they have heard from him. Phupha knows that everyone feels sorry for him; he knows that everyone thinks he's pathetic but he couldn't care less about that.
He just wants to know where Tian is. He just wants to know that he is okay and that he is smiling wherever he is. He doesn't want to believe the rumors that Tian and Longtae had a bet to make him fall in love and then tease him in this ruthless way. Phupha knows that people would make anything up, and none of them know Tian, not the way he does. His heart and Tian's are close. Through their long talks in the cafeteria, which is still closed, Phupha got to know Tian deeply. And Tian would not hurt him, he knows that Tian would never hurt him and that is why the most logical explanation is that Tian is suffering or that he had to leave due to some terrible misfortune that Tian could not tell him about.
And Phupha is not angry, he is not hurt. The whole world hurts, yes, but it's not because Tian has hurt him but because Tian's absence is painful and if you add to that the uncertainty of not knowing where he is, his pain is more than justified. Tian was not obliged to tell him everything, absolutely everything. Phupha knows that there are some things that are impossible to say. Phupha feels that loneliness creeps into him like a sharp chill that doesn't let him be himself. Life without Tian is a life without warmth, without color, without that joy that Phupha had just discovered. And that's what hurts, that loneliness is what hurts him.
The boy is sitting in his living room right now. He is trying to put the finishing touches on his painting of the Pha Pun Dao Mountains. The teacher needs it finished tomorrow morning but Phupha has spent the last thirty minutes looking at those mountains and not being able to do anything else.
How he would like to go to the cliff to count stars and make wishes right now! If he was there, he would wish he could know about Tian, he wouldn't even have to see him. It would just be enough to know that Tian is okay. Phupha feels that he might even move on if Tian tells him that the bet to make him fall in love was true, he wouldn't mind. If Tian is okay then he could move on with one more heart wound and be done with it but that nothing filling him right now is unbearable. Phupha doesn't think he can learn to live like this. And it is that the sadness that comes after the glorious happiness is like hell itself. Phupha feels like he is burning once more in hell.
The young man closes his eyes. He hasn't been able to cry in all that time, Phupha fears that after his mother's death all his tears have been used up. He wishes he could feel the warmth of his tears on his cheeks. He wishes he could put all his pain into words but he can't either and when Rang, Torfun or Nam are with him, the boy just hugs Torfun or asks his other two friends not to leave him alone. And they have endured all that, all those weeks of silence. Nam has threatened to put him on a tube if he continues to refuse to eat, but it's impossible. Rang is an exact copy of his despair and it's so rare to see him so silent and hear his sobs at night because Longtae hasn't shown up either. And Torfun is there but Phupha feels guilty because now two of the girl's friends are a couple of zombies and the other one is a raging quasi-doctor who nobody pays attention to.
And even though he knows he's being a drag, Phupha is grateful to have them there by his side and maybe he should ask Nam to study with him that night so he can paint because if he doesn't turn in that painting he'll fail the course and he can't do it, he can't lose his scholarship. The teachers, yes, are patient with him because of his success in the national drawing contest, but he knows that it will end. He has to go back to being a normal student. At least that has to go back to normal.
Phupha sighs deeply and raises his brush determined to finish that project once and for all, but when he is about to do so, the door of Nam's house opens wide and the future doctor enters with a strange smile that immediately puts Phupha on alert.
"Did you finish your project?" Nam asks, still smiling, and Phupha is tempted to ask if he hasn't been driven crazy because Nam had to take at least four different exams that day.
"No, I have to level out some tones," Phupha says cautiously. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Nam says quickly. “Listen: I need you to finish your painting right now. Torfun will deliver it tomorrow morning. You and I have to take a trip right now. We have to go to Phuket.”
"To Phuket? Do you want to skip classes to have early vacations?"
"We're only skipping one day of school before spring break, darling," Nam says as if that makes sense. “Listen, it is urgent that we go from today.”
"What the hell is in Phuket?" Phupha asks without understanding anything at all.
“Tian,” Nam drops and Phupha feels how the brush falls from his hand without him being able to avoid it.
“I do not get it...”
"Tian's at Dad's hospital," Nam says, and Phupha feels fear seep into his heart again. “I asked him to look for Tian in every hospital in the country. I mean, it's always a good idea to look in a hospital for people who just disappear. Well, we couldn't find him because he's listed under a different name, but Dad took my description. Tian is in Dad's hospital in Phuket, being treated in the cardiology department.”
"Nam, aren't you lying to me?" Phupha asks feeling that they shouldn't wait, that they should just get in the car and drive to the coast without stopping at that precise moment.
"Why would I lie about something like that?" Nam asks. “Rang couldn't take it anymore and just left, we both know that Longtae is there, you know that on paper he's kind of like Tian's foster brother. Longtae must be in charge of everything, so we couldn't get in touch with him either. So Phu, get everything in order so that none of your teachers have a complaint about you and let's go.”
"We could go right now, Nam," Phupha says, feeling the sudden desire to simply teleport himself to that place where Tian is.
"No, of course not, we can't risk your scholarship, Tian wouldn't forgive you," says Nam. “So go ahead, put everything in order. I'll pack what we need, make some calls and buy food for the trip. I'm done with my exams so I can take you, I won't leave you alone. I'm going to take you to Tian because if I don't you're going to die of sadness and I won't be able to carry that on me.”
Phupha nods at the words of his friend who quickly leaves the house again while he picks up his brush and in less than half an hour, manages to do what he hadn't even been able to start in days. And while he's still scared, at least now he knows where Tian is. And he's going to see him, he has to see him. He won't even ask for an explanation, he just wants Tian to know that no matter what, he will always go to where he is and stay by his side.
Chapter 12: You always come with the sun.
His heart keeps beating, it refuses to stop.
It's been two days since he regained consciousness, but that's not happy news for him. He doesn't know how to face the world. He does not know how to return to a world from which he has disappeared and above all, he does not know how to explain to Phupha what has just happened.
Tian suddenly feels an icy cold wash over him. The doctors who have taken care of him since he decided to seek care on his own have been able to stabilize him, but the boy knows that it has been for very little. The illness in his heart advances, it will not leave him alone. He has heard that doctors have told Longtae that it will be impossible for him to return to school after spring break. He will not be able to have a normal life again, or as normal as it was before. Any extra effort could kill him. His heart will no longer resist that he wants to pretend that he is a normal boy. But he never has been and now more than ever he realizes it.
He knows his disappearance must have hurt Phupha and thinking of him, thinking of the way he had to walk away from him makes him feel ashamed because he knows he has been cruel. Tian knows that Longtae has simply followed the emergency protocol that the two of them have planned in case something like this happens to him: Longtae had to call the emergency services who would take him to Phuket after stabilizing him and if not, they would call the doctor who is treating him so that he could help him in a private clinic in Bangkok. Fortunately, the paramedics managed to stabilize him and they had been able to make his transfer without any problem and now he is in Phuket, that place where he and his grandmother have always escaped as if they were looking for a shelter.
Tian has always known that he has to hide from his parents during those moments of vulnerability. Tian knows that because of the power his father has, it wouldn't be too hard for him to claim absolute power over his son's health. Tian is afraid that his parents will take advantage of this to decide for him, they can do it. That is why the boy has purchased major medical insurance using Longtae´s family name. That way, no one will ask more questions than necessary. In addition, the head doctor of the cardiology department is a friend of his grandmother, apparently the two met in the mountain village so he has sworn to help them in such situations.
If Tian has had to disappear the way he has, it's thinking that his parents won't find him. He knows that his father has contacts within the university and that he must be careful of them. He knows that if General Teerayut finds out everything, it will take him no more than five minutes to order his transfer to the exclusive hospital where his whole family usually goes. His father is too powerful and although Tian has made it very clear that he wants nothing to do with him, a sick boy who has spent more than five days without being aware of the world around him, cannot defend himself. Also, everyone fears his father; no one refuses anything once he issues an order. His father is too powerful and there is nothing that the money he has cannot achieve.
That is why the young man has not been able to contact anyone, it is dangerous. Longtae has hinted several times that now that he's awake it might be a good idea to contact Rang and Phupha, but Tian hasn't said anything. He could say that he is still too weak to face all that but the truth is that he is scared to death. He doesn't know how he will be able to look Phupha in the eye after what he has done. He doesn't know how to explain it, maybe Phupha won't even believe him, who could?
Disappearing from someone's life after telling him that he was in love with him seems awful to Tian. He knows that no one would be able to forgive something like that. Phupha must hate him now because he played with his heart. Yes, that's right, he played with Phupha's heart in a terrible way. He left him without saying anything even though he knows he had the perfect opportunity to tell him everything. Tian feels that he has lost Phupha forever and there is nothing else to do. In any case, once he is better, he will return to the university only to drop out and help Longtae so that he can continue his studies. Perhaps he can also hire someone to attend the cafeteria in the afternoons, but for him, the future is uncertain. His life now cannot be called life. Things as simple as brewing a cup of coffee are risky. He will be able to walk but not for long or long stretches. Everything is dangerous. Everything is wrong.
Tian's eyes fill with tears and the young man makes no effort to wipe them away. He lets the tears run and the sadness overwhelms him, the truth is that right now he thinks that it would have been better not to wake up and free Longtae from that extra work that represents being the only friend who understands his whole story and his situation. And Tian feels so guilty that Longtae hasn't been able to contact Rang and will Rang be able to understand? Tian doesn't want to be a burden anymore but that's what he is and when the door to the room he's been in for those two weeks opens, the boy wants to hide but he can't run away.
Longtae and the head doctor walk through the door and Tian hastily tries to wipe away his tears but the sympathetic smile of the doctor, who is a tall man who appears to be the same age as his father, tells him that it is okay to cry. The doctor carefully checks his vital signs and asks routine questions before commenting that he looks much better now.
"You will be able to receive visitors from today," says the man with a pleasant smile. “In fact, I think there are several people waiting to see you since yesterday.”
"Visitors?" Tian asks and feels his heart begin to flutter and the doctor gets a little scared as he watches the reaction of the machines.
"Yes, but you must be calm, seeing your friends will do you good," says the doctor. “You have good friends, Tian. They've come all the way from Bangkok, in fact, I didn't know you knew my son.”
"Your son?" Tian asks as if he were a machine that can only repeat what it hears in the form of a question.
"Nam Suthikul, he´s studying medicine too, second year," the doctor says with a proud smile. “He came with his best friend, both of them are worried about you. If you want to see them, you can do it right now but try to breathe deeply, no fighting, no raising your voice. I think you will feel stronger after being surrounded by people who love you.”
"Phupha is here," Tian whispers and tells himself that he should be calm but Phupha is there and what the hell to do with that information?
“Yes, he is” says the doctor naturally.
"You told Nam I'm here," Tian says reproachfully. “I thought we had a confidentiality agreement.”
“You can sue me for breaking it, Tian,” the doctor says seriously. “The truth is that I know that no excuse is valid to do what I did but my son sounded desperate and you know? Phupha was having a really hard time, he and Nam have always been very close so when Nam told me that Phupha was refusing to eat or sleep because he didn't hear from you, I knew I had to tell them. I beg your pardon, Tian. I know that is not enough, but I will also wait for the call from your lawyers. Now, if you really want to fire me and go to another hospital, I'll talk to your new team of doctors. I am convinced that your problem can be solved in another way; the transplant is not our only option. If I can keep you stable for another month, I'll be able to perform that surgery that may help you. But it's in your hands, Tian. The friendship that linked me to your grandmother tells me that I did the right thing by telling your friends that you are here but everything is in your hands. And that also applies to visitors, if you want to see them, I will let them in immediately.”
Dr. Suthikul leaves the room without saying anything else and Tian stands still, not knowing what to say. He also knows that the doctor has done the right thing and now he feels guilty for making Phupha suffer in this way. To imagine him like this, suffering, refusing to eat, living in that awful sadness from which he has not been able to rest since his mother died, is horrible.
Longtae walks over to him and takes his hand. His friend looks tired but now there is light in his eyes and Tian tells himself that Rang had to come too. And Tian hates himself a little more because he forced Longtae not to say anything. And Tian guesses that Torfun didn't talk to Phupha about his secret either and that must have been horrible for the girl too. And everything is complicated, everything is terrible, and Tian doesn't know how to solve it.
“Please talk to him,” Longtae says softly. “Phupha has been sleeping in the waiting room for the last two days; there is no human power that can move him from here.”
“Doesn't he hate me?” Tian asks holding Longtae's hand as tightly as he can.
"No, he's just scared to death and wants to see you," Longtae says with a sweet smile. “He's going to listen to you, in fact, I think all he wants to do is hug you and promise you that everything will be alright.”
“Why? I broke his heart, Longtae.”
“You didn't do it on purpose and he now has a better idea of what happened. If you broke his heart, you can also heal him.”
"And force him to stay with a person doomed to die soon?" Tian asks in a cold voice.
"Nam's father said that now we have more hope, didn't you hear him?" Longtae replies calmly. “All we have to do is help you stay stable and strong, and you know what? You won't be able to do that if you keep missing Phupha, you won't be okay if you refuse to see him. Don't decide for him, Tian. Phupha is a big boy and he will decide what to do. Besides, you owe him an explanation. He deserves to know, Tian, and you deserve him to come with you if that's what he wants to do.”
"What if he doesn't want to stay?" Tian asks with genuine terror.
"Then he's not the boy I thought he was and he better stay away from you," Longtae says wisely. “But you know very well what kind of person Phupha is. He is in love with you; he cares about you a lot, Tian. Phupha is not the kind of person who would leave you alone, not after knowing the whole story so if you really want to stop being mean to him and yourself, you should talk to him now.”
Tian is silent for a long time. His mind is working at full speed but inside him, the boy knows that it is not his brain that will decide, of course not. His heart and indeed every cell in his body beg him to let Phupha in. Tian wants to see him, it's the only thing he's wanted to do since he woke up. And now Phupha is there, Phupha has gone looking for him against the whole world. If Phupha was a boy like any other, he would have simply forgotten about him but no, Phupha is there. Phupha is so close that he can almost see his eyes full of stars lighting up everything.
"Tell him to come," Tian says at last. “Longtae, bring Phupha to my side, please.”
"Of course Tian," says the other boy with a huge smile on his lips.
"And please go to Grandma's house on the beach and have a passionate love reunion with Rang" Tian says and Longtae rolls his eyes but is glad to know that Tian feels strong enough to make such jokes. “Don't come to the hospital tonight. If Phupha wants to stay with me, I'll ask him to spend the night here.”
"But no passionate love reunions for you two, remember, it's too soon," Longtae says with an amused smile. “Everything will be fine, Tian, you'll see.”
Tian smiles weakly but knows he has to be brave and strong for just a few more minutes. As Longtae walks out of the room, Tian tells himself that he has to be honest, and afterward, he'll have to tell Nam's father that it's foolish to even think about fighting in court. If Phupha decides to stay by his side, then Tian will want to take any treatment that can promise him that his life will last a little longer, and it seems that Dr. Suthikul is offering him just that. At least he can give Phupha and himself that hope. At least there is something that will actually allow him to continue fighting.
The boy breathes deeply and carefully, he knows he has to be calm. The state of nervousness is inevitable but he cannot be put at risk. He will see Phupha, Phupha really went looking for him and although it is selfish, it makes him happy to think that he is important in the life of the young artist in that way. Phupha hasn't given up on him and the truth is that Tian doesn't want to give up on that boy either. Tian can´t lose someone who apparently continues to fight to keep their bond alive despite everything.
It is at that moment that the door opens again and the unmistakable shape of Phupha Viriyanon enters through it. Tian's eyes search his face automatically, and Phupha looks so thin and tired that a new wave of self-loathing washes over him. But Phupha is smiling, smiling in the way that someone looking at him might mistake that smile for a powerful sunset. Phupha's eyes are full of joy, there is no claim in them and there is no fear. It's like just looking at him makes Phupha's heart stop aching and the boy walks over to his side and Tian wishes he could throw himself into his arms but he can't, he can only wait.
Phupha arrives at his side and his smile does not leave his lips. Unable to help it, Tian extends his hand towards him and when Phupha gently takes it, Tian knows that Phupha will never let go of him. Phupha's hand is warm, as soft as he remembers it. And that smile of immortal sun illuminates everything, even the darkest of his fears and Tian smiles back, he doesn't know what else to do, he doesn't know what to say. And Phupha sits next to him, on the bed, without letting go of him, holding him with that gaze full of sunsets and sunrises, and Tian wonders if that is what love is: someone who looks at you and holds you that way, without saying anything. That must be what all the poets of the world try to describe in vain in their poetry.
"Tian" he whispers as he brings his hand to his lips and kisses Tian´s skin gently.
"Forgive me, Phu," Tian says at last, treacherous tears welling up in his eyes again.
"All I care about is that you're okay, as okay as you can be," Phupha says, wiping away his tears with one of the tissues on the nightstand beside him. “I have nothing to forgive you, Tian.”
“But I hid so many things from you, I left you alone without giving you an explanation,” Tian says with deep sorrow.
"You're going to tell me everything now, aren't you?" Phupha asks.
“Yes, I will do that.”
"Then it's okay, Tian. Everything will be fine, I swear.”
"Are you going to stay with me? Phu, tell me you're going to stay with me,” says Tian because that's the only thing he wants to know right now and he knows he's asking too much, he knows he has no right to ask.
But still that's all he wants. He just wants Phupha to keep holding his hand until his heart can function as a decent heart.
"I'm going to stay with you indefinitely, I already told you" says Phupha looking into his eyes and Tian discovers that nothing in that look is lying. “Here I am, Tian. I'm not going anywhere but you have to promise me you'll let me stay. You don't have to hide from me, Tian. I'm strong and I promised you I'd hold your heart, don't you remember?”
"Then let me heal yours," Tian says softly. “Everything is wrong but I think that right now I can make your heart stop hurting, I don't want your heart to hurt anymore.”
Phupha smiles and kisses his forehead gently and Tian is sorry that he can't kiss his lips right now.
"It doesn't hurt anymore, I swear," Phupha says and Tian feels protected again. “Nothing hurts now, Tian.”
Tian asks Phupha with his eyes to come closer to him and when he does, Tian wraps his arms around his neck. Right now he can't hug him tightly but he wants to feel him closer to him. They have been apart for so many hours, it seems like it has been a lifetime. But Phupha is there, back in his arms, and some of the sun that Phupha has brought with him ends up creeping into his heart. And Tian knows it, or maybe it's just a blind wish for it to be so, but everything seems fine now.
Chapter 13: The sky is falling but we don´t care: we have a world of our own.
The two boys are sitting by the huge window of Tian's house that looks directly at the silver sea that seems to be singing a melancholy song. It has been raining for the last week of vacation and Phupha can feel that some of the gloom of the weather is surrounding the two of them.
It's been a week since Dr. Suthikul released Tian, but that doesn't mean he's out of the woods now. Phupha has observed how any activity that takes more than five minutes can tire him out. It is him and Longtae, and now also Rang and Nam who are looking out for him. The boys in question take care of all the chores and Phupha knows that this must bother Tian deeply but he doesn't say anything, just thanks them with a sad smile.
However, Phupha wants to protect him, wants to help him be stable. Now that he knows the whole story, he won't leave Tian alone, nor will he let his illness advance. Phupha is determined to take care of him, to help keep him stable during the month of previous treatment that is the condition that Nam's father has put in order to attempt the surgery that can change Tian's destiny forever. Phupha wants to cling to that hope until the end. Nam's father has been honest with him, the surgery may work but it may also be the end point of Tian's life but the boy doesn't even want to imagine such a possibility.
Phupha is not going to think about tragedies, he will not allow his mind to torment him with thousands of fatal possibilities, not anymore. Now that the rain is pouring down outside and Tian is in his arms, Phupha knows that he has to become the strongest boy in the universe so he won't let Tian get scared or stop fighting. There are actually many people who want to do the same as him and that's comforting. He knows that his friends will also help him take care of Tian because a life like his cannot be extinguished, it would be an offense against the universe for a boy like Tian to simply stop breathing.
No, no, Phupha doesn't want to think about it so he tries to get the idea out of his mind by resting his chin on Tian's soft hair who smiles when he feels him close. It's been a while since neither of them said anything, but that silence is comforting. Despite the absence of words, the closeness of the other calms them down and Phupha feels grateful for being able to hold Tian in his arms. It's a miracle that Tian's heart is still beating. It is a miracle to be able to be there, in front of an infinite sea painted silver by the rain and Phupha does not want to miss a second of that particular world that is born for the two of them when no one else is in the same room.
“I was thinking something funny,” Tian says suddenly and Phupha smiles at him to encourage him to continue.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Well, I was thinking on how my excuse to approach you was the atlas of native animals of Thailand but now I won't be able to deliver it,” Tian says sadly and Phupha wishes he could also protect him from all that, from the pain of knowing that his life will not return to normal.
"Maybe not this semester but I know you'll be able to go back to college in the fall," Phupha says confidently. “If the surgery goes well, you will be able to have a normal life afterwards, Nam's father explained to me that it is possible.”
"But it also may not be, Phu," Tian says in a muffled voice and Phupha knows that his boyfriend needs to say that, so he will listen and put his arms around him until the sadness leaves him.
"We'll do whatever it takes to make it possible, Tian," Phupha says, trying to convey some of his confidence. “And as for the atlas, we're going to finish it. Maybe I can teach you how to draw while everything goes back to normal.”
“I and drawing in the same sentence?” Tian asks amusedly, and Phupha is pleased to hear his laugh echoing through the empty house.
"It's a talent you can develop, trust me," Phupha says.
“Art is not my forte,” Tian says, and his eyes are less sad now. “But if my boyfriend, the winner of the national drawing contest, believes in my undiscovered talent, I may have hope.”
“You have it, we can have hope for many things, Tian.”
Tian smiles again and he leans closer just to brush his lips with his. Phupha knows that neither of them can let go, not without putting Tian under unnecessary stress. So both must be careful with the displays of affection, in addition, during that week, they have discovered that they can invent a thousand ways to feel close to each other without demanding more from Tian's heart.
"Phu, I don't want to die," says Tian at last, and Phupha caresses his cheeks gently because Tian's words come out of his lips full of pain and fear. “I don't want to go to a place where I can't be near you.”
"You're not going to die, Tian," Phupha says, feeling his heart break and repeating to himself that he must be strong for Tian and for himself. “The surgery will work and I will be there with you, I will be with you throughout the process. I will take care of you always, Tian.”
“I know, but I hate being a burden, I hate that you have to be in this situation. I know you had to skip two days of school because of me. I know you plan to be with me as long as possible but, Phu, it's unfair. I don't want you to have to lose your life to a sick kid who can't go to school, who can no longer attend his cafeteria, and who has to be watched 24 hours a day. And I know you want to move in with me to take care of me, I know you've been talking to your teachers to let you change your schedule because you want to help Longtae with the cafeteria and Phupha, I feel so guilty. I don't want you to have to feel tired taking care of me and taking care of everything else and I hate not being a normal boyfriend to you. And if everything goes wrong, I will leave you alone and do you know how terrible it is to think that at the end of everything you will suffer for me?”
Phupha is silent for a while before answering him. He knows that Tian has been keeping all that to himself for the last week, he knows that Tian has to get all those dark thoughts out of himself. But nothing Tian says will make his change his mind. Phupha has already decided what he will do: he won't leave Tian alone and he won't let him feel guilty about something he considers a privilege.
“I am a strong man, Tian, a man who was taught by his mother that helping another person when you can is a huge privilege and responsibility,” Phupha says calmly. “I'm not going to lose my life or whatever if I take care of you, in fact I think I'll be happier because I know I'll be able to keep you healthy, stable and happy too. The doctor said that it is important to take care of your body but also your mind and I will be there to drive away fear and terrible thoughts. So don't think that, you're not a burden to me and I'm telling you as I look into your eyes, you know I'm not lying. Right now, there is nothing more important to me than taking care of you and that doesn't mean that I will neglect my studies or that I won't see my friends. I can do it, Tian, that's why I'm changing my schedule. My teachers are flexible with me, I think they appreciate me, so I don't think there will be any problem, I will be able to take care of you and my own way too. Please stop worrying, you are not to blame for anything. If you need my strength, you will have it. If you need me to make you laugh or let you cry I will be there with you. Whatever you need, I'll try to give it to you. You are not a burden to me, you will never be that, Tian and I am not afraid of what may happen, whatever it is, I will be with you as long as it is possible to be together, do you understand?”
“You have no idea how much I love you right now,” Tian says, his arms wrapping around Phupha's neck. “I don't care if it sounds dramatic, I may die in a month so I won't shut up now: I love you Phupha Viriyanon I love you I love you I love you.”
Phupha feels like he's flying because no one has ever said those words to him before, not with the same kind of warmth and tenderness that Tian has. But more than that, Phupha can feel the love that Tian talks about surrounding him, sheltering him. Tian loves him and that's beautiful. Tian loves him and for a boy like him who was never used to receiving warm words, that saying makes him feel powerful and infinite because he is loved. Feeling love and that love is reciprocal is another of the miracles that he never dreamed of and of course he also feels love. Tian is that love that lives in his soul. Tian is that love that he does not want to give up. Tian is that love that will fill his heart with strength even if the story of the two has a tragic ending. But Phupha doesn't think about that, he doesn't care about the end of the journey. Tian loves him and he can take on the whole world now that he knows Tian loves him.
"I love you too, Tian," Phupha says softly, almost shyly, it's also the first time he's said something like that out loud. “And look, I want you to have this so you'll remember that I love you every time you look at it.”
Phupha leaves Tian simply to remove the fine silver chain from which his mother's wedding ring dangles. Tian's eyes widen as Phupha threads the chain over his head. Tian's fingers rest on the ring, that ring that has the words "Phupha's heart" engraved on it. And yes, Phupha knows that Tian has understood the meaning of that gesture: with that small act, Phupha is putting his own heart in the other boy's hands and he is not afraid to do so.
"Are you asking me to marry you?" Tian asks directly and Phupha knows he's saying it jokingly but there is also some truth insinuating in that request. “I do want to marry you before the surgery; I don't want to die without fulfilling my dream of marrying the most handsome boy in Thailand.”
“You will not die without fulfilling any of your dreams, Tian, I swear it. Although right now I'm just asking you to hold my heart in your hands and take from it all the strength you need. Tian, all my heart and everything that I am, even if it's not a big deal, are yours now,” Phupha says as he takes his hands.
Tian smiles again, and then that smile settles on Phupha´s lips once more. And yes, they both know that the world and life may continue to be against them, but they both have each other and in that small world where the rain does not enter and the cold does not exist, everything is possible. Tian lies down again with his back on his chest and Phupha covers him with his arms trying to protect him from any other idea that makes him feel sad but it seems that at least for that afternoon the pain of Tian's soul is gone. What's in that room is love: a love too great to be silenced. A love that was born in the most natural and calm way, like the rivers that flow safely to the sea. The love of the two is theirs, they do not owe anyone an explanation and right now, they both know that it exists. Both of them have created that love by linking it to the other's name.
"Before the surgery we should have an unforgettable date," Tian says softly. “I always thought of going to Paris with someone I loved very much, my older sister's wedding was there, I think I've never told you but it is the perfect place to have an unforgettable love date with the man of your dreams.”
"Maybe we can't go to Paris but we will have an unforgettable date," says Phupha and then asks jokingly: "But wait, am I the man of your dreams?"
“What kind of question is that? I have just confessed my immortal love to you, of course you are the man of my dreams!” Tian says with an offended air and Phupha laughs without being able to help it. “And we should adopt a cat. I also told myself that I would have a huge family next to the person I love. We can start our own family with a cat, Phu.”
"I have to ask Dr. Suthikul if it's safe for you to have animals at home, but I think it's a good idea to adopt a cat," says Phupha, feeling certain illusion at the thought.
"And I wasn't kidding, we're going to get married by the sea before the surgery, or at least we'll have a symbolic ceremony, it'll be like a rehearsal before our real wedding," Tian says dreamily. “You will wear a beautiful white suit and I will ask the administrator of the fortune that my grandmother inherited me to buy a pair of stupidly expensive rings. Longtae has to marry us because his dream is to be a cabinet minister to fight for the rights of people like us so I want ours to be the first wedding he officiates. And Torfun and Nam will be our best men and they will make speeches about how we fell in love. I know Rang will want to get drinks for everyone and the banquet; we'll also let him take care of the music. And I will buy a fancy suit, the kind of suit you wear when you marry a prince and I will look beautiful for you and I will make you never want to look at another boy and I will say the most beautiful vows in the world and we will dance a sweet song amid thousands of lights and the sound of the sea near the two of us. All our friends will take thousands of photos and I will kiss you without fear many times. And if all goes well, one day we can really get married before the eyes of the whole world and I'll take you to Paris and we'll have a huge family.”
"We will, Tian," says Phupha, trying with all his courage not to cry.
"And our honeymoon will be in your village in the mountains," Tian says confidently. “Phupha, if I survive all this, promise me you'll take me to Pha Pun Dao´s cliff and we'll both count a thousand stars there. Promise me that we will be there, under thousands of lights and that we will ask that nothing and no one can ever separate us. Swear to me that we can do that, Phu, promise me something like that because if not, I won't have the strength to keep fighting.”
"I promise we'll count a thousand stars, Tian," Phupha swears confidently. “I swear that you will have everything you have always dreamed of by my side.”
Tian smiles and Phupha wishes he could protect that smile forever. He knows that he may lose Tian in a month, but right now, he prays to heaven that that doesn't happen. Yes, perhaps promising such great things is an offense in the eyes of a cruel and ruthless world, but expecting good things is the only way humans have to continue fighting. And the sky keeps falling out there but Tian and Phupha don't care too much. Inside, the two continue to imagine that life that hides beyond the dense clouds that now cover their horizon.
Chapter 14: If only I. If only you. If only we.
It's hard being all day at home, but Longtae takes it upon himself to keep him up-to-date of what's going on in the cafeteria. At that very moment, Tian is looking at a picture of Phupha who waits tables and smiles at customers as if he had a natural talent for it and Tian thinks again that there is not a single thing that Phupha can do wrong.
Longtae keeps saying that since Phupha has become one of the official waiters in the cafeteria, the customers have increased exponentially and Tian has to admit that it's true much to his dismay. The boy is sure that the new clients have nothing to do with the baking talent of Rang and Longtae who are now the ones in charge of baking all the desserts, but that all those girls who crowd their former neglected cafeteria are going to see Phupha while he walks between the tables smiling as if he really wasn't tired.
Tian sighs a little despondently at the thought. It's been a week since everyone has returned to Bangkok and Phupha has been working hard in the cafeteria, as well as staying up late painting because the end of the school year in the summer is just around the corner. Phupha doesn't complain about anything, of course, but Tian has seen him fall asleep while painting or trying to make breakfast, and the boy feels guilty even though he knows Phupha will smile and tell him he worries too much.
He understands very well that Phupha is struggling to maintain an excellent academic record, that is what allows him to have a chance to continue studying and Tian wishes he could free him from all that. In fact he will be able to do it, it is what he is trying to do and when he thinks about it, as if the administrator of his assets had heard his thoughts, a call comes to his cell phone and Tian answers immediately.
"Mr. Sopasitsakun, everything is ready to be done as you have instructed me," says the man on the other end of the line.
“Did you buy the most expensive rings from Grandma's favorite jewelry?” Tian asks, and he can't suppress his excitement at the thought.
"In the size you indicated and with the design you chose," says the administrator. “As for your will...”
"Was there a problem with the change?" Tian interrupts, feeling a hint of fear.
“None, the lawyers made the change in less than an hour. You should already have an updated copy of it in your email. You should send one more copy to the person who will be your witness and everything will be in order.”
"Yes, I will, I'm actually waiting for her," Tian says, noting that he suddenly feels a little more relieved. “Listen, I appreciate you doing this so quickly. There's just one more thing I'd like to do.”
“What thing?” asks the administrator immediately and Tian is grateful to have found such an efficient professional.
"The anonymous scholarship I asked you for in the name of Phupha Viriyanon," Tian says with a mischievous smile on his lips, "Has the university already received the donation? Are you sure that no one will know that it was me and that through this scholarship Phupha will never have to worry about anything?”
“I made the donation in the name of one of the foundations to support the arts that your grandmother created, one that is not registered in her name, of course,” the man says, and Tian marvels again at his intelligence. “There is no way they can link it to you since the foundation does this type of recognition at least twenty times a year. The university is grateful and the faculty of arts will support Mr. Viriyanon career one hundred percent even when he is no longer a student.”
"Sounds so good, thank you," Tian says with a quiet sigh. “If I need anything else I will let you know or Longtae will contact you. Good afternoon.”
Tian omits to say that if Longtae communicates with him, it will be because he will already be in that place where his grandmother is surely, but he restrains himself in time. He doesn't want to put into words all the fear he feels at the thought that the surgery he will have to undergo in less than a month is terrifying. That is why he has decided to start doing things, Tian makes sure to leave everything in order, he does not want to leave the people he cares about unprotected. That is why he has named Longtae and Phupha as his sole heirs. That is why he has taken it upon himself to leave the cafeteria to Torfun. He has also made sure that Dr. Suthikul's hospital receives a large donation regardless of the outcome of the surgery, a donation that will also help Nam continue to study and his father can continue to do research on heart disease.
No, Tian is not being pessimistic, the boy tells himself that it is what every sane man would do in a situation like his, he doesn't want everything to be a disaster if everything goes wrong. He wants his friends and Phupha to be able to have a better life, a more comfortable life. Tian wants to leave them something meaningful, something that will make them always think of him with love. Because all those people are part of his life and each one of them has made his existence something warmer.
And Phupha, how can he not support Phupha? Tian doesn't want his possible death to become an obstacle; Tian doesn't want Phupha to forget about himself if something terrible happens. Tian is going to give him all the necessary tools to become an important artist not only in Thailand but in the whole world. Tian wants Phupha to make all his dreams come true even if he can't be there to see them. He loves Phupha so much, he loves him so deeply that that is why he has dared to do all those crazy things for him.
Tian knows that he is doing the right thing, he does not want Phupha to continue having to work triple for something as absurd as financial resources. Tian knows that Phupha's father does not support him as he should, so Tian will take care of protecting his future because right now Phupha is protecting for him that fragile present where only the hope and love he feels for Phupha keep him alive. Despite everything, Tian wants Phupha to find happiness beyond him because even if he's gone, he'll make sure Phupha lives a wonderful life.
A lump tightens in Tian's throat but the boy knows he shouldn't cry, there are many medical reasons not to, and besides, Torfun will be home any minute. Tian smiles instead of crying at the thought that his grandmother would be touched to see that the house she bought for himself and Longtae has now become the home of four noisy boys and a beautiful girl who take it upon themselves not to leave him alone more than half an hour every day. They all take turns preparing meals, cleaning the house, and obsessively reminding him to take his meds.
Tian knows that he is lucky to be surrounded by those friends who take care of him like a family, which in fact, make him feel more love and warmth than his real family. And in the midst of all of them, Phupha is always there, smiling at him, encouraging him to continue despite the tiredness that shows in his eyes. Phupha is there for him. Phupha always holds his hands and tells him about his day as if a death sentence isn't hanging over both of them.
Phupha doesn't treat him like a terminal patient and Tian has him to thank for that. Phupha treats him like a prince, showering him with smiles and warm, sweet kisses. Phupha loves him and isn't afraid to say it, not since Tian first said it. And Tian loves to hear him say that, Tian is so happy to know that he is loved like this. It's not that love solves everything because it doesn't, it would be beautiful if it could be like that. But that love gives him strength, that love does not let him give up. Phupha's love drives away fear. Phupha's love nourishes all the hopes of his soul.
A sigh escapes his lips, and Tian looks back at the clock on the kitchen oven. Torfun must be arriving by now and after another three hours Phupha will come home too. The boy has to take some night classes with the upperclassmen as a requirement to pass one of his courses, so Tian must be patient even though he spends the whole day looking forward to seeing him and lying next to him while Phupha tells him about his day and his achievements and Tian thinks that never in his life, if he has a long life, will he be able to love someone the way he loves Phupha. Something like that seems impossible to him because he is also sure that no one will be able to love him the way Phupha does.
At that exact moment, the door of the house opens and Torfun enters through it with his usual sweet smile adorning his lips. The girl hurriedly walks towards him and Tian greets her with a bright smile because the two of them have important things to talk about.
"Tian, have you eaten yet?" Torfun asks, leaving a pile of books on the kitchen table where Tian has been all this time.
"Yeah, Rang didn't leave here until I ate every last vegetable on my plate," Tian says dejectedly.
"I'm glad you've got your appetite back," she says as she sits down next to him and heaves a weary sigh. “You hadn't been eating well these last two days, Phupha was beginning to worry.”
"I'm sorry," Tian says feeling embarrassed but sometimes it's hard to even think about doing things as simple as eating something. “I don't do it on purpose; I don't want to worry Phu.”
"I know and I'm not saying it because of that, we all understand that some things are inevitable, I was just commenting on the facts, really Tian," she says, looking into his eyes. “He will be happy to know that you have eaten better today.”
Tian smiles weakly and takes Torfun's hand on the table, making the girl look him in the eye with a hint of surprise. It is evident that they all already know that he is not afraid of showing affection, but there is a certain desperation in his eyes that Torfun must surely notice.
"You're going to take care of him when I´m gone, right?" Tian asks and Torfun's eyes widen in utter surprise. “I wouldn't trust anyone but you to take care of Phupha if everything goes wrong, Torfun.”
Torfun's eyes fill with sadness and Tian knows that he has started to speak in the worst possible way about the subject he wanted to discuss with her.
“Tian, you're not going anywhere yet. You are going to have your surgery, everything will be fine, and we will all continue to take care of you throughout the summer.”
"But it's also possible that it's not and I have to face it, I have to leave everything ready in case that happens," Tian says, trying to sound firm and calm. “Listen Torfun: it's not that I'm hopeless or pessimistic but I can't ignore the fact that Dr. Suthikul's surgery has a very low success rate. It is possible that I die, Torfun, I am risking my whole life in this surgery. That's why I don't want to leave without being sure that you will take care of Phupha. Torfun, do you still have feelings for him?”
The girl freezes, she doesn't know what to answer but the blush on her cheeks is all the answer Tian needs and although it makes him a bit jealous, he knows that Torfun's feelings are the way to make sure that she will take care of Phupha forever.
“Tian, I love Phupha but not the way you do,” she says softly. “When I met him, I fell in love with him like you can only fall in love for the first time. Phupha has a bad habit of provoking love when you look at him. But with the passage of time my feelings have changed and that crazy and youthful love that I came to feel for him has changed for something else, it is a deeper love, a love that no longer hurts me. Phupha is my best friend, he is like an older brother to me. He is also my only family because we are both alone in the world, I think that's what brought us together. So of course I will take care of him if something bad happens but listen to me, Tian: you are irreplaceable in his heart, no one can ever take your place because I know that Phu is like that and that he was born with the vocation for one love and you know very good that you are that love for him. So don't ask me to take a place that doesn't belong to me. I promise I will take care of Phupha but I will do it like a sister who cares about her older brother, can you believe me?”
Tian remains silent and nods at Torfun's words, who has managed to make him feel calm after hearing her say that speech full of sincerity. It is more than obvious that Torfun will keep his promise and that is all he wants: for no one to leave Phupha alone, for everyone to be there to comfort the terrible wound that his death could cause him.
"Thanks for not telling anyone about my secret," Tian says trying to speak through the lump in his throat.
"That secret wasn't mine, I had no right to tell it," she says, smiling more calmly.
“And thank you for promising me that you will take care of Phu, in fact, I have put everything in order so that none of you have to worry about anything. There´s another favor I need to ask you, Torfun. I need you to be my witness and help me with the signing of a document. From the moment you sign, everything will be legal and I can be calmer.”
Torfun looks back at him first in surprise and then, as Tian tells her about his will and the "scholarship" that his grandmother's foundation has awarded Phupha, the girl smiles at him with admiration and a hint of sadness that sharpens the features of his everyday cute and soft face. At that moment, Tian can clearly see the face of the intelligent and beautiful woman Torfun will become. Tian knows that she will be an excellent teacher because she will listen and support her students in the same way that she does with him right now. Torfun also deserves the best this world can give her and when she hears that she has bequeathed Tian´s cafeteria a couple of tears come out of the girl's eyes.
“Tian, I understand why you do this but I don't want to think about it. I don't want to think that you're going to leave us. I've only known you for a short time but you're important to me and you shouldn't worry about anything. I swear that I will keep my promises and I can sign any document that is necessary but please do not leave anything for me, it is not necessary.”
"I want you to have a happy life, I want you to have something for yourself," Tian says calmly. “You are no longer alone in the world, Torfun and I am also part of your family now.”
Torfun walks over to hug him gently and Tian lets her do it. The girl's arms are warm too and it's a relief to know that those same arms will hold Phupha after the possible tragedy.
It is at this precise moment that the door to the room opens again and Phupha enters through it holding a stack of new canvases in his arms and also a gift package that makes Tian smile excitedly. Torfun takes advantage of this moment to surreptitiously wipe her tears and it seems that Phupha is too happy about many things because he doesn't notice the emotional tension in the room. The boy leaves his canvases on one of the armchairs in the room and approaches the two to put his lips on Tian's and then ruffle Torfun's hair in greeting.
"Why did you bring a gift?" Tian asks, thinking that in reality the best gift he can have is seeing Phupha by his side sooner than expected.
“The afternoon class was canceled and the director of my faculty just gave me some happy news so I thought I would celebrate it by buying you a present,” says Phupha with a huge smile that makes Tian think that it is possible to fall in love with him a little more at least ten times a day.
"What was the good news?" Tian asks innocently.
"I got another award for winning the national drawing contest," Phupha says, his eyes so excited that Tian knows he's done the right thing. “According to what the director told me, a foundation dedicated to the development of art in university students gave me enormous support. I won't have to worry about my scholarship anymore, in fact I think the support is so great that they are even going to build a new auditorium and name it after me.”
"It's what the best artist in this school deserves," Tian says confidently and Torfun nods with a huge smile on her lips.
"Congratulations, Phu," she says, getting up from her chair. “And now if you'll excuse me, I'm starving. I will prepare something quickly; do you want to accompany me?”
"I don't want to bother you but I'm also starving so I'd really appreciate it if you'd prepare something for me," Phupha says. “I promise that I will prepare breakfast.”
Torfun nods and tells them it's no trouble at all. The girl walks to the kitchen without looking back knowing that her two friends need to be alone as much as possible. Phupha sits next to Tian and puts the gift bag in the hands of the young man who, like every time Phupha is around, feels like the luckiest man in the universe.
"What is this?" Tian asks. “It is you who should receive a gift, not me.”
"You can kiss me again if you want to give me a present," Phupha says coquettishly and Tian thinks it's beautiful to see him like this, so full of light and happiness. “Go ahead, open it, you'll like it.”
Tian smiles helplessly and opens the package that Phupha has carefully brought. The boy smiles when he discovers in it a plush doll in the shape of a white kitten. Tian bursts out laughing and gently kisses Phupha's lips.
"Since it's not safe to adopt a kitten yet, I thought we could at least have one this way," Phupha says as he caresses Tian´s cheeks. "Do you like it? It's a temporary gift, of course. When you're better, we'll have a real one, Tian.”
Tian nods at Phupha's words because he doesn't trust his voice, he knows it will break if he tries to say anything. So he just hugs Phupha tightly again and then he knows, he knows that he will do everything possible to survive the surgery because he doesn't want to miss out on a long life by Phupha's side who always makes his most beautiful dreams come true one way or another. Imagining that future that hides beyond the difficulties is what keeps him going. Tian wants to have that future more than anything in the universe, he wants to live and walk hand in hand with Phupha for many, many years.
If only I could survive. If only you could love me this way forever, Phu, with the same certainty and warmth with which sunsets love this land, Tian thinks and prays to any force in the universe that wants to listen to him. I wish I could be strong enough to live a forever that lasts longer than this breath of life that threatens to vanish at any moment. If only we could overcome all this darkness that tries to separate us. If only we could be together for a long time. My love, if only...
Chapter 15: Nothing´s going to harm you, not while I´m around.
The boy carefully closes the door, not wanting to make too much noise. At that time of night all of his classmates must be studying for their final exams and besides Tian is asleep, he really doesn't want to disturb anyone. Before someone knocked on the door to deliver a package, he had been taking a shower to feel a little clearer since he still has at least three projects to finish but sometimes, the tiredness is just too much.
No, he doesn't want to tell anyone about it, he doesn't want anyone to notice that sometimes his eyes just close in spite of himself or that just that morning, for that matter, his morning class teacher let him sleep in peace for at least an hour. Phupha was obviously embarrassed but the teacher had simply smiled at him saying that this time of year was too difficult for everyone. And yes, Phupha is tired, exhausted like never before in his life.
Sometimes he'd like to just sleep two days in a row but he knows he can't. Even though he doesn't have to worry about his academic scholarship anymore, he doesn't want to stop being the best student of his class, he doesn't want to stop helping Longtae with the cafeteria, and most of all, he doesn't want to stop doing things for Tian. Sometimes, when he feels like it's hard to get up to live another day the boy just has to look at Tian's sleeping face next to him to remember what the reason for all the effort is. And he is not going to give up of course he can fight a little more. With only two weeks to go until the end of the school year, he just has to be a little braver.
Phupha sighs as he feels the weight of the package he just received. It is very strange that there is a delivery service at that hour, but above all, that the courier who carried the package was such an elegant man that simply asked to deliver that package to Mr. Seetian without asking for any identification or corroboration that Tian is there. Phupha doesn't know what's in the package but he won't wake up Tian to find out. It's important for Tian to rest from everything for a few hours. It's important for Tian to continue to stay strong because his surgery date is fast approaching.
The boy then goes to the room that the two have shared since he moved into Tian's house, he continues to walk carefully but before entering the room once more, his phone vibrates in his pocket and when he sees the name that is drawn on the screen Phupha feels scared but answers immediately.
"Doctor Suthikul, good evening," Phupha greets in a voice that tries to sound firm and not scared to death.
"Listen, Phu, I don't have much time and you must understand very well what I have to tell you," says the doctor and Phupha begins to feel a terrible cold running down his spine. “Your father called me in the morning. Apparently it was an innocent call but I know that General Teerayut is behind all this. Your father will try to contact you and you have to be very careful with what you tell him about Tian, do you understand?”
"I don't understand doctor," Phupha says and has to lean his back against the wall because he suddenly feels dizzy.
“Tian's father bought the portrait you made of him, the portrait with which you won the national drawing contest and I suppose he must think you are a friend of his son,” says the doctor and Phupha feels that the whole world falls on him. “You know that General Teerayut has been your father's commander for many years, there is no order from that man that your father is not willing to carry out. I know that the general will seek to approach you to find out about Tian, I know that he is doing it right now because suddenly your father is too interested in knowing everything about the place where you are studying. He wants that information so he can sell it to his boss, of course, and that's why you have to be very careful. Listen, Phupha, that man is dangerous. If he comes to you, you must lie. Tell him yes, that you painted Tian's portrait but you don't know who he is, tell him that you and Tian aren't close. Phupha, it's important that Tian's father doesn't know about the surgery, it's important that you help me protect him.”
“Tian´s father is capable of anything, isn't he?” Phupha asks, the initial fear fading to give way to a steely determination. “If I don't protect him, he will try to take Tian away from me and not only that, he will try to stop him from having the surgery.”
"I'm afraid so, General Teerayut is too used to his will being done, he believes that his son is his property like everything else and I have no doubt that he will insist on buying a new heart for him. Before breaking with them, Tian had already spoken to him to look for other options but the man does not admit any of that, he believes with closed eyes that the transplant is the only option. Phupha, I know that Tian is not just a friend to you, I know that you two...”
"Do I disgust you too, doctor?" Phupha asks defensively but he is not willing to let someone ridicule what he feels, he does not want to hear an adult telling him that what he is doing is not right.
Phupha's tone is cold and hard, he knows the doctor will think he is being disrespectful but he won't let someone try to tell him one more time that loving a boy is wrong because it isn't. Loving Tian is so good and so bright that he will not admit that anyone tells him that he makes a mistake; he will not let anyone question the most beautiful thing he has felt in his entire life. Tian's love surrounds him, makes him stronger. Tian's love is something he will defend with his own life.
"I am not like your father, Phu, I would never dare to say something like that about you, you are a wonderful boy, you are a man who has found love," says the doctor, and Phupha immediately feels embarrassed. “In fact, I'm glad you met Tian, I'm glad you and him love each other. Finding a love and taking care of it, Phupha, is the most noble and worthy act that any man can do. If I dared to mention your feelings for Tian it is because I want you to lean on them to help me protect this boy. Phupha, his grandmother asked me to help you and that's what I'm trying to do.”
"Of course I'm going to protect him, I'll fight whoever it takes, I don't care about my father's plans or Tian´s father´s," Phupha says with total conviction. “And excuse me, I didn't mean to be rude.”
"I understand very well where that reaction comes from, Phu, you shouldn't worry," says the older man. “Now I have to leave you but don't ignore my warning, okay? We are doing what is best for Tian, of that you must have no doubt. And please rest Phu, you should rest too, Nam says you're not sleeping well again.”
Phupha mutters that he'll try to sleep better and the doctor laughs because he knows Phupha won't. The two end the call amicably, and although Phupha feels a bit nervous because he now has one more reason to worry, he knows that he must protect Tian so that he has peace of mind until the day of the surgery. And Phupha will face anyone to get it. It doesn't matter if he must fight his father's commander, no matter if he has to fight even the might of the seas: Tian is all that matters to him. Tian will be fine and he will continue to fight by his side.
"Phu? Phu, where are you?” calls Tian's sleepy voice from the room and the boy knows that he must shake off the shock of Nam's father's warning because Tian is calling him, Tian needs him to stay strong for him.
So he puts on his lips the best of his smiles, the one that is actually not that difficult to use when his eyes are fixed on the messy hair and soft cheeks of Tian who is now greeting him from their common bed. His boyfriend is adorable as ever and Phupha walks over to him just to sit next to him and then scoop him up in his arms simply because he can and because no one has taken Tian from him yet. Phupha would like to merge with him. Phupha would like to take his own heart out of his chest and give it to Tian to make him heal once and for all.
"Phu, what's wrong?" Tian asks because although he loves Phupha's hugs, the boy can feel the desperation that emanates from his boyfriend's body.
"Nothing, I just hate making you feel lonely," Phupha says softly and Tian puts his arms around him as well.
“No, I don't feel that way, I was just surprised not to see you here, it's already late,” Tian says and Phupha separates from him simply so that Tian can take his hand. “Do you have a lot of homework to do?”
"I'm a little behind on the final portfolio for one of my classes," Phupha says feeling calm now that his fingers are intertwined with Tian's.
"But you're exhausted, look at your eyes," Tian says, his fingers caressing Phupha's face now. “You have to get some sleep, just a couple of hours, it's not right that you haven't slept in days.”
"I'm fine, really," Phupha says taking Tian's hand over his face. “It is you who should not worry and should rest, why did you wake up?”
"I heard you talking to someone in the hall, who was it?" Tian asks with sincere curiosity.
"Nam's father called to give me a message from my father," Phupha says trying to be as honest as he can, after all Tian doesn't need to know the whole story.
"Is everything okay with him? Did he say horrible things to you again?” asks Tian and his sweet eyes are now filled with a quiet rage that does not bode well.
"No, but Dr. Suthikul thinks I should remember the kind of man he is, please don't worry, okay?" Phupha asks and kisses Tian's cheeks, making the boy laugh and forget a bit of that unease he feels when thinking of Phupha's father. “By the way, someone brought this.”
Phupha puts the small, heavy package in Tian's hands and the boy's eyes light up completely letting Phupha know that whatever it contains must be something beautiful if Tian is smiling the way he is at that moment.
"They finally arrived," Tian says, still smiling, and Phupha feels so good to see him so happy and full of energy now.
There are days when Tian looks pale and tired. There are days when the boy barely has enough energy to hug him gently before falling asleep in his arms. But the Tian looking at him now seems almost normal. The Tian looking at him now seems not to be hiding a ticking time bomb in his chest.
"Are you going to tell me what it is about?" Phupha asks, full of curiosity.
"Yes, but not here," Tian says mysteriously. “Phu, I feel much better now and I think we should do something crazy over the weekend. I know you're really busy, but do you think we could go on a real date?”
"Do you want to have a date?" Phupha asks with a hint of concern.
“Yes! Nam promised me to get a wheelchair, I won't have to walk. I just want you to take me to a beautiful place, I want to spend the whole day with you and I don't know, forget that I'm sick for a while. We'll both be careful, Phu, I don't want to put myself at risk either, but I'd like to get out of the house for a few hours. I asked the doctor and he told me that it's fine as long as I don't have to try too hard but that's already solved. Rang told me that he and Torfun can come with us so you don't have to carry me alone and... please, Phu, please.”
There is so much illusion in Tian's eyes that Phupha feels unable to refuse, he couldn't. In the midst of all his worries, Phupha has forgotten to consider how difficult it must be for Tian to be at home all day. And if the doctor says it's okay, there's really no reason to say no. In fact, Phupha thinks it will do everyone good to have a day off after living under so much stress the last few days.
"Okay, we'll have a date, in fact there is a beautiful place I want to take you to," says Phupha and Tian opens his arms wide to receive Phupha in them once more.
And the two remain embraced for a long time, simply enjoying each other's company and that closeness that neither of them feels satisfied with. In fact, all the weariness of the day evaporates for Phupha when Tian holds him in his arms like that. Being close to Tian is like being able to recharge his energy to be able to face all the battles he has yet to fight.
“I love you, Tian, I love you so much,” Phupha says softly and his heart flutters with joy at being able to say those words out loud.
“I love you so much more,” Tian says and Phupha knows that Tian also protects his heart through those words. “And in the name of that love, please try to get a couple of hours of sleep, okay?”
"Tian, I can't, I have to take care of you."
"Yes you can and right now it's you who needs to be taken care of. Get some sleep, I'll wake you up in two hours, I swear,” Tian says with conviction. “I've slept too much, so while you rest I'll start practicing what you've taught me in my sketchbook, okay? I'm seriously thinking about transferring to the art school next year; do you think they'll accept me?”
“Phu, I'm serious: please, sleep for two hours, okay? Do it for me, come on, you always say there's nothing you wouldn't do for me, okay? If my proposal still does not seem attractive enough to you, I can also give you many kisses before sleeping.”
Phupha bursts out laughing because he knows that Tian has found his weak point: there really is nothing in this universe that he can deny him, so against everything, the two lie on the bed and Tian's arms cover him. And the boy wasn't lying when he said that he would kiss him thousands of times before going to sleep and Phupha is so happy, so completely blissful that little by little, each of his worries recedes and all that remains is Tian's lips on his. And the tiredness, all the tiredness he feels finally overcomes him, he knows that he couldn't have resisted for too long. But he knows that Tian is going to wake him up and if not, he will wake himself up when he feels he has overslept. After all, maybe he does need those hours of sleep but not for him: he wants to regain his strength to make sure that as long as he is around him, nothing and no one will hurt Tian.
Chapter 16: There goes my heart beating ‘cause you are the reason.
It's a beautiful day the kind of day that makes you think maybe coming into this world wasn't a mistake. Tian's eyes fixate on the flowers and trees swaying in the warm breeze. Sunlight feels good on his skin after days and days of being cooped up at home. It's so good to be alive, the boy thinks, it feels good to be alive and have a sun that can caress your skin.
The smile on his lips widens a little more as he hears Phupha's laugh behind him. His boyfriend calmly steers the wheelchair that Nam borrowed at the university hospital where he volunteers. Rang is telling them how he and Longtae were kicked out of the theater because neither of them were exactly watching the movie. Rang narrates everything in his trademark joking tone as Torfun looks at him in utter disbelief and Phupha laughs as he says he can't imagine Longtae in a situation like that.
The truth is that Tian can't imagine his friend doing such daring things either, but he supposes that all that irrepressible passion that Rang talks about must come from the certainty that the end of the school year is approaching and that Rang has to go home with his family so he and Longtae won't be able to see each other for at least two months.
"You did well, you and Longtae should take advantage of all the time you have together," Tian says suddenly and Rang looks at him with such adoration that Tian feels himself blush.
"You do understand me, Tian" Rang says, and Phupha looks at him suspiciously. “That's what I'm trying to explain, I just got carried away because I suddenly remembered that we won't be together until the fall. I got carried away by anticipated nostalgia. Also, I don't know what's wrong with Longtae; he's getting more handsome every day, I swear, it's hard to keep my hands off him.”
"Okay, too much information," Torfun says a little heatedly and Phupha laughs again and Tian would like Rang to continue telling thousands of nonsense because he loves seeing that Phupha is relaxed and calm, he loves hearing his laugh close to him.
And it is that although Phupha is always strong and cheerful by his side, Tian has noticed that nightmares do not leave him alone. The two agreed that Phupha would sleep at least two hours each night but sometimes it is impossible because bad dreams come to him one way or another. And Tian knows it's because Phupha has at least a thousand different concerns and at least nine hundred of them have to do with him.
But at least for this day, this beautiful day in early summer, everyone can pretend they are just a group of friends who, like everyone else at the university, are trying to forget about their student obligations and seek a little rest in activities in the outside. That day he can forget everything because he and Phupha will finally have a date, their first as an official couple and Tian is totally excited. Ever since Phupha told him that he would make that dream possible for him, Tian hasn't stopped thinking about the pair of rings that rests in a small bag waiting for him to take them out in one of the pockets of the huge sweatshirt that he is wearing. Phupha has helped him get dressed in such style because even though it's hot outside, Tian can't help but feel cold. But he doesn't want to think about it, he won't. He also doesn't want to think that Dr. Suthikul has just sent him an email confirming the exact date and time of his surgery, something he hasn't told anyone.
But the mail got to him just before he left. He knew that if he told them, all his friends and Phupha would make the same shocked face and forget to enjoy their day off. Nam and Longtae have stayed home making snacks because they want to have a picnic at one of the nearby parks. Phupha has told Tian that the two of them are going somewhere else but will rejoin the group afterwards and Tian loves the idea of being able to just be with Phupha for a few hours. It's not that he doesn't like the idea of laughing and being with everyone else, but what he told Rang is true: he must make the most of the time he has left. Tian doesn't know if this day is one of the last days of sunshine left for him. Tian doesn't know if this date with Phupha will really be the only date he can take to the other world if there is another world waiting for him.
The boy shakes his head once more. He does not want to give free rein to sad thoughts because he has discovered that after the first one, more come and it is not possible to stop them.
"This is where we should leave you, right?" Torfun asks and Tian is a little surprised to be in front of the university's art gallery.
"Yes, Tian and I will be here for a while," Phupha says with a beautiful smile. “I want to show him something special and then we'll be walking around the inner gardens for a bit.”
"Have fun then, call us if you need anything," says Torfun, giving them a warm smile.
"And please don´t do naughty things in the gardens or wherever, it's actually kind of embarrassing to be caught, you know, literally red-handed," Rang says without a trace of embarrassment.
Torfun rolls her eyes and grabs Rang´s arm before he can say something sillier as Tian and Phupha laugh again. Tian thinks it's nice that Rang thinks he and Phupha can be a normal couple who can do crazy things like that. But neither is he going to complain about what he has because it is precious. Being by Phupha's side, even if they are not able to do the same things as others, is the most valuable thing for him.
After waving their friends goodbye, the two of them walk into the spacious and well-lit university art gallery. Tian isn't sure where Phupha wants to take him, but it's nice to walk in silence through the lonely corridors of that place. Tall stained-glass windows light up the floor and Tian lifts his face to Phupha's and there's something magical happening in it: because Phupha smiles like he's in one of his favorite places in the universe and Tian thinks such a place must feel like a home for an artist. And Tian wishes he could give him such a place, a gallery where people could watch Phupha's talent forever, but the boy knows he doesn't have to. If there's one thing he's sure of, it's that Phupha will make it to every art gallery in the world by himself, and Tian wants more than anything in the universe to be there to see it. Tian wishes he could witness each and every one of Phupha's triumphs for years and years. At times like that, the desire to live burns like fire in his blood. He has to live; he has to be strong even if it seems that the whole universe is against him.
The desperation of his desire is a bit overwhelming, but Tian doesn't let that wipe the smile off his face as Phupha stops as they reach the brightest room in the gallery, the one dedicated to the university's most outstanding talent in the faculty of fine arts. The sun's rays filter through the high dome that protrudes from the ceiling of that room and the sun spills over at least thirty portraits of him, the ones that Phupha drew before even beginning to live a love story with him. Phupha had promised to take him there before anyone else, something that had not happened due to his health emergency but now they are finally there.
Tian's eyes threaten to fill with tears but no, no, on that day there can be no room for tears even though he feels moved and so full of love that he feels that his small body that is now thinner than usual can't contain it. Tian can see in that collection of portraits a detailed summary of the history he and Phupha lived through before they even spoke for the first time. Tian notes that these drawings are like a testimony that neither of them has been imagining the history of the two. Phupha has created irrefutable proof that the two have met in the world. Phupha has created an immortal vestige that in this world, destiny brought two boys together so that they could discover love in the middle of a small cafeteria where there seemed to be no place for an immortal love story like the one the two share now.
“I think I fell in love with you at first sight, only that can explain why these portraits are so good,” says Phupha suddenly and Tian smiles making Phupha think that the sun in the room comes from Tian's smile and not from the sun that streams into the room.
"I suspected it too, the source of so much inspiration for you can only come from the fact that I'm charming," Tian says, making him laugh. “I always knew that you went to the cafeteria to see me, not to try my desserts.”
"Did you really know? Well, I shouldn't be surprised. Nam always told me that I was being more than obvious about it,” Phupha asks with an amused air.
"Of course I didn't know, but I wanted it to be that way, you know? Ever since I saw you walking through the university I've been fantasizing about how beautiful it would be if a boy like you could fall in love with me.”
"Well, you don't have to fantasize anymore," Phupha says and walks over to kiss his cheek. “I swear that boy is completely in love with you, what's more, he loves you with all his heart.”
Tian takes Phupha's hand in his, and the two of them stand still in silence for a while longer, looking at the portraits. Tian doesn't know what kind of story others will see when they admire Phupha's work, but he seems to be rereading one of the happiest and sweetest chapters of his life story through Phupha's eyes. Each of those portraits is the story of one of their encounters in the cafeteria. Each one of those drawings is like reliving each one of the days that brought him close to Phupha in those days where Tian really came to think that nothing could go wrong.
"There's a piece I haven't shown you yet," Phupha says a bit shyly, and Tian looks him in the eye, waiting for his boyfriend to tell him more about that surprise piece of art. “I painted it for you especially; I actually wanted to give it to you so you could hang it in your house but, well, as I was painting it in one of the workshops at school, the director saw it and said that we definitely had to include it in the exhibition.”
"What did you paint?" Tian asks feeling full of emotion.
“Well, I made a promise to you recently and somehow I wanted to make it real for you now. Don't think that I did it because I don't think things will work out, but you know? We could use the help of a thousand stars" he says and Tian smiles as Phupha moves the wheelchair back to one of the farthest walls of the room where there is only one painting adorning the white wall.
Arriving in front of it, Tian's eyes widen because in the painting there are two boys holding hands smiling at the starry sky while pointing towards the immensity that extends above hundreds of mountains that seem to try with all their might to reach the stars of Pha Pun Dao. And even though he promised himself he wouldn't cry, Tian can't help but be drowned by an infinite torrent of emotions and tears begin to come out of his eyes when the boy realizes that yes, Phupha has made another of his promises come true by painting that scene that it is as beautiful as anything that Phupha's artist hands are able to create.
“It's the two of us: Phupha and Tian counting a thousand stars on the cliff of Pha Pun Dao,” says Phupha and Tian nods smiling through his tears.
"It's beautiful," the boy whispers. “I've never been there but looking at this painting it's as if I could count stars from here.”
"I really drew a thousand of them," Phupha says as he kneels in front of him to wipe away his tears. “You can make a wish from here. I grew up looking at this sky so if you count the stars I saw, I know that the gods will want to fulfill any wish you ask of them. Count them, go on, let's ask for any wish that your heart has, I know it will come true.”
Tian smiles and nods as his eyes settle on the dots of white paint that stand out from the velvet blackness of the sky that Phupha painted. Tian is determined to count them all; he too suspects that the gods will take his count seriously even if it looks like he's cheating. So he concentrates on his task and Phupha doesn't let go of his hand. And for a moment, it is as if his body had moved towards the cliff where his own grandmother also wished for love from the stars when she was young. Now Tian remembers that his grandmother also knew true love when she was young. And while her wish didn't come true, Tian is confident that his will, it has to come true because right now he can feel the icy wind off the mountains on his skin and it seems as if that starry sky is waiting for him because his wishes will be heard.
One hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred, five hundred stars and Tian repeats a single wish: I want to live, I want to see this cliff myself. I want to continue to be an inspiration in Phupha's life. Six hundred, seven hundred, I wish to live and be joy in the eyes of this man who makes any of my heart's dreams come true. Eight hundred, nine hundred, one thousand, let me live. Please, please, let me live. May everything go well in surgery, may my heart continue to fight. May this be an immortal love for Phupha instead of a wound in his life. I want to live, I want to love him for the rest of my life. I want to have a life for that. Please, please, let me live. Let me make him happy. Let me fulfill all the desires of his heart with my life.
"Have you already made your wish?" Phupha whispers after a while and Tian opens his eyes with some surprise because he doesn't remember closing them.
"Yes, I have made the most beautiful wish that came to my heart," says Tian with total confidence and Phupha kisses his lips as if he wanted to seal that pact with destiny in another way.
"Me too," says Phupha, smiling lovingly at him. “But Tian, even if you have counted a thousand stars already, my promise still stands: when you are better I will take you to this place and you can see this sky for yourself. I know you can make more wishes there, mom used to tell me that there are no limits to the wishes of a heart when it feels love. And we both feel love and although that is not enough sometimes, I want you to know that I am sure that we will still have many adventures to live.”
"I know, we still have a thousand adventures to live, Phu," says Tian and tells himself that at least for today he will forget to be realistic. “You and I still have a thousand places to see. This date feels perfect but I will not leave this world without taking you to see Paris.”
"I know. I'll go with you anywhere you want to take me."
“I´ll show you the whole world, Phu. I know that I will travel the whole world by your hand. And well, by the way, I was planning to show you the contents of the package that was brought home a week ago right now, but do you think you can wait a little longer? I want to do things right, I want us to have an unforgettable event so you can see them,” says Tian with total conviction.
"What kind of event?" Phupha asks with a hint of confusion.
"The kind of event where everyone will know how much I love you. The kind of event that people organize to declare promises of love and let the world see how lucky we are to love each other. I won't tell you more details about it because I know you know what I'm talking about, so Phu: please, let me plan one more crazy thing. Let me go to my surgery with the certainty that when I wake up you'll be waiting for me because I swore to you that everything was going to be fine in front of all the people I love or that if I don't wake up, I can take you forever with me as something more than my boyfriend.”
Phupha smiles and simply nods at his request. Tian gently kisses his lips again and although the gallery gardens are famous for the beauty and splendor of the flowers that are grown there all year round, the two decide that they will stay under the protection of their story and its promises for at least one more hour before their friends start calling them because they're taking too long. That place is a small shelter for the two, in that place Tian's heart continues to beat normally. And if that heart is still beating, it's because Phupha is still there, next to him, singing that love song that only the two of them are capable of hearing.
Chapter 17: Like a bright star in the sky, I will shine only for you.
The music of the sea that spreads blue and bright beyond where his eyes can see it makes him feel calm. Phupha is asleep on the ground, his head resting on his lap, and the rhythmic sound of his breathing joins the music of the sea. If he weren't sick, Tian thinks he could declare himself without a doubt the happiest man in the universe because at that moment he feels like one.
Phupha sleeps soundly and for the first time in days there are no nightmares to interrupt his rest. Tian knows it must be this way because the school year is finally over and those three days they have spent by the seaside have felt like a complete blessing for him and Phupha.
At that time only Longtae and Nam are accompanying them on the trip. Torfun and Rang have been back with their families for a few days but have promised to return in another week, just before the day Tian's surgery is scheduled. Tian is still preparing something special for that day and everyone was willing to help him. Everyone is excited, of course, even Nam's father agreed that he would commit that madness with the only condition that after what he planned to do, Phupha would take him to the hospital without further delay. His surgery will be at noon, he will have to spend at least six hours in the operating room and if everything goes well, he will have to spend at least a month and a half in recovery.
Tian is obviously nervous, but his thoughts are more hopeful because he only thinks about the event he is preparing. It's silly, of course it is, but he's so excited to put a ring on Phupha's finger that all his fear seems to melt away at the thought. Of course he knows it's not a real wedding, not a wedding like the ones the sons and daughters of his father's friends used to have. He knows that he and Phupha could never have that, even if he was healthy, but he wants to make that dream come true anyway. After all, time marches on and he may be living his last week in this world right now.
A sorrowful sigh escapes his lips but he doesn't give himself permission to make any more noise, he doesn't want to wake Phupha. He has to rest and Tian wants to take care of him, at least during those days, he wants to make Phupha feel like the most loved man in the universe because if he is honest, it is the only thing he can do for him. A lump tightens in his throat but Tian shakes his head and concentrates on continuing to stroke Phupha's black hair that is so soft to the touch. That man's sleeping face could be a work of art itself and Tian wishes he could draw it though his skills as an artist leave a lot to be desired despite Phupha's tireless attempts to teach him something.
But seeing him like this, so calm and safe in his arms, Tian knows that there would be no artist in the world capable of capturing that beauty, the beauty of having such a love for him, that kind of love that makes you trust the other person to the point of falling asleep with abandon by his side because you know that nothing bad will happen to you while his eyes are looking at you. Phupha loves him like this, confidently. Phupha is for him like a sky that covers him with his arms and lets him shine, lets him illuminate everything around him.
That is what Phupha told him days before, during the last day of school. The two of them were waiting for Torfun at the kindergarten where she had been doing her internship that semester. Tian was not surprised when everyone greeted Phupha as he passed. He had already told him that in first year, he had been helping out with the kids' art class when one of the teachers had gotten sick. Also, he used to pick up Torfun so he could go with her to the university's Moon and Star contest rehearsals so the staff was too familiar with him.
For that reason, no one said anything when Torfun had asked them to keep an eye on the last children in the group while she finished doing the urgent paperwork for the closing of the cycle. In the group there were only five children who curiously approached the two when they saw that Tian was using the wheelchair that Nam would return that afternoon to the university hospital.
The children looked at them curiously, a little shyly, but then they began to ask many questions, which Tian answered enthusiastically. He was used to that because his nephews, his older sister's children, were the same age as those children before he left home. Perhaps that was why it had been so easy for him to answer their questions and make them laugh. They all listened to his explanation about why he was using a wheelchair carefully and were not afraid to ask him to carry them so that Phupha could walk them around the garden.
Phupha had accepted without thinking and suddenly, the garden where they were had been filled with children's laughter and the laughter of Tian who had not had such a fun day in a long, long time. Several of the teachers had come out to see where the ruckus was coming from and Tian was sure they were all looking at Phupha because it was beautiful to see him running around, wearing his university uniform while smiling as if in the world death did not exist. Phupha was having fun too. In fact, at that moment, as he watched him laugh with the children and take them in his arms to lift them onto Tian's lap, the boy thought that without a doubt, Phupha would be a good father and that, if there was a future for both of them, actually they could have a huge family.
Tian's eyes had filled with hope at the thought of it. His heart had melted with tenderness seeing Phupha being patient and sweet with those little ones who called him Teacher Phupha and asked him to be the next ones to take a ride in Teacher Tian's chair.
"Okay little ones, that's enough," Torfun had interrupted after a while and the children gave her a look full of disappointment. “We must prepare our things to go home.”
"Another lap, Teacher Torfun!" one of them had said. "Just one more!"
"It's not possible, we have to go," she had said in a sweet but still firm voice.
"Will you bring your boyfriend back, teacher? Will Teacher Phupha come again?” one of the children asked making Torfun laugh.
"He's not my boyfriend," she replied, giving Tian an apologetic look. “You should ask someone else about that.”
"Is he your boyfriend, Teacher Tian?" One of the girls had asked, approaching him.
“Yes, he is,” Tian replied, noticing that in the little girl's smile there was no surprise when hearing that, it was true that little children did not understand anything about prejudice but they could understand love.
"Are you going to come back, Teacher Tian? Are you and teacher Phupha coming back when we get back from vacation?” the little girl asked enthusiastically.
"Of course, we are going to come back," Tian promised causing a ruckus around him. “We will continue with the rides after vacation.”
The commotion that followed pierced everyone's ears but the children followed Torfun without asking any more questions, trusting in Tian's promise who felt a little guilty because after all, nothing was certain for him.
"Teacher Tian, I like the sound of that," Phupha said, making his worries melt away completely.
"Now I don't know if I want to continue studying veterinary medicine or I should seriously think about transferring to the faculty of education," he said with an amused laugh. “I think I'm in the middle of a professional crisis because, you know? I am also good at art and it would be so nice to study in the same place as you.”
"You'll decide what to do in the fall," Phupha said confidently. “Wherever you decide to be, you will always shine, you are a star, Tian.”
“Really? And will you shine next to me?”
"Of course," Phupha said, kissing his forehead. “Before, I used to think that I was like the mountains of Pha Pun Dao: no matter how high they were, they could never reach the sky full of stars, but you know? Sometimes the stars from the sky come down for you, it's like our story.”
“You are my star too, you illuminate everything inside me,” Tian had said with certainty. “Don't forget that, Phupha, never forget that.”
Phupha had nodded and then kissed his lips in the bright afternoon sun that had filled both their hearts with strength because after all, even if it had only been for an hour, Tian had gotten to know how it would feel to take care of someone else next to Phupha.
The boy abruptly snaps back to the present because Phupha's cell phone is vibrating on the ground next to him. Tian takes it in his hands because he doesn't want his boyfriend to wake up; Phupha has been too tired and needs to sleep before the hectic days start again. But when Tian looks at the name on the screen, he thinks that maybe he should answer so he does, he'll think about the consequences of his actions later.
“Hello,” Tian says directly and the silence on the other end of the line can only mean that the caller must be surprised.
"You're not Phupha, where is my son?" asks a voice that sounds harsh and used to giving orders.
"He's resting, please call later unless it's an emergency, and if so, you can talk to me," Tian replies calmly.
"Phupha didn't come home this summer," the man says. “He must be with you. You are Tian Sopasitsakun, aren't you?”
"Yes, it's me," Tian replies calmly. “Phupha is fine and anyway I don't think you really miss him so I'm sorry but we won't be able to visit you this summer.”
"You can't know anything about my son and me, spoiled child. Where are you? Your father would love to know where you're hiding with my son. Phupha is stupid; your father promised him so many things in exchange for him telling him where you are.”
"What the hell are you saying?" Tian asks feeling annoyed and yes, also a little scared.
"Phupha didn't tell you? Your father has been offering wealth and thousands of things to my son for weeks but Phupha has always been sentimental. He refuses to say anything and I want to convince him that people like you are not worth it. You are going to die soon, aren't you? It's what your father says and if you die, what will happen to Phupha? Have you thought about that? Have you thought about how you are going to destroy him? That boy has never been a man; I know his pathetic heart will die with you because you can't fool me. You and he are the same, right? You two are doing gross things together. But that doesn't matter to me, my son is abnormal and I must live with the guilt that this generates in me because I was responsible for all that. I should have been harder with him instead of letting him hide in his mother's arms but… Why the hell am I telling you all this? Listen boy, if you love him or whatever, don't you think you should convince him to take what your father wants to pay him? Think about his future, think about the fact that he won't have anything from me.”
"I've known that forever, Mr. Viriyanon," Tian says bluntly, not letting himself be enveloped for a single second by the poison of that man's words. “You don't know anything about me either, much less about Phupha, who thank heaven isn´t a bit like the stupid and terrible man that you are. Mr. Viriyanon, you do not deserve the son you have and yes, he loves me and I love him. He has me. He is not alone and I will make sure that he does not lack anything if I die. So stop bothering him and tell my father I'm not afraid of him. He and I stopped being a family a long time ago so you can save your staging. I won't tell you where I am. And listen to me: I may not have the same power as my father, but I am a wretch like him when someone threatens what I love, so record this message well, sir: if you continue to harm Phupha as you have done throughout your life, I myself will take care of destroying your miserable existence, make no mistake about it. I'll put every effort into making this happen, so if I were you, I'd stop being my dad's pet and pretend this conversation never happened. Don't tempt me, Mr. Viriyanon. Believe me my father taught me a lot of dirty tricks before my grandmother rescued me from him and I wouldn't be afraid to use them against a piece of trash like you, do you understand me?”
The man ends the call without adding anything else and Tian feels powerful knowing that in this conversation he has had the last word. The boy drops the phone and notices that his hands are shaking but at least Phupha is still asleep or that's what he thought because a second later, Phupha rises from the ground and the next thing Tian notices is that his arms are wrapped around him and Tian clings to him because he knows he needs to calm down. He's not going to get bad because of Phupha's father. He's not going to give him the satisfaction of seeing him dead before his time, of course not.
"Take a deep breath, remember, hold your breath for five seconds and then let it go, let's do it together, Tian" says Phupha's soft voice and Tian concentrates on that, following the rhythm of his boyfriend's breathing and little by little, breathing gets easier and his hands stop shaking but Phupha doesn't stop hugging him.
"I don't want them to hurt you, Phu," says Tian and Phupha hugs him tighter.
"No one will hurt me, please believe me," says Phupha and something tells him that his boyfriend heard each and every word he said to his father.
"Our parents are shit," says Tian and against all logic, Phupha laughs tiredly.
“Yes, but what you told my father is true: we have each other. As long as we're together, what does it matter what the two of they are planning? Forgive me for not telling you about your father's calls. I didn't want you to get upset like this.”
“I know you did it to protect me but I have to protect us both, I have to do it right now. I'll have to make a couple of calls, can I borrow your phone?” asks Tian and Phupha does what he says quickly.
"White, hello, sorry to call at this hour," Tian says after dialing his administrator´s number. “Listen: my father may come looking for me in Phuket, I'm afraid he set me up and I was too angry so I fell for it. Yes, yes, I'm sure so you need to double the security around granny's mansion and I want you to bring my friends here yourself, someone else can't bring them, you're going to have to pick up Tul Pruk too. I also want you to hire security teams to protect Dr. Suthikul and his son. It's important that my father doesn't talk to anyone at the hospital, okay? Yes, if we have to hire the army that's fine but don't let my father near me. We will keep in touch, thank you very much for your help.”
"Tian, why did my father set you up?” Phupha asks with a worried air.
“Well, I'm afraid your father was just looking to keep me talking so that he and dad could trace the call, I was stupid but I also know how to play dirty, wait a minute,” Tian says and dials a new number on Phupha's phone and speaks immediately when the person on the other side of the line replies. “Tul? Yes, I'm Tian, hello. I heard that you are already in Thailand and I want you to come to my grandmother's house in Phuket. Yes, yes, listen, I'm getting married. No, of course it's not a joke, I would never joke about it. I'm getting married before... well, I have a lot to tell you. Listen, you have to come to the ceremony, my fiancé is gorgeous, and he can't wait to meet my best friend in town. A wedding present? Well, now that you mention it, do you remember those files your father had found? Yes, yes, those who commit mine in that diversion of resources, yes. Can you bring them? No, I'm not kidding about that either, Tul. You know, dad is not happy with my wedding and I need to protect myself, do you have them? Perfect, bring everything with you. White will pick you up, please be very discreet I don't want the general to start bothering you too. Thanks, Tul, it's a relief to know that I'm counting on you. See you in a couple of days.”
“Tian?” Phupha asks with a look full of confusion and Tian ends the call.
"Well, I am not lying: we are getting married, it is a symbolic ceremony but in my heart it is a full-fledged wedding," he says with an amused smile. “Don't look at me like that, you know when I panic I just go with what I feel and do the first thing that comes to mind.”
"I know, but play dirty with your father?" Phupha asks, truly surprised.
“So what? He set the example for me, didn't he? If he finds us I can also threaten him and believe me, what Tul's family found is enough to destroy him and there is nothing my father loves more than his image and his fortune so I know he will leave me alone if I sell him those files. Tul's family has never submitted to his threats, they are also powerful so well, it seems like a fair deal to me and we will all be happy.”
Phupha looks at him admiringly and Tian feels a bit shy at that look but he doesn't regret doing what he did. If his father or Phupha's father think he is a spoiled child they are wrong because he is not going to let them come to attack him, of course not: he will also respond to the attack. He is not going to let anyone hurt Phupha or him.
"And here I thought I was protecting you," Phupha says with an amused smile.
“Yes you do, you always do, where do you think I got the strength to do all this? Without you I would have given up long ago, Phu. But you're here, you're here and I'm going to protect you until the last breath of my life, do you hear me?”
“I love you, Tian,” says Phupha and his arms wrap around him again and Tian takes refuge in those arms that fill him with strength.
Because no, he won't give them the pleasure of seeing him defeated, he won't give them the pleasure of knowing that in reality he does feel a little scared, no. He will continue to shine and right now he only feels an immense desire to stay alive simply to continue bothering his father and Phupha's father with their love. After all, he and Phupha are a pair of stars and like all stars, the two shine brightest when everything seems to be dark around them.
Chapter 18: All this time we were waiting for each other. All this time I was waiting for you.
His hands finish writing the last word of his letter, the one he will deliver to Tian after their ceremony is over. That was the agreement that the two reached, those letters that they will exchange, may also be their last farewell.
Phupha's hands shake a little and his heart threatens to break as he puts his letter in the pocket of the suit he will wear later. His soul threatens to collapse, in fact it is about to because Tian's surgery will be the next day and when the afternoon sun falls and begins to sink behind the horizon, he and Tian will make promises by the seashore, promises that the two will say with all the hope in the universe despite knowing that those promises may never be fulfilled.
He has been trying to be strong all this time and he hates himself for feeling all that sadness and all that despair just before an event that should be happy not only for him but for Tian. Phupha tries to take a deep breath. He tries to remember Tian's smile as he gave orders to his friends to arrange cloth, flowers, and glittering stones in that place where Longtae will officiate a ceremony for the two of them. Phupha tries to clearly remember Tian's certainty when telling him that he will be fine; he is really trying to muster all the strength he has left not to collapse but there is something that does not seem to leave him alone.
He's being silly, yes, but writing that letter to Tian opened the door to all his love but also to all his fear because so many things will depend on what happens the next day. And what will he do if everything goes wrong? Will he be able to stay strong? How the hell can he go on if Tian won't be there to smile at him anymore? How can you be happy when you know that maybe, when the sun goes down the next day, the person you have loved the most in your life will no longer be there?
Phupha lets out a choking sound from his lips and helplessly collapses on the floor clutching the letter he has written for Tian on his chest; the truth is that he doesn't care much about the fact that he can ruin his suit. He knows that this fit of panic and crying is irrational but he can no longer control it and tells himself that if he is going to succumb to such a rush of emotions, it is better to do it now and not in front of Tian and everyone else. They believe that he is the strongest man in the world, even he himself believed it because he had tried to convince himself of that during all those months. And the strongest man in the world cannot cry like that, the strongest man in the world has to smile and has to hold Tian so that he is not afraid and can go safely to surgery.
And though he wants to remember the smiles, it's terribly easier to remember the crying now, Phupha can now look back at the scene from last night when Tian fell asleep crying as he held him in his arms. Tian fell asleep repeating his name. Tian fell asleep repeating a thousand times that he did not want to die.
And it is that although his friends, who are already gathered in the huge mansion of Tian's grandmother, were joking that it was not proper for the grooms to spend the night together before their ceremony, in reality no one had the heart to separate them and Phupha knows that behind the smiles and festive spirit of his group, everyone is scared to death. No one wants to lose Tian. Tian is loved in all those young hearts that shouldn't be thinking about death. And now everything is so real that it's scary. Everything is so real that perhaps no one can stay optimistic and strong anymore.
Phupha thinks that no other boy or girl his age should bear such a sentence but in his story that's the way things are and although his heart threatens to break in half without remedy, Phupha would not change anything about his story with Tian because in almost one year the existence of that boy has made him feel that everything is possible and that even men like him, those men who are born with nothing and who are usually not worth much to the world, can become something beautiful and wonderful in the right eyes.
Phupha loves Tian and he doesn't regret falling in love with him, he doesn't regret meeting him. But the fear is too much and now everything is so real. So he lets the crying shake his body and leaving his jacket on the chair in the room, he hugs one of the pillows on the bed so as not to make a noise, he doesn't want to alert anyone. He just wants the pain to leave his body, he wants all of that to leave him because he can't go to his ceremony like that and he can't carry that pain with him.
When he is in front of Tian his eyes have to sparkle like those of a normal boyfriend, a boyfriend who is about to promise boundless love to the person he has been waiting for years that person he met after a long, long last. When he is in front of Tian, he has to smile and let him know that there is no man more fortunate and blessed than him on that day because in such a huge world, the two of them could meet, and because although the universe is huge, in a magical way, It was the eyes of the two that made them discover each other in that small cafeteria that also keeps so many memories of happiness for both of them.
He has to be strong, he has to be strong. The boy repeats the same thing over and over again and at that moment, he feels that strange warmth surrounds him and when he dares to open his eyes, he notices that this warmth comes from three people who seem to have come to support him as they have always done.
Torfun, who is already wearing a beautiful dress the color of the sunset, is gently hugging him and the girl seems not to be afraid that he might ruin her dress. Nam, who is wearing an elegant white outfit, is touching his shoulder, and Rang is holding him with a warm smile that tells him without words that everything will be fine, that he is not alone, and that it is okay that he is crying in such a desperate way.
"Chief, I know that nothing I say will make a real difference, but I want you to remember that you don't have to be strong in front of us all the time," says the boy with a smile full of tenderness. “The ceremony is two hours away, so don't worry, let it all go, none of us are going to leave you alone.”
A new sob escapes from his chest and Phupha does nothing to suppress it. He wants to say so many things to Rang but he can't seem to remember how to use his words. So he just keeps crying as Nam comments that it's a perfect afternoon to have a wedding ceremony and that the private beach at Tian's grandmother's mansion looks beautiful, it looks like a fairy tale setting where two princes are so close to take in his hands the happy ending that all love stories promise.
Torfun and Rang agree with Nam's description and the prospect of knowing that he is the other half of this fairy tale makes Phupha's pain begin to subside little by little. Despair leaves him to give way once again to that sweet expectation that pain had silenced. For a moment he had been too busy thinking about the possible end of the trip instead of enjoying one of the stops along the way. He's not alone, of course not. Right now he can even see that if Tian leaves this world, that doesn't mean he will lose him because Tian will stay to live in every cell of his skin. Tian is as much a part of himself as his soul. Tian will not leave, no matter what happens, Tian will always be in every beat of his heart.
It is that idea that allows him to stop crying. It is that idea that makes him get up from the ground in the midst of the warm and proud smiles of his friends, of those two boys and the girl who are his real family. All three are there for him. The three will not let their pain become unbearable no matter what happens and Phupha realizes that friendship is as valuable and important as Tian's love. He is surrounded by love. He can walk towards Tian without fear because the love of all those people and Tian's love will sustain him all the time.
"It's time for you to get dressed, why don't you take a quick shower while I get your suit ready?" Torfun says with a warm smile that makes Phupha think of her mother.
What would she have thought of Tian? Had she accompanied him to his ceremony or had she submitted to her father's ideas? No, no, Phupha is sure that she herself would have directed him to Tian and joined their hands before the sea. Phupha is sure that his mother would have wished him unlimited happiness and hugged Tian to ask him to take good care of him all his life. Because his mother also understood love, his mother had also loved him before anyone else.
"Is it too late already?" Phupha asks after taking a handkerchief that Nam held out to him 'to wipe his face.
"No, but you'd better hurry," Nam says confidently. “Tian has been ready for hours, Longtae and Tul helped him get ready.”
“I already want to see him,” Phupha says with a smile full of longing. “Have you already seen him?”
"Yeah, but you can't see him before the ceremony it's bad luck," Rang says mischievously. “When you see him you will faint with love, I swear.”
"Do you think I'll look good?" Phupha asks a little shyly and his three friends burst out laughing as if he's asking something that's obvious.
"We have to find out, go ahead and take a quick shower," says Torfun. “The three of us will be here to make you look like the prince that Tian expects.”
Phupha smiles and does as his friend has just asked. Now that the attack of fear has passed, he feels lighter, and in fact, he feels stronger as well. His father always said that real men don't cry but who cares what his father thinks? Nothing he thinks matters that afternoon because he and Tian will promise that everything will be fine and Phupha hopes that all the gods in the universe will be merciful to both of them because a love like theirs cannot end the next day. It can't be possible.
So the young man concentrates on taking a shower conscientiously. He has never had to make an effort or worry about being handsome, but this afternoon is important because he wants Tian to fall in love with him once again when he sees him wearing an expensive suit, the kind of suit he has never worn in his life. The boy then rushes to get ready, after getting dry he puts on the delicate white underwear and pants that Tian chose for him and when he leaves, his friends are already waiting for him to help him put on the white silk shirt and suit jacket. They manage to give him the appearance of a modern and elegant prince, a prince who is ready to find out what lies beyond happily ever after.
His eyes, which thank goodness didn't swell from crying, look full of hope now. Torfun is in charge of buttoning his shirt, leaving the last button open that reveals a bit of his dark skin that contrasts beautifully with the color of his suit. Then it's Nam's turn who, besides being the best medical student in his class, also has a special talent as a stylist because his hands shape Phupha's hair in an elegant way and well, it seems that the boy from the mountains has suddenly transformed into a TV star after Rang put some eyeliner under his eyes and a bit of gloss on his lips. And when his friends take him in front of the mirror, Phupha is not able to recognize himself because well, the truth is that anyone would think that he is the main character of a famous television series instead of an ordinary boy whose only talent is painting landscapes and portraits of the boy he loves.
“Yes, Tian will definitely be happy with this,” Rang says and asks Phupha to let him place a small bouquet of red roses, Tian's favorites, in the lapel of his jacket.
"You're ready Phu, you're the most handsome man in all of Thailand" says Torfun and the girl makes a huge effort not to let the tears of emotion ruin her makeup.
"Tian said that one of his dreams was to marry the most handsome boy in Thailand," Phupha says shyly.
"Well, you'll make that dream come true for him too," says Nam and Phupha notices that his friend's voice cracks with emotion. “Phupha, no matter what happens, remember that you are also making this dream come true for yourself, okay?”
"Yes, Phu, this is a happy day," says Torfun, taking his hand. “It has to be a happy day for everyone because we are celebrating love, right?”
"And maybe someone else will find love, right Torfun?" Rang says teasingly and the girl's cheeks adorably flush.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Rang," she says.
"Oh dear, we saw how you and Tul looked at each other," Nam says directly and Phupha gives his friend a surprised look. “Tian says that the boy is a good match but I don't know, our Torfun deserves someone worthy of her.”
"And a millionaire boy who is willing to protect Tian and Phupha even though he just found out the whole story a few days ago is not a good match?" Rang asks with a hint of irony.
"Well, it sounds too good to be true, you can't blame me, I'm just looking out for Torfun's interests," Nam says firmly as his three friends roll their eyes in disbelief. “One of my children is about to get married but I have to take care of Torfun, I won't let anyone, not even a millionaire hurt her.”
"Wow, weddings that are not real weddings exactly make Nam corny," Phupha says making the others laugh. “And they do the same to me, have I already told you that I love you? I love all three of you with all my heart.”
No one says anything to Phupha's words but the three of them hug their friend carefully, none of them wanting to ruin his Prince Charming image. At that moment, there seems to be no room for more words, none of them thinks they are necessary. The love of them four is there, it floods the room with safety and warmth. And in the midst of all this love, Phupha thinks that there is no place for pain or despair in his heart anymore. Tian will be waiting for him and in the same way that he arrived at that first meeting in the cafeteria, he will also walk confidently towards his hands and towards all the promises that the two will make by the sea.
☕ ☕☕ ☕☕ ☕☕
Torfun walks by his side, arm in arm, while Rang and Nam walk behind the two. There, by the seashore, Tian waits for him wearing the most beautiful smile in the universe on his lips and Phupha feels the urgent need to run to him but no, he won't, he will just continue walking with confidence and without fear towards that place full of flowers and glitter that Tian prepared for the two of them.
The man he loves is wearing a matching white suit to his and is holding a bouquet of red roses in his hands. Tian is standing up, he doesn't look sick at all but Phupha notices that Tul, that friend he has just met and who is a refined boy with a friendly face, is standing near him as well as Longtae. Phupha can tell that the two boys are willing to hold Tian in case something bad happens but no, Phupha can feel in the cool sea breeze that nothing will go wrong, at least not at that time.
So he just keeps walking, his bare feet feel good in contact with the warm golden sand and his heart knows that he is walking towards that destiny that life had prepared for him, perhaps, since the world had welcomed him into that town surrounded by mountains and solitude. But Phupha doesn't want to think about that place, in fact, he doesn't want to carry with him any memories of that world where Tian wasn't, because the only life he feels is his own are all those days when Tian's presence began to fill everything. And yes, Tian is there. Tian is now extending his hand towards him and when he takes it, their friends smile and surround them because in that ceremony before the infinity of the sea there will be no more witnesses than all of them, no one else is needed.
“You're here, Phu,” says Tian with the sweetest voice in the universe and Phupha has to make a superhuman effort not to kiss him right away because Tian is beautiful, he's more beautiful than usual.
"Did I make you wait long?" Phupha asks, making him laugh.
"I've been waiting for you my whole life but like when I saw you for the first time, now you've also come to me at the right time," Tian says with confidence.
"Well, you won't have to wait any longer," Phupha says, and Tian brings his hand to his lips. “Tian, I came to you to never leave, do you understand? I will never leave you, Tian.”
Tian smiles and Phupha knows that like him, Tian is also holding back tears but neither of them will cry. As the afternoon sun goes down, the two will make their promises to the universe because even though their story may end the next day, that afternoon will be immortal in both their souls. Because this is true love: it cannot die, it goes beyond what we human beings know as life.
Chapter 19: You can hear it in the silence. You can see it with the lights out. You are in love, true love.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Tian watches Phupha walk towards him and could swear that he has never seen anything more beautiful in his life than that man who looks like he came out of the most beautiful fairy tale anyone has ever written. Phupha smiles, he is smiling as if in front of them there are still an infinity of magical days like this one that they are living today. But that doesn't matter, at that moment Tian thinks that the idea of his life ending at that very moment is not so bad, in fact, he would die happy to see Phupha like this, walking confidently towards him.
Phupha has always been handsome but today he is simply beautiful, so beautiful and charming that Tian doesn't feel any of those adjectives can do justice to describe him. Phupha is beautiful but it is also much more than that. Phupha is that idea of love that had no face until he arrived at his cafeteria that afternoon that now seems like a scene from another life, from another world. Phupha is there, a few steps away from him and he smiles at him with all the love in the universe on his lips, and how many people are there in the universe who will die without being able to see the same thing in the eyes of another? Not him, of course not. He knows love and he knows that the image of Phupha walking towards him will be an image that he can always see even when his eyes are closed.
Tian smiles because suddenly he knows he's lucky, he knows he's loved down to the last cell of his body. Phupha's eyes are reciting for him all the poetry of the universe, Tian can feel all of this in the solemn silence that is only shaded by the song of the sea. The sea is singing to infinity and although, before Phupha he did not believe in eternity, there is an infinity of a billion stars insinuating itself in the gaze of that man who reaches him. Phupha's eyes, Tian now discovers, are an entire universe, a boundless, beautiful, endless universe. And no matter what happens to him, Tian knows that he will take all that light with him and that afternoon on that beach, it is something that not even death can take away from him.
“You came, Phu,” he says and it's silly to say it, yes, because he hasn't doubted for a second that Phupha would be there with him until the end.
“Did you have to wait long?” he asks.
"I've been waiting for you my whole life but just like when I saw you for the first time, now you've also come to me at the right time" Tian says and knows it's true.
He has been dreaming of Phupha without knowing it for his whole life. Before meeting Phupha Tian was already in love with him. Tian has been waiting for Phupha all his life and now the two of them are there, facing the sea, surrounded by all the friends who love them, willing to swear limitless love even though the whole world seems to be against them.
"Well, you won't have to wait any longer," Phupha says and Tian wishes he could photograph every moment, every word in his heart because everything is too beautiful. “Tian, I came to you to never leave, do you understand? I will never leave you, Tian.”
Tian does understand, he is more than sure of it: Phupha will never leave him and he will never be able to leave Phupha either. Tears threaten to well up in his eyes but Tian doesn't let them. He doesn't want to ruin that day with crying, he doesn't want Phupha to remember him crying like he did the night before. No. He wants that moment to be the memory of smiles and sweet kisses for both of them, the indelible memory of two men swearing eternal love to each other despite being aware of their own finitude.
"I think it's time to start what will be my first official ceremony," Longtae says with the same tender smile that is on the lips of all the members of the group. “Dearly beloved, we have gathered here by the sea, so that two men we all love can declare their love in front of us. Perhaps we are all thinking that if we had been normal and healthy young people, none of us would be here, but I am not so sure. Tian has wanted to propose to Phupha practically since the first time he saw him in college so I can say with all the certainty in the universe that this would have happened anyway. But I won't be the one to tell the story of the two, people talk about love but I don't think anyone can put into words the mystery that it really contains. So Tian, Phupha, say whatever you want to say. Be sincere and brave and remember that no matter what happens all of us who are here with the two of you will be witnesses of all the promises you want to leave in this world as proof of the enormous love that has made you meet so as never to get lost.”
Longtae's smile widens on his lips and the two's friends rush to form a small circle around the two. It is as if they want to protect them and make them feel safe. It is as if those people who love both of them want to create a new world for both of them: a world where they can hide from the cruelty of life, a world where promises of love are more than just promises.
“Phupha, my beloved Phupha,” says Tian calmly, savoring the name of his beloved on his lips, feeling that at that moment he loves him a little more than the previous minute and that with each passing minute the love of his heart does not rather than increase. “I would like to promise you all those things that the protagonists of a romantic novel promise each other at the end of it. I would like to tell you that I swear to be with you in rich and in poor, in sickness and in health and that I will love you faithfully all the days of my life, but you know, and I know, that our story is not a normal story even though it started with an unexpected encounter. You came into my life to make me want to live forever by your side; you came to me perhaps to remind me that living is a strange miracle. Phupha, it is beautiful to exist in the same world as you. When I think about it, I can hardly believe that you and I coincide in this world, precisely in this country and well, in the same university. How I wish I had met you before, many years ago. We would have been that kind of story, you know? Maybe we may have been two boys who loved each other since childhood and I could have given you a lifetime of love but hey, I also like our story to this day.”
»I like to think that I found you at the right time and that I changed your life for the better, just as you did with mine. I like to think that no matter what happens you will think of me with love and that I will be the reason for many of your involuntary smiles in the days that you have left to live. I like to think, my love, my only love, that you will take me with you wherever you go and that I will not be a tragic story for you. Phupha, you know that I can't promise you many things but I do swear that I will fight for my life with all my might. I promise you that I will not give up so easily and that if I have to leave this world, I will leave thinking of you, I will leave pronouncing your name and the word love because that is you to me: you are all the love in the universe to me. I swear to you that I will do everything in my power to be able to continue breathing tomorrow. I swear to you, Phupha, that I will not stop fighting as long as you do not stop loving me and if I can ask you for something now, it is that you can wait for me. Phupha, don't stop loving me because I won't stop loving you, so can you wait for me? Can you be strong for me a little more? Because when it's all over I'll give you a dream life, I swear I'll reward all this pain when it's all over. Phupha, I swear to you that one day you will be the happiest man in the world when I hold you in my arms.
Phupha nods and hugs him tightly, and Tian takes shelter in his arms. During his last words his voice was trembling, his feelings were too strong. But he won't cry, he won't. So he lets Phupha hug him and then, without separating too far from him, he gets ready to listen to the words that his lover has prepared for him:
"What you don't know is that I'm already the happiest man in the world since the first time I saw you," Phupha says and his words are full of love and courage. “You don't need to talk to me about a future where I'll be happy because that's what I've been since I met you. Boys like me are not used to happiness; I think they always make us believe that it is another of the luxuries that we cannot expect because happiness is for other kind of people. But since I met you my life is better. Since I've known you I feel that I came to this world to protect you, take care of you and accompany you. Once you told me that your grandmother asked you to find a partner to fly with and I thank life because it has allowed me to be that for you during these months. You are my inspiration, you are the reason my life has become warmer and brighter. Tian, you are the love that destiny had prepared for me in this and perhaps in all my other lives because I know that I will find you many times in other worlds and in all of them I will love you and only you. So today I promise you that I will be strong and that I will wait for you as long as it takes. I will hold you with my love during the difficult hours that lie ahead. I will think of you with hope and without fear. Tian, I also swear to you that I will never stop loving you because you are as much a part of me as my own heart. So do not fear, my love, let nothing shake your heart. I will be strong for both of us. I will be waiting for you always, always Tian.”
The word is lost amid the applause of the others who are crying all the tears that Tian and Phupha don't want to cry. Even Tul lets the tears roll freely down his cheeks, and Tian thinks he's never seen his friend so moved. But the fact is that Phupha's words have been beautiful and Tian caresses his lips before kissing them softly because he wants to take the echo of those promises with him, he would like to be able to tattoo on his soul everything that Phupha has just said to him because yes, that boy is his strength. That boy is the best thing in his life and he doesn't want to leave, he doesn't want to leave him alone.
"It's time to exchange your rings to seal the promises you just made," Longtae says through a sob. “Nam, Torfun...”
The two aforementioned people now approach them holding a simple black velvet cushion on which rest two white gold hoops encrusted with diamonds, the most expensive jewels Tian ever bought. The sparkle of the jewels is as bright as the sun that is slowly sinking as it paints the sky with pinks, yellows, oranges and violets. Tian knows that Phupha thinks that those jewels are excessive but Tian thinks that the sparkle of those rings will always remind them that their story is a tale of a thousand stars because in a cafeteria with that name their love story began to be written and besides, Tian also counted a thousand stars to ask the gods to let him live.
It is Tian who takes the largest ring and gently puts it on Phupha's finger, who had never in his life worn a jewel like that.
"Phupha Viriyanon," Tian says without taking his eyes off him. “I give you this ring as a token of my love and a promise that I will not give up. When you look at it, I want you to think that I love you with everything that I am and that each sparkle of this jewel is a star that burns in the sky to make all our dreams come true. I love you, Phupha, and if I am lucky, one day I will truly marry you and call you my husband. But right now, I just want you to know that you are my undying love. Right now I just want you to know that you are the love of my infinity.”
Phupha smiles and takes the other ring but instead of putting it on Tian's finger, the boy directs his fingers to the fine silver chain on which also hangs the ring that his mother gave him and that has been Tian's ever since. Phupha attaches the new jewel and is amazed to see the smile of Tian who has found that gesture charming.
"Now my heart and my promises will be close to your chest until you have to go into that operating room," Phupha says softly. “I want them to stay close to you until you have to remove them. When you see the two rings together, I want you to think that my heart and my love will wait for you without giving up, without getting tired and also without fear because I know that I will see you again. And when I look at you again, I will put this ring on your hand and you will never take it off because the whole world will know that you are my life partner and that as long as you love me I will not love anyone else. You are also my boundless love, Tian. I will love you until there are no more stars to count on the cliff of Pha Pun Dao.”
Phupha's lips rest on his and Tian kisses him without fear, without holding back, he knows he can do that at least once. So he kisses Phupha with abandon, knowing that after what the two of them have said there are no more words to say. Their united mouths know how to communicate it better. The infinite sweetness and warm passion of that kiss is more than enough to seal the pact that the two have made and that is even stronger than that of a normal ceremony because the two have promised to love each other and not give up. The two will be brave and love each other even though their story may have a tragic ending.
“By the power that my first year as a political science student has vested in me and because I truly hope to officiate more ceremonies like this one day, I declare you the love of each other's lives until the end of time, in all universes and whatever heaven you may meet in,” Longtae says with a smile that shines on his face like a rainbow because he is also crying. “Always love each other confidently because I know that this will not be the end of the story for both of you. It's just the beginning; this is just the beginning of a new chapter in your legend of love.”
Everyone's applause fills the beach and Tian and Phupha stop kissing simply to look into each other's eyes and they are able to see that the love of the two can be heard in the silence and in the coming and going of the waves of the sea. They both love deeply. The two are, in the eyes of the other, the true love that all the poets of history speak of.
It is at that moment that the melody of a sweet and slow song is heard and Tian looks at Phupha with his eyes full of illusion and confusion in equal parts.
"I chose the sweetest and most beautiful song I've ever heard for this moment," says Phupha, extending his hand to him. “This will be our first dance as the love of each other's lives so, Tian, my undying love, will you grant me this piece?”
"It's the song that my grandmother and I used to dance to together," says Tian and not crying becomes more and more difficult. “Phu, it's that song...”
"Yes, Longtae told me about it and I think it's perfect for both of us" Phupha says and without waiting any longer, he takes Tian in his arms and carries him in them to start spinning in the middle of the sand while Tian's arms entangle in his neck.
“I love this song and I love you,” Tian says looking into his eyes.
“I will love you forever, Tian, you are the only one for me forever.”
Phupha smiles and kisses him softly again, and the slow melody that comes out of a small speaker in Rang's hands is joined by Phupha's voice, which is as sweet and loving as the sound of his flute. And yes, Phupha is an artist in a thousand different ways and the words he sings now, those that Tian repeated so many times as a child while he and his grandmother laughed and walked around the room, now they really make sense to him because it is Phupha who sings them and that song talks about him and the story of that love that will refuse to die:
Be my only one the name I want to call you by.
Let’s hold hands and walk along.
On rainy nights or on lonely daytimes
Please color me with your shiny light
I’ll do better when you promise me we will stay together
Now I belive
Lalalalalalala I sing a song like this
With the one I was desperately looking for
My, oh my, oh my, oh my love
Be my only love
Every step we take
It’s like a dance we perform together
My, oh my, oh my, oh my love
Be my only love
I don’t have to hide my feelings anymore
The words I sincerely wanted to say
I say I love you
On tiring nights and busy daytimes
Please make room in your heart for me to rest
I’ll do better when you share your love with me
My only one, when I see you
I want to lean on you
I want to have you
A love like this would make even the most immature dream come true
Be my only love.
And the two continue to spin on the sand. Phupha continues to sing for him while their friends throw red and white rose petals around them and Tian thinks that what he lives now is a thousand times better than a fairy tale. Phupha keeps holding him because Tian wouldn't have been able to dance with him normally without passing out but that doesn't matter. He is having the most beautiful wedding dance in the universe because Phupha is singing a love song for him. Phupha holds him in his arms. Phupha is wearing a ring that will let the world know that he is his partner to fly. Phupha loves him, he loves him too much and Tian does the same. And yes, if his life ended at that exact moment, Tian would feel that he had the most beautiful existence in the universe, but no, he is not going to die.
He will fight with all his might to live because that day will be just one more memory in the long list of happy days that he and Phupha will have to live.
Phupha is singing "ONLY" by Lee Hi, Google provided the English translation. If you like this chapter and the story so far, please cry with me on the comments section. If you don´t like it I sincerely hope you can find a story that can make you happy :´) I got so emotional while writing this. To all the people is reading this little world of mine: thank you for being here :D
Chapter 20: This time no one´s gonna say goodbye, I´ll keep you in this heart of mine. This time I know it´s never over.
He's scared, he can't hide it. It is Phupha's hands that are helping him get dressed in the hospital gown that the nurses have prepared for him. Tian must rest that night in the hospital and must fast for at least twelve hours. Phupha will not be able to stay with him because Dr. Suthikul has said that he must also be quiet all night and Tian fully understands that the doctor has said that because an emotional farewell before surgery is the last thing he needs.
But he knows that neither he nor Phupha will make a scene, not after the promises that have just been delivered by the seashore. Both of them are sad, that is also true, but it is not the kind of sadness that leads you to despair but that feeling that is even full of peace. The two have made peace with their fates. Both of them know what can happen and they will face it with the same courage and dignity with which the heroes of adventure stories usually face their final battle.
Right now, Phupha's hands are smoothing out some wrinkles in his clothes. Tian knows that he doesn't want to leave Phupha alone but there comes a time in everyone's life when even those you love the most can't be with you. And Tian knows that time has come for him. Tian knows that when he enters the operating room, only he and his heart will have to fight to continue living.
"Is Tul really going to print a photo album for both of us?" Tian asks casually because he doesn't want to think about a goodbye, of course not.
He's not going to say goodbye to Phupha, he could never say goodbye to him. For him, that moment will be like when the two of them stayed late at the coffee shop until Phupha said she had to go home. In those moments the two smiled knowing that they could see each other the next day and Tian wants that moment to be the same. He will not say goodbye to Phupha because everything he wanted to tell him has already been said in the ceremony by the sea and also in the letter he wrote and which Phupha will read when the surgery is underway.
“He said he couldn't wait any longer so he will. Longtae and Rang really took very beautiful pictures,” he says without stopping smiling and Tian admires all the courage that hides behind that smile and also the love, that love that is brave and that will accompany him at all times during his fight.
"I want to see them now," Tian says hopefully. “Please put them in a photo album and bring them to me when the doctor says I can have visitors.”
"Of course I do, I'll make the most beautiful photo album for you," says Phupha and takes his hand tightly. “The doctor says that after the surgery you will have to be in an isolated room for at least a week, but I swear to you that when it is safe to see you, I will be the first to come here.”
"I know, I know you'll always come" says Tian and the fear fades a little when he thinks that everything will pass. “Promise me that you will sleep well and that you will go to sleep at Grandma's house. I heard you told Nam that you plan to camp in the waiting room and that's not good, Phu, Dr. Suthikul and Nam will take good care of me, I need you to take good care of yourself because I won't be around to do it.”
"I'm going to sleep and eat well but I won't be far from you, Tian," Phupha says and Tian caresses his face gently. “I have to be aware of all the news, I have to stay here.”
“You're a fool,” Tian says tenderly, and Phupha smiles sheepishly. “By the way, do you know what I regret a little bit right now?”
"What?" Phupha asks with some apprehension.
"Of not being able to have a decent wedding night," Tian says with a hint of flirtation that makes Phupha blush deeply. “Phu, I may not be an expert on the subject but I would have loved to, you know, have that to myself.”
"We'll have it when you're better," Phupha says with an unwavering certainty that makes Tian feel the fear slowly leave him. “I'm not an expert on the subject either, but hey, we can learn and experiment together.”
"Do you promise?" Tian asks and brings Phupha's face close to his to rest his forehead on his boyfriend's.
"I swear, Tian. Soon I will fulfill that dream for you too.”
Tian smiles and kisses Phupha's lips gently, it's not a deep or passionate kiss like the one they shared after the ceremony, no, but it feels just as intense because it could be the last one even if neither of them wants to say it out loud or even think about it. It is a kiss full of hope but also of a silent pain that makes it bittersweet. It is a kiss that can mark the final point or happy ellipses in their story. Neither of them is certain but they have each other. One of them will face a hard battle and the other will wait for him, will be holding him while thinking of him with love. In the end, it is the love of the two that will make everything more bearable.
"Can you hold me until the doctor comes?" Tian asks softly. “I just need to be in your arms while I can, Phu. Hold me until we have to say goodnight, okay?”
Phupha nods and takes Tian in his arms. Phupha gently eases him between them. Tian is sitting on his lap, hugging him tightly. The boy puts his head right on the exact point where Phupha's heart beats and it is wonderful to hear that beat that sings his name and makes him feel close to the life that Tian does not want to lose. Phupha's heart, which is his in a thousand and one different ways, is comforting him, filling him with strength. Silence surrounds the two of them, they know that time is running out and that nothing can stop it. There is a farewell looming in the future and it may last just a few days or it may be forever so Tian clings to that moment with all his might. He wants to take all the warmth of Phupha with him. He wants Phupha's perfume and the memory of his arms holding him to become his refuge because the two of them won't be together anymore, not like they have been since that first time they spoke. Tian wants time to stop because how he will miss Phupha's hugs. Those strong arms that hold him are his home. Those arms are the happiest place for him in the entire universe.
What seems like only a couple of minutes later, the door to their room opens and Dr. Suthikul enters with a calm smile that, however, puts the two boys on alert because the time to part has really come. Tian begins to feel the desperation that thought produces in him but he swears that he will be strong, he cannot collapse now. He and Phupha won't be in the same physical space, that's true, but the two are in each other's hearts.
“Good evening, Tian, Phupha,” says the doctor with a smile full of compassion since he can see the silent pain that fills the eyes of those boys. “It's time to sleep, Tian needs to rest.”
"Can I stay with him until he falls asleep?" Phupha asks and Tian hugs him tighter, as if by doing so Phupha could stay with him forever.
"Phupha, I'm sorry but Tian really has to sleep," says the doctor with some mistrust.
"And I will, Phu will get out of here when I fall asleep, I swear," Tian promises. “I feel tired in fact. I don't think I can stay awake much longer.”
The doctor looks at the two of them and his heart breaks because those two boys he has known since they were children have had to grow up too fast. It is the love in the look of the two that decides everything. The doctor doesn't have the heart to be strict right now. Also, he knows that Phupha will be responsible because in this world there is no other person who loves Tian more than that boy.
"But you have to sleep now, Tian, you have to try right now," says the doctor in a final way.
"Of course, doctor, when have I broken any of my commitments to you?"
The doctor laughs amusedly and shakes his head before telling them he'll give them one more hour, that's all. The two boys nod with all the obedience in the world and when the doctor leaves the room the two look into each other's eyes without saying anything else. Tian is actually tired after a day full of emotions and also joy so he settles down on the bed and asks Phupha to lie down next to him. And the two of them stay like that for a long time, holding each other, their hearts beating calmly close to each other. It's the last few minutes and right now the fact that soon they won't be able to hug like this is a reality.
"Sing our song until I fall asleep, Phu," Tian asks softly. “I think I'll fall asleep very soon.”
"Sleep, you have to rest," Phupha says before kissing his forehead. “I'll be here until you fall asleep.”
"I love you, Phu. I know I'll see you soon," Tian says with a hopeful smile.
“I love you, Tian. Of course I'll see you soon. Now sleep, don't worry about anything. Sleep Tian, even if you can't feel me by your side I will always be with you.”
Tian smiles and hides his face in Phupha's chest and one of his hands tightly squeezes his two rings: the one that Phupha gave him months ago and the ring with which they sealed their promises. It is then that Tian decides to put fear aside; he knows that there is no point in fearing. There are things that are not in his control but he can stay calm. At that moment, he just wants to continue listening to Phupha's voice as he sings that he is his only love. At that moment he just wants to continue being the most loved man in the world in the arms of the man he loves too.
This is how the dream comes and Tian lets it cover him. He needs to be strong, that's what he needs. So he falls asleep and in his dreams there is also Phupha. He looks at him walking hand in hand in the middle of a meadow full of flowers which is protected by the mountains of the place where Phupha was born. The two fearlessly walk into the future because in his dreams, Tian knows that the two of them will have that tomorrow where there will be no pain. There is nothing that Tian wants more than that tomorrow so his sleep is peaceful, restful. Phupha is there, with him, Phupha is in everything he is. Phupha will never leave and that is why, when the first beams of the morning sun enter his room, Tian greets him with a smile even though Phupha is no longer there.
The day has come, in a few hours his fate will finally be decided and in some strange way the solitude of his room does not overwhelm him, his heart is still calm.
Tian smiles and realizes that it is only two hours before noon. He is not surprised that he slept so long because he was really tired. Surely the nurses in charge of preparing everything will arrive at any moment so Tian remembers that this is the perfect time to read the letter that Phupha wrote for him, which his lover left on the nightstand next to his bed.
Tian takes the paper in his hands and can't help but smile when he sees that Phupha has drawn one last portrait, the drawing of the two of them holding hands while walking in a meadow of flowers very similar to the one in Tian's dream. The boy touches the drawing with his hands and tries to fill himself with the hope and warmth of that future. Phupha dreams the same as him, and Tian is sure that their dream will come true very soon. Tian's eyes absorb the words now and the smile on his lips seems impossible to erase as he reads.
My beloved Tian:
Someday the two of us will walk in the same place that I just drew for you. It is a beautiful flower meadow where I used to walk every afternoon while thinking of thousands of things that I never imagined would become real.
Unlike you, nobody told me that I would ever find a partner to share that meadow or my afternoons. The truth is that until I saw you smiling at me in your coffee shop, I had never thought about love. I knew that I was different from the others; I knew that this difference would make me suffer most of my life but Tian that was what led me to you.
You are the love that I did not expect but which I appreciate with every beat of my heart. I know that when all this happens I will walk with you through that meadow and we will both dream of a life together where we will be happy and fight shoulder to shoulder for each of our dreams. Do not think that I do not know that it is thanks to you that my life has improved a lot and that is something that I must thank you for and for which I will compensate you all my life because I am not going to disappoint you. One day I will be a man who can offer you everything you deserve. Someday, Tian, you will feel even more proud to love me.
But now that you are about to face a difficult test, I want you to know that I will fight with you. I am with you, Tian, because nothing can separate two souls that love like yours and mine. I'm going to be with you until the end and I don't care if that end comes today or many, many years from now. I know what is at stake, Tian and I will be strong for you, I will also take care of myself and if I feel bad, I will lean on our friends. So don't worry about me. Just think that outside that operating room where you will fight for your life there is a man who will be waiting for you forever and who will continue to sing for you the same love song that we both danced by the sea.
I love you Tian. I love you a lot. When we meet again I will hug you tightly and kiss you for at least two weeks in a row. And I know I'll see you again. In my heart there is no doubt that soon I will have you very close to me again.
Forever yours, Phupha.
Tian smiles and kisses Phupha's name on the paper. Right now he feels capable of facing anything and when the nurses come through the door they are surprised to see him smiling like that because they all know what kind of surgery he will have to face. But on Tian's lips there is no place for fear or for a farewell. On Tian's lips there is only room for that smile that he knows sooner rather than later it will be filled with Phupha's kisses again.
Chapter 21: This love left a permanent mark, this love is glowing in the dark.
The minutes on the clock pass slowly, distressingly. There's no news from Tian yet and there won't be for at least four more hours and Phupha doesn't know how he'll survive it. On the outside, he's just another person drinking coffee in Nam's father's lonely hospital cafeteria. On the inside, he's trying not to be scared to death. Phupha is trying to hold on to all the bright memories of his history by Tian's side so as not to die of fear.
The boy's hands also cling to the paper where Tian wrote a letter for him. He wants those words to give him the strength he still needs, he doesn't want to waver. At times like this, he can't let despair win. Phupha sighs, he´s feeling tired. The night before he couldn't get much sleep even though his friends were there with him, trying to distract him. The four of them were telling stories of the past and happy memories of their days at Tian's side, but the rest never came and will never come as long as he doesn't know what happened in the surgery.
But he must be patient. He must hope for the best and also be prepared for the worst, although he knows that nothing he does can prepare a human heart for an irreparable loss as it would be...no, no, no. He won't think about it. No.
It is for this reason that Phupha unfolds the letter once more and caresses his name written by Tian's hands. His eyes run over the words he has already memorized and a sad smile appears on his lips. In that letter, Tian makes him feel deeply loved. In that letter, Tian has left a piece of his soul for him:
My beloved Phupha,
I'm looking at you right now while you sleep next to me and I wish I could draw you the way you usually draw me although to be honest I doubt a drawing can do you justice because you don't know how beautiful you are right now. You have no idea of how beautiful you are even though I and the huge fan club at the university are totally aware of it. I guess that's what makes you completely charming: that you don't know and never will know of all the beauty and all the light that is in you.
However, although everyone looks at you and wants to be close to you, I am the only person on this earth who has the joy and luck of knowing what it means to be loved by you. And for that alone I could say that I have had a truly happy life. You, Phupha, you taught me what true happiness means. You actually made me understand why I came to this world despite having a weak heart that threatens to tear us apart.
And even though we promised we wouldn't talk about what might happen to me, Phupha, I think now it's inevitable. I want to tell you again that I will fight with all my might to get out of that operating room alive, but we cannot ignore the other part. Phupha, if such a tragedy happens to me, I want my death not to define your life. I know it will be painful and terrible but you have to promise me, my love, that you will go ahead and make your life one of your works of art because Phupha, you have enormous talent and I know that you will be able to build a beautiful life for yourself even if I'm not by your side.
I don't want to be a scar on your heart. I want to continue being a star, your star. Whatever happens, I want you to think of me as a love that left a mark on you and that mark is not an indelible wound. Phupha, you deserve all the happiness in the universe, you deserve all the love in the world. And if I'm not the one who can give you all that, I want you to let someone else do it for me. Like I told you, I don't want my death to make your life hell. If I die, I know you'll be strong, I know you'll move on, I know you'll live for you and me.
But well, now I will also tell you about all my hopes. If everything goes well, I want you to be the first person to hug me and tell me that he's happy to see me. I want my eyes to look at you before anything else on the first day of all that new life that we have left to live and which I will build by your side, by your hand. I'm going into surgery with all these hopes in my heart, Phu. When everything overwhelms me, the mere thought that after this I will have a beautiful life by your side is enough for me to know that we will overcome every obstacle in our way. I will also be strong and I will always love you. Wherever I go, whether my destiny after this surgery is your arms or the stars of another world, I want you to know that I will always love you.
I love you, Phupha, I love you very much. Attached to this letter you will find another page where I tell you that I love you a thousand times, one I love you for each star that we will count in Pha Pun Dao. Never forget it because loving you is the best thing that has happened to me in this life. Phupha, you are that flying partner my grandmother told me about. You are Phu, my only love for life.
I hope I can hug you soon. I hope I can kiss you and tell you: do you see it? I will never leave you alone. I know I'll see you soon and until then, please wait for me, Phu. Wait for me because although I am there with you in your heart, soon I will also be in your arms.
With love, all the love that fits in the stars, Tian.
Phupha smiles once more and tries to imagine such a love, a love that glows so brightly in the dark, and as he does, Tian's smile is the first thing he can think of. All the love in the world is Tian because in everything that he is there is also all the light of the universe.
Thinking about it, the boy sighs and takes a sip of the hospital's somewhat tasteless coffee. Phupha smiles because he misses with all his heart the coffee that Tian prepared for him, those cups of coffee with a delicious aroma and a strong taste with a hint of sweetness and a hint of cinnamon aroma. Tian's coffee was delicious. Just now that they are not together, Phupha notices that he misses every little detail about him.
"Excuse me, can I sit here?"
The voice that utters those words makes Phupha's blood run cold in his veins. Although the man in front of him is smiling, Phupha feels scared and gets up from his seat trying to decide if he should run right now or if he should alert everyone that his father's commander, that man who is also Tian's father is there.
The man, who dresses in a refined way and who imposes with his athletic figure, his gray hair and that confident face of one who has never given in to anyone in his life, smiles at Phupha but the boy cannot help but feel scared. That man is no good, that man hurt Tian.
"Sorry, but I have to go," says Phupha, tempted to run.
"No, I think you shouldn't, Phupha," he says in a kind voice, but Phupha notices that there is also a certain authoritative tone in his words.
"I don't want to talk to you, I don't think we have anything to talk about," Phupha says trying to stay calm.
"I know you have a very bad impression of me and I don't blame you, I know I've done everything wrong," says the man, looking him in the eye. “But do you think Tian's doctor would have let me in here if my intentions were bad?”
"Does Dr. Suthikul know you're here?" Phupha asks his face full of surprise.
"Of course he knows, and I also know that you and my son had a wedding ceremony, right?" Tian's father asks. “If so, you are now part of my family so, son, I think there are too many things to talk about.”
Phupha freezes upon hearing that statement from General Teerayut but says nothing. Phupha just flops back into his chair and keeps looking at Tian's father who tries to smile despite the fact that men like him shouldn't be warm, much less behave like in-laws delighted with your existence.
“I never imagined that a child like you could go so far, now you are a talented artist, my wife hung the portrait you made of Tian in one of our most important art galleries,” says the general calmly, as if he didn't want to get to the true point of that conversation with him.
"It's not easy to believe that a poor boy can become more than a forest ranger, is it? If you come to tell me that I should get away from Tian because I don't have the financial resources to be part of his family, I won't. You can spare yourself your threats, General. You said it, Tian and I are something like a married couple now and no one will change it, not even you.”
"I know, Phupha, and I'm not talking about your origin to humiliate you or to make you feel bad, in fact I'm glad to know that my son found support in you," says the man with some desperation. “Look, I know you think I'm just like your father, I know I was stupid to Tian his whole life and that's why I took him away from me. I've done nothing but regret it since my son left home, don't think I don't know it was me who pushed him away. I know that Tian doesn't need me because now he and you are a family but his mother is not well, she is also very sorry. I just want Tian to be okay so his mother can see him again, that's why I searched for him so hard but I understand why you and his doctor were so protective of him.”
"So you're not going to stop the surgery, are you? Don´t you want to separate me from Tian?” Phupha asks in disbelief.
"No, of course not, I just want my son to be fine and I know that this surgery could be more effective than a transplant," the general says calmly. “I wanted to talk to Tian since he left home but my son is stubborn, he is like me, I can't deny it. And I also know that he and you really love each other, why would I want to separate you? If you didn't love my son, Phupha, you wouldn't be here.”
Phupha looks at Tian's father's eyes and tries to find a trace of lies in them but he cannot. The man in front of him looks tired and also extremely sad. The regret in his eyes is genuine, and Phupha knows something like that can't be faked. Men like Tian's father never show their feelings; they don't show it to anyone. The man in front of him seems sincere. However Phupha knows he has to be cautious.
“I love Tian with everything I am,” Phupha says confidently. “And so I want you to know that I will protect him even from you. I'm sorry but I can't believe your words right now, not after everything Tian has told me about you. I think it's him you should tell all these things to, not me. Also, all those messages you sent me offering me money in exchange for Tian's location, or the fact that you used my father to set us up to locate us make me suspicious. It's not me you have to convince that you care about your son, and I think you know that too.”
"I know, but I wanted to talk to you first, now you and Tian are a couple," says the general. “I understand where your mistrust comes from and I hope we have a future where Tian, you and I can talk calmly about all this. Right now I'm only here because I don't want to leave you alone. As I told you, now you are part of my family and I want to start over. Phupha, no matter what happens I want you to know that you will always have my protection because I know that Tian would never have taken this risk if it wasn't for you. No matter what happens, son, I can never repay you for the fact that you have made Tian happy until the last of his days. You've protected him better than I have in his entire life.”
"I'll still have more days to make him happy," Phupha says with conviction. “You have nothing to pay me and I appreciate you not stopping Tian's surgery but I can't accept anything from you, not until Tian and you talk. So if you want to keep me company that's fine, but can we not talk about everything you and Tian have to do? I want to respect him. Tian is the most precious and important to me.
"I understand, son, and we'll do that," says Tian's father. “But tell me about yourself, I want to get to know better the man who will share his life with my son. Your father has told me some things but I don't think they are true, I doubt very much that your father knows that he has a wonderful son like you.”
Phupha smiles bitterly but doesn't say anything; he doesn't want to think about his father right now. So he just answers Tian's father's questions because at that time it's better to be with someone because his friends won't come until tonight. Time passes faster that way and the anguish of not knowing anything about Tian dissolves in the middle of the words. It's hard for Phupha to talk about himself, no one but Tian had cared for him before. So he answers shyly, actually, he likes listening to Tian's father talking about his son more. The general tells him about Tian's shenanigans at the family mansion. He tells him about his rebellious character and the love he always had for animals since he was a child. For Phupha it is beautiful to hear those stories, it is like rediscovering Tian through the eyes that looked at him from the first day he came into the world.
The hours pass more quickly now and when Nam runs into the cafeteria, his face tired but his eyes full of light, Phupha knows that he has to prepare himself because Nam will tell him something that will alter his life forever:
"Everything went well," Nam says, taking Phupha's arms in his hands. “Tian is very strong and withstood the surgery without any problems. He's not conscious yet and he'll have to spend a week in intensive care, but he'll be fine, Phu. In fact, you can see him in two days, do you hear me? Everything went so well that you will be able to see him in two days.”
Phupha can't say anything, his only reaction is to hug Nam and start crying like a child because he feels relieved, he feels so lucky. He didn't know he could cry like that but he doesn't care. Nam stays with him for a while and then tells him that he has to go back to help his father and then it is Tian's father who takes him in his arms because Phupha can't seem to stop crying. But it all went well. Tian is fine. Tian is still alive.
"It's okay, son, it's okay," says the general without letting go. “You and Tian will never have to cry again or be apart again, do you hear me? It's alright, Phupha, everything wil be alright.”
And in those moments Phupha truly believes that anything can be possible. The pain of uncertainty is finally over and yes, Phupha knows that there is still a lot of work ahead of him but Tian's love and life continue to shine through the darkness for him. Tian is alive and with him the hopes of that life together that the two always dreamed of sharing are also alive.
Chapter 22: Got you shackled in my embrace I'm latching on to you
For a long time everything around him has been darkness but now Tian feels that several threads are entwined around that body that he had forgotten about. He doesn't know how many hours have passed, he doesn't know if the place where he is can be called life or death, but the threads tighten more, it's as if something or someone were calling him to a place he has to go back to. Someone pulls a rope that binds him to life and calls him to his side. Someone wants to see him again and he must answer that call.
All around him there are sounds now. He knows his name but that's all he knows. His name is Tian and he has been wandering in the dark for years, perhaps centuries. Everything is so weird, so new now. There is a voice in the distance that pronounces his name, a voice with which he let himself be carried away by a dream that caught him without him noticing. But that voice calls to him and now he can understand the language it speaks, it is a language he knows. That voice calls him love, it tells him that he has been strong and brave and Tian wishes he could have a body so he can smile and run towards that voice because although he doesn't remember where it comes from, it is beautiful and warm and must come from a world where life is worth living.
The voice tells him about the life that awaits both of them and Tian would like to open his eyes and look at the hope that must be in the gaze of the owner of that voice, yes, because it is a man who calls him. And Tian still doesn't know much, but he knows that this man is the reason the darkness hasn't taken him aay. Those threads that entangle him tightly and seem to be the reason he's coming back seem to be being woven around him by that voice. There is so much love in that voice now that Tian is curious, is he the owner of all that love? It must be something beautiful, isn't it? It must be beautiful to be loved in the way that the owner of that voice loves.
"Tian, I love you," the voice says again, the words becoming clearer. “I love you and I wish I could see your eyes open again but I will be patient. Doctor Suthikul says it won't be long before you can open them so I can wait. You are so strong, Tian, you are very brave and you have achieved the dream of both of us because you never gave up. I am very happy because you are well and now nothing can separate us, I swear that nothing and no one will. I am with you, Tian. I will never be away from you. I'm here even if you can't feel me by your side.”
Tian feels his lips tighten as if they want to smile and oh now he can feel like he has lips again. It's very strange because in addition to the sounds he can now feel a terrible exhaustion throughout his body, yes, now he remembers what it's like to have a body. His body appears to have survived after being hit by a train but it's so good to know he has a body. There is a lot of pain in his chest, it is a bit unbearable but he has to smile and he has to open his eyes because someone is calling him and someone loves him and something tells him that if he has decided to come back from the darkness it is only because of the owner of that voice.
It is then that the threads that bring him back to the light seem to tighten even more and his eyes seem to remember how to move. They open slowly because his eyelids seem to be made of cement but he knows he can do it. He wants to look at him, the owner of the voice he´s listening. He wants to know why someone might be able to speak to him with all the love in the universe in their words.
His gaze is suddenly filled with light and at first it is unbearable so his eyes close again but when they open, he can recognize shapes and colors. He can look at the cream-colored ceiling of a hospital room. He can see machines next to him and a respirator connected to that body that yes, right now it is not possible to bear at all. There is a lot of pain in him still but he has to be brave a little bit more, just a little bit because the owner of the voice full of love is there and Tian wants to see him.
And then it happens: he is there dressed in a blue robe that covers his entire body. A cap of the same color covers his hair as well as a mask that makes Tian feel disappointed but then, that man's gaze becomes sweet and thousands of stars shine in his dark pupils and Tian knows very well who he is. The owner of that voice is Phupha and Tian feels like crying because that name alone is a beautiful story for him that even in the midst of pain he can remember perfectly. Phupha is there with him, smiling at him so beautifully that Tian knows that smile is the only reason he's still alive.
"Tian, hello Tian," Phupha says and Tian feels how everything in him burns with the desire to be able to touch him, kiss him, at least hold his hand, but he knows it will be impossible. “You must rest again, my love, you must recover. Soon I will be able to hug you, I swear, but now rest, okay? I don't want it to hurt too much, Tian, I know everything must hurt now but you'll feel better little by little and I won't leave here. I can be with you all the time, you know? Nam's father can't tell me to leave here anymore. But now close your eyes again. I will not leave you alone. Tian, my Tian, you have to sleep a little longer, okay?”
Phupha's eyes smile and Tian would like to do the same but that man he loves too much is right: the pain is unbearable right now so he must protect himself from it in the dark but now he is no longer afraid. He knows that Phupha will be there with him, Phu has told him. Phupha has never broken any of his promises. Phupha loves him to such a degree that he is even able to love him now that Tian can only give him worries. But if he has looked at Phupha again, that means everything is fine, that means taking the risk of that apparently life-saving surgery was worth it. And Phupha will be there, he and Phupha will be able to have a normal life when pain ceases to be the most important thing in his newly recovered life, in this new life that Dr. Suthikul has recovered for him.
How beautiful it is to be born again in the same world as Phupha Viriyanon! Tian wants to tell him that he loves him too but his eyes betray him and they close again but it's okay. The next time he opens them, the pain may be less terrible. Next time he may be able to see Phupha's face without anything covering it. Next time, because he now has the blissful certainty that there will be thousands of next times for the two of them, Tian knows he'll be able to tell him that he loves him, too.
☕ ☕☕ ☕☕ ☕☕
It has been a month since the surgery happened and Tian smiles as he looks at Phupha listening attentively to all the instructions that Dr. Suthikul is giving him. Tian will finally be able to leave the hospital in less than half an hour and the boy is excited by the idea in a deep way but of course, Phupha is the more responsible of the two. Tian finds it adorable that Phupha is filling one of his sketchbooks with notes about what the doctor is telling him and Tian wants to tell him that he shouldn't worry too much or thst they can hire a nurse to look after him but Phupha refuses to have a stranger in the house.
"I can take good care of you and Nam can check on you while we're here," Phupha told him. “We don't need anyone else, Tian.”
The boy smiles helplessly because he feels good right now. His heart beats confidently inside his chest because Dr. Suthikul has done an extraordinary job on him. Although Tian knows that he must follow a strict diet and take medications religiously for at least six more months, his life will no longer be in mortal danger, at least not because of his heart, which is now a normal heart.
Also, Tian has to admit that the idea of being alone with Phupha for the rest of the vacation is a wonderful idea. The doctor has told him that it will be possible for him to go back to university in the fall so he has to get his strength back because he has decided to go back to veterinary medicine school. Right now, Tian is full of thousands of dreams to fulfill and he doesn't want to miss a single one of them. He no longer has to give up any of them. Tian may just be a normal boy whose only concern will be the excessive homework that his teachers will surely assigned to him.
"And no spicy love scenes yet, Phupha, and I'm serious about that, Tian," says the doctor, pulling him out of his musings and making him blush when he understands the message.
"I'm flattered that you think I'm a top notch seducer, doctor, but believe me I wasn't going to take advantage of Phu as soon as we got home," says Tian, still smiling, causing the doctor to give him an incredulous look and Phupha to laugh shyly next to him. “Well, don't look at me like that. Yes I was thinking about it but what kind of person do you think I am? I’ve just survived a dangerous surgery, I'm not going to put myself at risk just because I can't control my baser instincts but you know? If I lose control it will all be Phu's fault, it's illegal to be as handsome as him. And now he'll be my nurse, do you know how many fantasies I'll have about it?”
"Tian!" says Dr. Suthikul impatiently, and Tian notices that Phupha's cheeks are completely red. “It's okay to have fantasies like that, at your age they're unavoidable and yeah, well, Phupha could be a TV star if he wanted to but listen to me, both of you, okay? NO SPICY SCENES FOR YOU, at least two more months of celibacy. I'm sure you can be held responsible. If you've held out all this time, what's two more months?”
“With a boyfriend like mine that can be translated as an eternity, doctor. I mean, have you seen him, right? Phu is too handsome for my health, I swear, you can't blame me if I can't control myself for two more months,” Tian assures innocently.
"Phupha, please talk to your boyfriend and make him understand that I'm serious" says the doctor in a defeated way and Tian can't help but laugh.
"I'm not going to ruin your work, doc, you have to believe me," Tian says, putting aside his teasing tone and feeling completely happy when Phupha sits next to him and takes him in his arms. “I don't want to be sick anymore or worry Phu. I will be a model patient and leave everything that can be dangerous for me in my fantasies, I swear.”
“I will take good care of him and I will not give him reasons to disobey you, doctor, I promise,” says Phupha and Tian knows that he is serious because for Phupha there is nothing more important than protecting him.
"I know, I trust both of you," says the doctor more calmly now because despite everything, he knows that Tian and Phupha know how to take good care of each other. “Don't forget to come to the weekly check-up, although Nam is keeping an eye on Tian, it is important to continue carrying out several series of studies that allow us to see that everything is still in order in that heart. You will return to the capital in a month and a half, but in the meantime I want Tian to rest. Although you can do more activities now, it is not good to rush, understood? Well, I'll go check the paperwork. I think Tian´s discharge will be ready in another twenty minutes.”
Before the doctor leaves the room, Tian breaks away from Phupha's arms simply to get up from the bed and hug the doctor gently. The boy hopes that Dr. Suthikul knows that he has given him a new life. Tian hopes that through this gesture, Nam's father will know how grateful he is to him.
"I will never be able to pay you with anything other than money for what you have done for me, doctor," says Tian without letting go. “I want you to know that I am not going to waste this second chance that you have given me. I have a new life and I know it's thanks to you and I know that the life of a boy like me doesn't matter much in the middle of such a big world but you know? Now I will be able to make many of my dreams a reality. That is something I could never thank you enough for.”
"Just live a life that fills you with love and happiness, Tian, that's all I want to see," says the doctor, separating from him to look into his eyes. “Your grandmother wanted you to have a better life and I know you will. And now, if you don't want to see a sentimental old doctor cry, I'd better go. Take care of each other, okay? Phupha had already hugged me like this while thanking me for saving the love of his life and I told him the same as you: you have nothing to be thankful for. I did my job and if with my work I have been able to give you a reason to smile that is enough for me, guys.”
The doctor smiles and leaves the room without looking back while the two boys are left alone and Phupha gets up from the bed simply to hug Tian who lets himself be done because it still seems like a miracle to him to have that life where he can hug Phupha without fearing that this will be the last time.
“Are you ready to go home?” Phupha asks as he rubs his back.
“Of course, but it's really a pity that we can't have our honeymoon at last,” Tian says with a pout that makes Phupha laugh.
"I know, but now we're sure we can do it soon, right?" Phupha says shyly and he looks so adorable and so beautiful that Tian thinks it's a crime not to be able to do anything other than kiss him but yes, yes, he should keep his hands to himself.
"We're going to do a thousand things together, Phu, whatever we want to do," Tian says confidently. “I survived that surgery so I could do everything with you. I am alive Phu and I love you. I know I have to be patient but now I will really be with you for the rest of my life and do you know how beautiful that is?”
"It's too beautiful, Tian," Phupha says and kisses his lips gently. “This is the life I've always dreamed of, Tian.”
Tian hugs his boyfriend's neck and the two get lost in the middle of that kiss that seems to take them away from everything else. That kiss is again like a thread linking him to Phupha. That thread that gets tangled up and makes the two of them a knot that can never be undone because right now their hearts and their young bodies know that nothing will separate them, not anymore. The strands of the thread of the destiny of the two are intertwining, they make a little knot and this time, they will never break. Tian thinks it's okay to be like this, shackled to the body and soul of this man who loves him so much because although it sounds melodramatic, he is alive to love Phupha until something more powerful than death separates them.
Chapter 23: I´ll be with you.
The two are walking to by the seashore without saying anything. Their silence is not uncomfortable. Tian smiles as he feels the warm sea water between his feet and Phupha is once again grateful for the simple and magical fact of having Tian by his side. That walk is part of his daily routine since the doctor said it was okay to do some other activities without going overboard, and Phupha knows that this walk is one of Tian's favorite parts of the day.
And although they don't walk much, although they hardly get far from the private beach of Tian’s house, Phupha can notice that this activity fills Tian's eyes with life and colors his cheeks giving him an increasingly healthy appearance. Yes, of course, the two are still careful with everything they do but the terror of a tragedy has vanished, it is as if it had not existed between the two. Neither he nor Tian talk about everything that happened before. It is as if the two of them are enjoying the present and looking to the future because now there is a promising future for both of them.
And even if it has nothing to do with the serene joy that fills him now, a worried sigh escapes from Phupha's lips because, although he would like not to think about it, there is something he has not talked about with Tian, something that he has kept as a secret for the last month. First, he clearly attributed it to him taking care of Tian with absolute dedication after he got out of the hospital and then, he just happened to not know how the hell to broach the subject.
Phupha doesn't know how to tell Tian that he spoke to his father on the day of the surgery and that the General has been asking about him for days. Phupha doesn't know if Tian will think he's betraying his trust because it's not up to him to decide whether or not Tian's father means well. However, the boy thinks that General Teerayut has been sincere, at least in that he does not want to harm his son. Phupha thinks that maybe the man is sincere and that he is really scared because all this time he hasn't directly looked for Tian and that makes Phupha feel even guiltier.
He is a traitor of the worst kind, isn't he? Phupha is being friendly to people who hurt Tian and he knows that he is a mess and that he should tell Tian but how? How the hell to say it?
"Phu, what's wrong?" Tian says as if he could read his mind and Phupha feels his cheeks blush because he really can't hide anything from Tian.
"Nothing, everything´s fine, I swear," says Phupha, sighing deeply. “It's just that I want to tell you something but I don't know how to do it and I'm afraid you're going to hate me when I tell you.”
"Phu, I can never hate you," Tian says calmly. And Phupha notices that the boy in front of him is telling him the truth because he blindly trusts him and Phupha feels his betrayal as something even more horrible. “You can tell me whatever, I'm not going to be mad at you, how could I be mad at you?”
"It's just that this is a good reason to hate me, Tian," Phupha says seriously, knowing he can't keep that secret anymore. “I really did something bad.”
"Did you cheat on me with that ER doctor who kept flirting with you when he thought I was asleep?" Tian asks, his gaze filling with a quiet fury that makes Phupha want to laugh despite everything.
"Tian, I will never be unfaithful to you, how can you think that?" Phupha asks and gently caresses the other boy's cheeks. “No, Tian, I have never laid eyes on another person since I met you.”
"I know, my Phu only loves me," Tian says with a bubbling joy that makes Phupha feel like the luckiest man in the universe. “I should have told that lousy doctor that we swore to love each other forever.”
"I told him from the beginning," Phupha says making Tian look at him in utter surprise.
“I told him that you were my husband and that he should respect you and me.”
“Phu, you're a prince!” Tian says and hugs him tightly and Phupha also surrounds him with his arms because Tian's greatest fear is that he might love another person.
But that will never be possible, how to stop loving Tian? Not even the fact that he could lose him forever made his heart stop feeling that he would never love anyone but Tian again. And now Phupha knows that in the name of that love he must tell him everything. Tian deserves him to be honest and if after that, Tian wants to punch him in the face or get away from him, Phupha will give him his space and then fight to regain his trust though, if Tian decides to hate him forever, he will take it as a punishment for being stupid and sentimental and being carried away by the sad face of Tian's father.
“Tian, I don't know how to tell you this so I'll just say it and I want you to know that I have no valid excuses and if I say it until now it's because first I forgot and then I was afraid of your answer,” Phupha says and Tian looks at him now with a hint of unease.
“You're scaring me, Phu,” Tian whispers.
"I spoke to your father the day of your surgery," Phupha says directly and Tian's eyes widen. “He found me in the cafeteria and came over to talk to me. Dr. Suthikul let him in and come with me after making sure he wouldn't interrupt the surgery. He told me that he wanted to ask you for another chance, that he had already understood that he had done everything wrong from the beginning but that the only reason he wants to see you now is because he misses you and because your mother is not having a good time since you left. I listened to him, Tian, but I didn't let him in to see you, it wasn't time, besides, I'm still afraid he'll try to do something to us because I don't know him well. However, it's true that he hasn't done anything wrong since he talked to me. I think he even put a stop to my father because he has stopped bothering me. Lately, the general sends me messages to see how you're doing and you can read them all to tell me if I've done anything wrong. I just usually tell him that you're fine and he keeps saying he wants to see you but, you know? I know that's not a decision for me to make, so I just ignore the messages when he asks me to talk to you and try to convince you to give them a chance to see you.”
"Do Mom and Dad really want to see me?" Tian asks absently and Phupha nods hard to answer his question.
"Yes, your father says that the two of them have been suffering and that now they know that they have had to pay a very high price for their stupidity," Phupha says calmly, drawing Tian's gaze with his words. “I don't know what to think of all this, you know them better. Your father has not wanted to approach you directly because he knows that he has hurt you and well, the truth is that I asked him not to do it until you felt stronger. I'm sorry if I decided for you but I was worried, I didn't want you to feel sick again and actually, I already told you, Tian: I was scared, even now I'm scared because I know I deliberately hid things from you.”
Tian's eyes look at him seriously, at times like this it's hard to hold his gaze but Phupha knows he has to. Tian is looking at them in search for answers and Phupha has to be patient to know his opinion about all this mess. Every second is distressing, of course, but now everything is outside. Tian already knows everything he has kept from himself.
"I'm not angry and I know you did it to protect me," Tian says softly. “In fact, now that we talk about all those things that we've kept quiet about, Phu, there are a lot of things that I didn't tell you as well.”
"But none as serious as this one, don't you think?"
"Actually yes," Tian says with some embarrassment. “I did it to protect you and because I wanted to give you a better future, but do you remember that scholarship you got in college?”
"Was it you?" Phupha asks really surprised.
"Yes, it was me and I'm not going to take it back even though I know right now that I'm not going to leave you alone," Tian says calmly. “You deserve that support, Phu, and the organization that awarded you the scholarship is precisely in charge of helping those who need it. I apologize for not telling you but I know you would never have accepted and now that you know I hope you don't turn down the support because Phupha, I'm serious when I say you deserve everything you have.”
"I'm not going to reject it, in fact right now I think that I must be the best artist of my generation so that you never have to regret having supported me," Phupha says seriously. “I'm not going to deny that I feel like I don't deserve what you did for me, especially because they always told me that you can only have good things if you work hard for them, but you know? When I won that contest I realized that maybe everything I do deserves recognition. And if you trust my talent, I swear that I will make you proud of the artist I will become.”
"You do that every day, really, so you don't have to prove anything to me and I'm glad you're not mad at me," Tian says with a huge grin. “But back to the main topic of all this, what would you do in my place? Dad's attitude surprises me. From what you tell me, he was there, supporting you while you were alone. I know our friends had to come home after my surgery and my dad was there, can you swear he didn't treat you badly? Isn't he threatening you with his messages?”
"Your father was very kind, too kind in fact," Phupha says confidently. “As for the messages, you can read all of them, there are no threats in them.”
"And what would you do in my place?" What am I supposed to do?” Tian asks with some desperation.
“Do what you think is right for you,” Phupha says, hugging Tian close. “If you want to talk to your parents, you know that I will be with you, I will hold your hand and support you in everything you want to tell them, I will never leave you alone because you and I are a family now. If you want to forgive them and get closer to them, I will accompany you throughout the process and I will give myself the opportunity to meet them and show them that you are happy by my side. And if you really feel like you can't talk to them yet, then I'll keep telling the general to wait until you're ready. Now, if you want to make it clear to them that you don't want to see them, I think you should do it up front so they understand. You are not obligated to forgive anyone, Tian. If the two of them hurt you for many years, you should not forgive them just because they are your parents. It's okay to feel angry at them, and if their presence makes you feel bad, it's not okay to force yourself to be around both of them. You don't owe anyone forgiveness, Tian, so my advice is this: do what you want. Whatever you decide, I'll always be there for you.
"You are my only family now," Tian says and hides his face in Phupha's chest. “You're all the family I need but, you know? I feel like a fool because I wish I could talk to my parents like a normal person and tell them that I'm happy to be alive. Also, if they know you, I know they will love you. I don't know if I can forgive them immediately but something in me wants to hear what they have to say.”
"You know you can do it," Phupha says and hugs him tighter because Tian has started sobbing. “You can talk to them when you are ready.”
"And you're going to be with me all the time?" Tian asks fearfully.
"As long as you want," Phupha says as he rubs his back. “Whenever you need me, I´ll be with you, Tian.”
"Then tell them to come this weekend, can you prepare a delicious meal for them, Phu? They're going to love your food; they're really going to tell me I made the right choice. I don't know why I keep wanting to be told that I finally did something right.”
"We can't help it," Phupha says, thinking of his own father. “Everything will be fine, Tian. You will see that no matter what happens, you will feel better after listening to them.”
Tian nods and hugs Phupha very tightly. The sound of the waves of the sea surrounds them both. Phupha is relieved by Tian's response but knows that the hardest part of the whole mess is yet to come. However, that is another of the loose threads that the two must tie up, that is another of the wounds that the two must heal. Yes, the two of them must do it because they promised to accompany each other on every path and Phupha knows that Tian's path of healing does not have to do only with his physical heart, no. There are many wounds that are still open but they will heal. After all, those wounds will become scars and a scar is, yes, the proof that something hurt you deeply, but it is also the testimony that you were able to heal.
Chapter 24: Thanks to you and your eyes.
He feels nervous, quite agitated. He hasn't been able to sleep well and despite repeating to himself a thousand times that he shouldn't feel that way because the people who are coming to see him are his parents, Tian can't help it. The young man looks at his reflection in the window that overlooks the beach and then his eyes search for Phupha who continues to set the table on which there are already glasses and plates waiting to contain the delicacies that his boyfriend has prepared.
Tian assumes that any son who is about to introduce his parents to his partner must feel nervous, but Tian knows that theirs will not be a normal meeting. Before they can even talk about how much Phupha means to him and how much they have to thank him for, the boy knows that they will have to talk about much less pleasant things and that is why he is scared.
The boy is not sure, in the end, if his father's attitude was not just an act to win over Phupha and then set them up, but it is that his foolish heart still wants to have a normal family. Tian wants his parents to support him like they have with his older siblings even though they are so different from him. Tian wants them to also welcome Phupha into the Sopasitsakun family because he knows that this is a priceless gift that only he can give to the man he loves.
Tian closes his eyes and dares to hope that his parents are not hiding their true intentions and that they have been sincere with their desire to recover the relationship that the three of them believed lost almost two years ago. He knows that the stars and all the gods of the universe have been too merciful to him by granting him the miracle of staying alive, but is it really too much to ask for a loving family? Aren't all human beings supposed to have the right to be loved by those who decided to bring you into the world?
The doorbell rings and Tian's eyes widen as Phupha walks up to him and holds out his hand with the brightest smile in the universe on his lips. Tian notices that Phupha isn't scared, he looks as calm as ever. There is warmth and strength in the eyes of that man who will truly accompany him always. Phupha is there, asking him to take his hand once more and face the world as they promised to do in front of that same sea that continues to sing outside the house. And all the uneasiness vanishes because Phupha is there, he will always be there. So Tian takes his hand and tells himself that even if everything goes wrong, the truth is that it doesn't matter because at the end of it all Phupha will still be holding his hand.
“Are they really here?” Tian asks softly.
"Yes, they are here," Phupha says, still smiling at him. “Let's greet them as a couple, okay? Or do you want to talk to them alone first?”
"No, no, I need you to be with me, Phu," Tian says confidently. “Everything they have to tell me you also have to listen to. I need your strength, Phu, I always need your strength.”
“Let's go together then and don't be afraid, everything will be fine, Tian.”
Tian smiles because he knows it's true, everything will be fine. So the two of them walk towards the door and without letting go of their hands they open the door of that house that has become a home for both of them during that summer and the faces of Tian's parents are filled with something similar to tenderness and the shyness of seeing their joined hands and the way Tian's body moves a little closer to Phupha's for protection.
"Welcome, father and mother," Tian says in a formal tone, but it's been so long since he's seen them that he no longer knows how to treat them naturally. “Please come in, Phu and I have been waiting for you.”
General Teerayut and his wife enter the house bowing to them, and Tian notices that they too are nervous. His mother looks at him longingly, it's as if she, Lalita, doesn't know what to do either. So Tian lets go of Phupha's hand and shyly approaches his mother causing the woman to be unable to contain herself any longer and to catch him in a warm and desperate embrace. Tian's mother begins to sob and repeats a thousand times that she has been stupid, that he must forgive her. And Tian doesn't know what to do but hold her in his arms the same way she held him when he was a child and was scared of the darkness of his room.
And that hug and that crying so full of despair are too sincere to be just an act so Tian decides that it is true: he will be able to get his family back. So when his father hugs the two of them too, tears begin to roll down his cheeks because his parents are there, they've gone looking for him.
That's when they both let go of him and fall to their knees on the hall floor. Tian doesn't know how to act because that's surprising but the boy doesn't think it's necessary. He is about to ask them to get up but his father's voice stops him.
"Tian, before I say anything to you, I want to apologize," says the General, and Tian knows that that man has never humiliated himself in that way before anyone. “Throughout my life I have done things that I am not proud of, many of those things you know but I think I have been nothing but a stupid and a bastard with you, with my own son. I was so used to dictating everyone's lives and destinies that I thought I could do the same to you but I regret that I did. Tian: I should never have asked you to accept something as horrible and dirty as what I planned to do when I bought that heart. I want you to know that the right person on the waiting list has already received the opportunity of a new life as was their destiny. I know that I have been the worst father in the universe in fact I don't know how it is possible for a person like me to have a son like you. I know that you will not forgive me just for what I have done today, but my son, if you let me be part of your life once again, I believe that I will be able to show you with actions and not only with words that I can be a good father and a man that can finally be an example for you although obviously I know you don't need it.”
"And I want you to forgive me for having let you go, for having abandoned you," says his mother without giving him the opportunity to respond to the general's words. “A mother must accompany her children when they go through difficult paths but because of my pride and my stupidity I left you to your fate in a hostile world, I left you without support even knowing you were sick. I can never forgive myself for leaving you alone, Tian. My guilt is too great but if you could let me into your life one more time I know I will not make the same mistakes again. I know you must think that your father and I have only gotten closer to you now that everything is fine but it is not like that, Tian, we were always looking for a way to get closer to you again to take care of you, not to hurt you. Please forgive us Tian. And if you can't forgive us, at least let us know about you, let us see you happy next to this wonderful boy who has taken such good care of you.”
Mrs. Lalita's eyes look at Phupha who has remained silent a bit away from that scene and Tian smiles because yes, it's true, that wonderful boy that his mother mentions makes him so strong and so happy. So Tian calls him to his side once more and Phupha answers his call by intertwining his fingers with his again while smiling at him.
"Father, mother, please get up, you've already said everything I ever wanted to hear," Tian asks gently. “The truth is that we have a long way to go to heal our bond but I don't want to keep holding a grudge against you. If you are really willing to accompany me now, then you can walk with me but now there is someone else by my side and you must consider him as part of our family. Mother, father, let me introduce Phupha Viriyanon, he is my life partner and the person I love the most in this world.”
"It's nice to meet you, darling," Mrs. Lalita says after getting up from the ground to approach Phupha. “You're so handsome, why didn't anyone tell me you were this handsome as well as one of the best artists in this country?”
"I'm not that handsome, ma'am," says Phupha with that shyness of his that reminds Tian that seriously his boyfriend has no idea that he is the most beautiful man in the universe.
"My name is Lalita, Phupha, just Lalita," she says and hugs him warmly. “I have no words to thank you for everything you have done for my Tian.”
"I love Tian so you don´t have to thank me," Phupha says frankly. “I know that a boy like me has little to offer a boy like Tian but I'm working on it. I will do whatever it takes to be that man that you and Tian can be proud of.”
"This boy is also too modest," General Teerayut says with a pleased smile.
"I swear he has no idea that he's already the best man in the universe," Tian says, making his father laugh normally and Phupha look at him with a hint of surprise. “Phupha is already perfect since I met him but he doesn't believe me: he's handsome, a prodigy in art and the best chef in Thailand who, by the way, prepared his best dishes so, will you join us at the table?”
Tian's parents nod at their son's words and walk a little more confidently towards the table. When everyone is in their places, Phupha tells them that he will start serving all the dishes that she prepared in the kitchen and although Tian still feels a little nervous because this is the first time that his parents are with him alone, the boy notices that it is no longer so uncomfortable to be with them.
“Tian, can we really start over?” his mother says and takes his hand across the table.
"We can but...”
"What's wrong, Tian?" asks his father with some apprehension.
"It's really important to me that Phupha is considered part of the family starting today," Tian says firmly. “I know that our union will never be official, at least not under the laws of this country, but I do know that I will spend the rest of my life with him. I want you to get to know him and treat him with love and kindness. Phu hasn't had an easy life but you know? He is the only reason I decided to keep fighting. I will never love anyone the way I love Phupha and we need to always support and protect him.”
"We are not against your relationship with Phupha, son, I know the kind of boy he is and I already told him: he is part of our family now," says the general with confidence.
"And you, mom? Can you understand this? I know you never wanted one of your children to be, well...”
“I always dreamed that my three children would find a true love for them, that's all I wanted. If in your case, Phupha is that love, who am I to question it? I was brought up with many prejudices but none of them has brought me anything good, don't you think? I don't care who the person you love is as long as that person makes you happy and I think Phupha does more than that, doesn't he? Phupha is part of my family now and I am going to pamper that boy all his life, it breaks my heart that being so young he has such a sad look when he is not looking at you.”
"He also has many wounds in his heart to heal," Tian says with a hint of sadness. “I want nothing to hurt in his heart and for that I have to give him everything that the world has denied him since he was born so I want to start giving him a family. That's what I want you to be for him, a family.”
Lalita takes her son's hand tightly and the general does the same, knowing that with this gesture they are accepting Tian's wish, a wish that will not be too difficult to make come true. At least that's what Tian notices when Phupha arrives at the table laden with plates of food that smell delicious. Tian still can't eat some of them but his heart fills with joy when Phupha puts in front of him that special menu that Dr. Suthikul approves of.
“Thank you, Phu,” says Tian and he is not only thankful for the food but for the very existence of that man who makes everything around him seem full of light and hope.
“Don't say thank you, eat well,” Phupha says and kisses his forehead in a distracted way as usual and Tian feels happy that he doesn't contain the signs of affection just because his parents are there.
"I love you," Tian says and pulls him to him to kiss his lips gently.
“I love you more, come on, eat,” says Phupha with a smile of enormous joy and then adds, addressing his parents: “mother, father, I hope this food is to your liking, too.”
And although Phupha's voice sounds firm and full of respect, Tian can hear a tremor in his lover's voice, something that tells him that he fears that his parents will not welcome the way he has called them. But Phupha's fear doesn't last long because as soon as he says those words Tian´s mother starts praising the aroma of the dishes and the way Phupha presented them. His father, on the other hand, calls him son and asks him to tell the story of those dishes and how he learned to cook so well. And then Phupha talks about her mother and their life in the mountains, Phupha says that he could never match the seasoning of the woman who gave him life but that he tries, that he will keep trying. And Tian knows that Phupha's charm is effortlessly winning over his parents' hearts, so is he.
Phupha wouldn't be Phupha if he didn't cause love at first sight, right? His mother loves him, that's obvious, it's obvious because she keeps praising him and telling him that she has bought his collection of Tian's portraits from the university and that she will move them to a major gallery in the capital. Tian smiles pleased to hear that and joins the endless praise for those portraits and as if his father did not want to be left behind, he tells him that in two years, when Phupha graduates, he will take him to meet all his contacts in the world of art so that his talent can reach far, to the whole world.
And Phupha just smiles shyly, Tian knows that he must not be used to receiving that kind of attention but he will have time to get used to it. After all, that meal that Tian had been so afraid of seems like a normal family gathering and the boy decides to enjoy it. Of course he and his parents still have a long way to go but those first steps seem to be going in the right direction and something more than just his physical heart is healing amid the laughter and stories being told around him. Everything in the world, in fact, seems to be healed thanks to Phupha's eyes that at that very moment are not sad but full of stars and promises of the thousands of happy days that they still have to live.
Chapter 25: Let's make all the noise in the world.
Silence is full of electricity. It is the last night that the two of them will spend alone in that huge house by the sea and although they have been difficult months, they both feel nostalgic, somewhat reluctant to return to Bangkok, to classes at the university and in short, to that world where they can't be together for hours and hours.
Perhaps that is what has led them to kiss like that. Sweet kisses have long since given way to a concert of messy kisses full of heat. Phupha's white T-shirt is lying on the living room floor because Tian's hands seem to be greedy now more than ever. The boy has discovered that it is wonderful to be able to touch that smooth and muscular skin without anything covering it. Phupha's hands mess up his hair while his tongue works wonders inside his mouth. It's hot even though the air conditioner is on but Tian doesn't mind and neither does Phupha.
They both know that there is no danger right now and Tian can feel that certainty in his heart that yes, it is beating fast but not in a bad way. His whole body screams that he wants this. He wants Phupha to keep kissing him in that deep, adoring way. Tian had never wanted to be like this with someone and the sounds that come out of his mouth when Phupha stops kissing him simply to touch his skin or the center of his body doesn't embarrass him at all. In fact he wants to make all the noise in the world, who cares? That night that little by little is filled with stars that make their way in the middle of the darkness belongs to both of them and if he wants to scream or moan he will do it without caring about anything else because Phupha's hands, oh good lord, those hands are made to fill him with pleasure.
The two separate for a moment so they can look at each other directly. Phupha's eyes are filled with a myriad of different emotions: anxiety, passion, ardor, all of which are then wrapped up in the presence of a love that borders on the most complete adoration anyone has ever felt. His eyes do not take off from the body of Tian who smiles a few centimeters from him with emotion. There is something in Phupha's eyes that is new and also comforting and familiar. His dark eyes shine with the same intensity as the moonbeams that enter through the window. The moonlight reflects off his smile and the bare skin of his belly. The light of the moon is all the luminosity that exists now because it has not been necessary to turn on the light since their senses are sharp, expectant, somewhat agitated by the proximity of the other.
"I think we should go to our bedroom," Tian says shyly and Phupha nods, seeming unable to speak and Tian understands because his own words have left her lips like a trembling whisper.
Without giving him time to say or do anything else, Phupha can't help himself and picks up Tian in his arms to go through the door of the room that the two have shared in that house that, although it would not be their home forever, it will be the first nest in which the two will experience the emotion of a first encounter like that.
And now that they're back there in the gloom of a familiar room, Phupha's hands are shaking and he can't help it. Tian's skin is like one of his favorite canvases, a beloved canvas that is known by touch alone, by scent and on which he can paint thousands of pictures that speak of love and happiness. Phupha thinks that he could recognize Tian's skin even if his eyes stopped seeing. He could know Tian only by his perfume or the way a happy, pleased sound escapes his lips as Phupha's hands begin to rest on the moonlight that caresses Tian as well.
That night is special, it's different. The salty scent of the sea enters through the window and permeates around them. Tian's arms wrap around Phupha's waist as he tries to draw him to himself with a hint of desperation that paints a pleased smile on Phupha's lips. In Tian's arms, being intensely wanted has never been a problem for Phupha. In Tian's arms it's okay to want to be loved that way and not be afraid to acknowledge that it's something he deserves, something he can have forever.
That night is a celebration, Tian and Phupha know it and perhaps it is that certainty that makes the lips of the two calmly crash and open slowly. Although there is still passion in their kisses, right now there is no rush. Because although their hands slide over each other's skin as if this were the last night of their lives, in reality they both know that it is the first of many. The first where they can call each other's partner on that journey. The first in which perhaps, there is no kind of ghost haunting every kiss, every caress.
Phupha knows that tonight there is no room for the terror of losing Tian that he had to endure in the past, he doesn't even think about it right now. In his mind there is only Tian, under his hands there is only Tian's skin and around him that fresh and masculine perfume that emanates from his lover's body and now mixes with his.
A slightly embarrassed, happy sigh escapes Tian's lips as he feels Phupha's hands slip under the delicate white fabric of his shirt. Phupha's hands are warm and full of moonlight. And suddenly Tian feels a little embarrassed when Phupha's fingers rest on the scar on his chest, the one that is impossible to hide. After touching Phupha's perfect body, it's a bit overwhelming to know that his lover will have to touch that indelible mark on his skin. But Phupha doesn't seem to mind, he is touching his chest with the same adoration as he touches his back or his hair. For Phupha, every inch of him is perfect, so Tian stops being afraid and lets go.
His cheeks are flushed and his lips search for the mouth of his partner who until a few seconds ago was kissing his neck gently, sucking his skin as if Phupha were eating a particularly sweet and appetizing candy and Tian lets his hands slide over the soft skin of Phupha too. He wants to touch everything. He wants to learn every nook and cranny of that body by heart. One night may not be possible but he will try. Of course he will try.
And Phupha also wants to touch him, caress him. Of course, they had experienced that between them but not with as much intensity as now, not without feeling that something burns between their bodies, that their skins are thirsty for the other, that those caresses only have one destination and that neither of them can wait any longer.
For as Phupha's hands caress Tian with the rhythm of a painter creating his pinnacle painting, Tian wonders how it was possible for the two of them to delay that moment so long, and tells himself that there may not be a logical answer to that question. Phupha never complained about how hard the process was. Phupha never claimed him for not healing faster. Phupha was patient but right now there is no more waiting, there will be nothing to stop them. Both have discovered each other with softness and sweetness and above all that, the two trust each other to such a degree that the union of the two, that union that began one winter day, little by little becomes that kind of bond that goes beyond the body, that transcends the soul, making them feel that soon the two of them will be able to understand the idea of immortality as long as Phupha's fingers and hands continue to paint on Tian's skin.
That is why Phupha calmly undresses Tian, taking his time. It's as if Phupha thinks that Tian is a special canvas that his hands and lips that burn on the other boy's skin must be careful with. Because he knows from the experience of an artist who has created beautiful paintings that have been praised throughout the country that Tian is a masterpiece. Phupha knows that he must paint love on his beloved without rushing, feeling the urgent fire of passion, of that thirst that is born of the painter when he wants to know what the final destination of his work will be, but also creating with reserve, taking his time to reaching climax, brushing over and over until he finds the right tone and shape, whispering secrets into his love's ear that no one but Tian will be able to hear.
Tian's clothes fall to the ground and with the calm of one who knows that there is nothing to fear when it comes to giving himself to someone he loves, Tian's fingers undress Phupha too and when he feels his naked and warm skin Tian wonders how it is that he had been able to resist so many days without having the slightest idea about what it was like to feel that skin that now seems to open up before his hands like spring flowers when they feel the first rays of sun on them. Under Tian's hands, there is a blooming garden.
Phupha's lips search for Tian's again and the two of them fall onto the huge bed in the room. The two fall on the mattress laughing and kissing, losing themselves in each other's arms, meeting thousands of times in the midst of the sighs of love that flow from their lips, feeling that the center of their body burns, that the skin of their cocks, sensitive and warm, tense as they rub against each other's hardness.
And that shared nudity, that nudity that is not only in the body but also in the soul makes Tian bite Phupha's lips without worrying about seeming ambitious, maybe he is, maybe he wants Phupha to be his at that moment. Yes, Tian knows that it is the foolishness of human need to know that something other than our own body belongs to us, but he cannot help it. He wants Phupha to touch him the way he does now for life. He wants Phupha's fingers to latch onto his erection and slowly caress it, making him see stars in the middle of that suddenly over kiss so that Tian can start making noise again.
Yes, Tian is selfish when it comes to those hands, when it comes to those kisses that continue to paint on his skin because Phupha knows that the painting that the two have begun to create will not be a unique portrait since in their lives there are still many nights like this, many nights of madness, of happiness, nights of madness that will begin with any pretext, with the inevitable desire to be able to belong to the other.
Tian smiles helplessly as Phupha turns over on the mattress, resting Tian's head on one of the pillows, and when his eyes land on him, Tian feels that Phupha's beauty dazzles him because Phupha is beautiful, he is perfect.
Phupha's eyes lock on his, he looks at Tian as if looking at a miracle, as if Tian's black eyes were capable of performing feats, quenching hunger, bringing the dead back to life, making the blind see, make a man feel immortal by loving him the way Phupha is capable of loving him.
Tian caresses his cheeks and his legs hug Phupha's waist. Phupha is excited to notice the blush on Tian's cheeks and to feel his fingers caressing his face, moving slowly to his lips. And he begins to kiss Tian's fingers as he lets his erection rub against his lover's belly and Tian feels the movement make him shiver. Phupha sucks on his lover's fingers making him gasp, he makes him moan and Tian is not ashamed of that sound because Phupha smiles ecstatically upon hearing it. That is a good concert and he knows that neither the sea nor the solitude of the house will mind listening to it. That night the two of them can be loud and cheeky, who cares?
Also, the sounds he makes are something Phupha likes. Tian thinks he must like it if that's why he smiles like that. Phupha must be grateful to hear Tian making those sounds because that satisfied smile crashes back onto Tian's lips with force, causing a new moan to choke in his mouth and entangle Phupha's tongue who plays war with Tian's without knowing that in an exchange like the one between the two there will be neither a winner nor a loser since the two will have to surrender to each other in order to give themselves completely.
And there is no fear in Phupha's chest at the thought of that fact, there is no fear because Phupha is happy that it is Tian who discovers in his body a love story worth telling. Phupha is no longer a worthless boy, he is not. In Tian's arms he is love and one should fear love but should embrace it completely. Phupha will always be loved, now he can think about it without fear and the mere knowledge of having become the love of someone like Tian makes something warm explode in his heart, something still, something more lasting than the euphoria of his discovery.
“I love you, Tian,” Phupha says when his lips part from the other boy's and Tian smiles in such a beautiful way that it makes him want to cry and Phupha feels that he owns the world by saying those words to that man who is telling him with the look of someone who would die for him if Phupha asks.
“I love you so much, Phu,” says Tian and his lover smiles dazzlingly.
"I think I've loved you unknowingly since I was born," Phupha says with absolute confidence. “Maybe I was born into this world just to love you.”
"I also feel that I've loved you in all the lives I've had," says Tian with the sweetness of someone who says I love you for the first time knowing that this love is more than reciprocated. “You do not know how much I love you.”
"Yes, I know," Phupha replies, smiling in the midst of his happiness. “I do know and right now I want you to know all about my love for you too.”
Their words are lost in the emptiness of the room as Phupha's lips slide back from Tian's lips to his neck, slowly traveling south. Phupha kisses him and his hands touch that part of himself that seems to dominate everything now, and Tian lets his body feel everything without any inhibition, he is not embarrassed that Phupha does this because he is touching the deepest part of his being. Phupha is the dawn that heralds a new world, Tian thinks. Phupha is like the sun and Tian is a spring flower that will open before that light, that light that will penetrate him and give him life, warmth, color.
A muffled cry comes from Tian's lips when Phupha's lips leave his mouth and relieve his fingers in the task of caressing his cock that seems to have a life of its own and that feels hot and hard while his lover's lips slide down that skin. Tian tries to close his eyes for a moment but something stops him and that something is the desire to see Phupha kissing that part of his body like that. Tian doesn't want to miss the wonderful sight of Phupha between his legs, his mouth moving up and down his penis, Phupha's saliva spilling over the taut skin of his testicles.
That is a beautiful, innocent, perverse image, but at the same time the living image of passion, the living image of human nature reminding Tian that it is through the union of bodies that men can feel at least for a moment that they are more than an individual being, that they are more than two, that they are more, much more than a couple of bodies condemned to die one day.
Phupha stares at him as his lips continue to devour him and the fingers of his left hand begin to calmly explore his entrance, with that studied and sensual calm that Phupha uses when painting because even a caress as intimate as that is carried out with exquisite care that makes Tian want to close his eyes as he feels those fingers sinking into him as if searching for a path, as if Phupha's fingers were now seeking to read the way they should enter him.
And for a moment the sensations that invade Tian are too many. The boy knows that if Phupha keeps touching him the way he does, Tian will let go but no, not yet. Tian is dying to feel Phupha inside him, that's what he wants. Tian wants Phupha to sink into him and kiss him as he moves and thrusts into him, no longer calm, but with the naked desire to make him his. And Tian wants to be his, he wants to belong to him forever. He knows that love is not about property, but he wants Phupha to know that he can have him, that he will have him forever, and that Tian hopes he can have him too.
That's why Tian gets out of bed and without thinking about it, takes Phupha's face in his hands and kisses him violently, feeling something of his own taste on his lips, something that makes his skin light up with heat and passion because he wants him inside, he needs Phupha inside him. Tian needs to fly with him in a new sky and burst. Tian needs Phupha to take him back to the stars the same way they have gone to the vastness of the sky, perhaps since the first kiss the two shared.
Phupha wraps his hands in Tian's soft black hair, ruffles it, clings to him tightly, fully understanding what his partner wants, and that is something he can give Tian because what Tian wants is the same as what he longs for and Tian lets his nails dig into his back and Phupha moans uninhibitedly because he feels he's ready. Tian feels like he'll burst if he holds back one more minute.
So after separating from Tian simply to be able to take the necessary precautions, Phupha settles his lover on the bed, Tian's back is propped up on a pillow, his legs open, welcoming him, asking him to finally make what he wants real and he had only dared to dream. Phupha sighs seeing his lover like this, touching himself helplessly, staring into his eyes, telling him without words that he must end the agonizing torture that being away from his skin represents.
Phupha smiles because he is wanted so badly. Phupha smiles because Tian wants him, because Tian could have chosen anyone else and yet decided to love him without fear. And Tian is so beautiful now that nothing in the world could delay that sweet surrender any longer. Phupha thinks that his beloved's flushed cheeks and swollen lips are an ode to beauty that no artist can ever match, he does not feel capable of painting something so perfect and full of that sublime and searing beauty that not even words nor the images can capture. Phupha thinks that Tian is a work of art and he wants to be a part of that masterpiece with the one he loves.
So now Phupha approaches Tian again and calmly prepares his entrance and Tian feels that Phupha might as well save the preamble but at the same time, there is so much love in his eyes that he knows he has to be patient too. Phupha will get to him anyway; he will come to Tian because that was his destiny, perhaps, from the beginning of his life: to come to him, to come to him to make him happy and to never part ways.
So Tian tries to relax even though the pressure of Phupha's fingers inside him is delicious but also insufficient and Tian bites his lips trying not to beg the man he loves to get into him once and for all. It is at that moment that Phupha smiles and decides that it is time, that he himself will not be able to contain himself for another second. So he gets into Tian calmly, slowly, letting his lover's entrance get used to the invasion, being careful not to hurt him, sinking into him with the same grace and care with which he has created all his paintings. .
Tian closes his eyes, tries to breathe deeply to get used to the pain that soon ceases to be such a thing and transmutes back into a delicious friction that would be better if Phupha started to move. And it is at that moment that Phupha leans into Tian's face and reaches for his lips as he begins to thrust into him and feels that all the pleasure in the world is concentrated within him, that each thrust of Phupha reaches deeper into his body. Phupha's lips, which kiss him in a disordered way, are the perfect pretext to create a thousand love stories and Tian knows that Phupha will paint them all so that he can see and touch them on his body and on his again and again.
"My Tian, my love," Phupha says, his voice cracking with pleasure, sweat pouring down his face, and Tian kisses his name on his lover's lips.
“Phupha!" Tian cries out in the middle of a moan of pure pleasure. “My Phupha.”
And the two repeat each other's name in the middle of that crazy concert of sighs, whispers, grunts and cries of pleasure that escape from their lips. It is as if the other's name were a spell made in the dim light of the beach lights, and the glow of that full and proud summer moon. It is as if Tian's name joined to Phupha's was a spell capable of transporting them to another dimension. And both of them shout it, they shout that they love each other and that they want more, that they need more. They both make noise, their bodies sing. And the whole world is silent because those two lovers are the ones who have to say everything that night.
And the two feel that they are flying once again, they are flying beyond planet earth, they are flying to that place from which all stories are born, they are flying into infinity. Tian has finally found his partner to fly forever and Phupha moves faster inside him and Tian clings to his lips again because the explosion of pleasure is close, very close and Phupha's cheeks are flushed as well as the rhythm of his thrusts that are now desperate and careless continue to sink into Tian and he suspects that the release will be a burst and that although the desire will have subsided a little, in a matter of seconds he will want to feel again what only Phupha is capable of making him feel .
Because Phupha loves him. Because Tian loves Phupha beyond himself. Because they really feel that the two of them are making love, as if the two of them are a pair of mischievous lights that have suddenly discovered that the only way to create true love is through the body, the hands and the lips of the one who is loved with the strength of a sky full of stars that will always fulfill wishes for both of them.
It is in the midst of those thoughts that Tian feels Phupha scream with pleasure and that expression that is the sound proof of a living orgasm sneaks into Tian's ears like an aphrodisiac that makes him spill and makes him scream too because what Phupha has made him feel intense, too intense and inexplicable. Phupha kisses him one more time, he collapses on his lover's chest and Tian clings to his body as well. Tian kisses his lips gently, amid tremors on his skin. Tian pronounces the name of his beloved a thousand times. It is no longer necessary to shout it, now it is enough to whisper it on his parted lips.
Phupha tells him that he loves him once again, he tells him that he loves him every time their lips part to take a breath because Phupha really wants Tian to feel certain of his love. And Tian wants Phupha to know that this love is mutual, that it always will be, and that what they have just done is nothing more than a confirmation of that feeling of enormous magnitude that seems to fill them completely and that warms them in body and soul. It makes them smile at each other with that hint of mischief that the gods must have had after they created the universe.
And then Phupha stops kissing Tian for just a moment, just a moment in which his eyes are lost in Tian's face trying to guess what his lover is thinking, if Tian, like him, thinks that happiness it is possible for all humans. Phupha wonders if Tian, like him, feels that the sight of his flushed face and messy black hair falling like rain on the white sheets is something so fucking beautiful that surely that will be the image that will accompany him to eternity if is that in eternity there is also room for love and for life.
The moon continues to shine outside, announcing to the world the arrival of the end of the holidays, but Tian and Phupha's return to the real world is something that does not concern them at all at that very moment. So they just kiss again wishing that night would never end, maybe they shouldn't leave that room until next year. And Phupha continues to kiss his lover with the firm conviction that after having loved that way for the first time, he can make the gloom under which their bodies have joined want to last for all eternity.
Chapter 26: Love you´re not alone ´cause I´m gonna stand by you.
The young man takes Phupha's hand in his. A current of icy wind surrounds them while the car that takes them to the village advances between an increasingly difficult and full of curves pathway. Yod, one of the forest rangers who work under General Teerayut, drives the car that will take them to the village where one of Longtae's cousins will be waiting for them to lodge them in the house that the forest rangers themselves have prepared for the two of them. At that very moment, when the wind blows and Yod says he will close the car windows, Tian wishes he had brought a better coat with him. Phupha had already told him about that cold weather that exists in the middle of the Pha Pun Dao Mountains but he would never have imagined that he would feel the need to hide under a pile of warm blankets since the young man has always grown up surrounded by the heat from the capital. So for lack of a better coat, Tian decides to take refuge in the arms of Phupha who covers him without saying anything, making Tian feel safe and warm immediately.
A year has passed since his heart surgery and that is why he and Phupha have decided to spend that winter surrounded by mountains and that cold that, despite sneaking into their bodies, does not affect the warmth of their hearts, which at that very moment, seems to protect them both. Tian feels emotional because that trip to the village in the mountains is a dream that he has kept inside himself for a long time and in the midst of that emotion, the boy suddenly realizes that Phupha has immersed himself in a somewhat strange silence, a silence that makes him feel like Phupha is thousands of miles away from him even though his arms are around him.
It is at that moment that Tian realizes that it must not be easy to have returned to that place for Phupha. Since the events of last year, his lover has not spoken to his father again, and Tian knows that if that despicable man has left him alone, it is simply on the orders of General Teerayut, whom Phupha's father seems to truly fear or respect. Tian knows that Phupha's relationship with his father is a wound that is still open, a wound that in fact will never heal.
Tian can understand that kind of pain because recently, when he felt that he lost his family, everything was difficult when thinking about them. Tian knows that he has been lucky and that during that year he and his parents have been healing a relationship that for years was hurting the three of them. Phupha has been like the bridge that has united his family. General Teerayut deeply admires Phupha and supports him with all his might. During that year, Phupha has had three exhibitions of his works in the best galleries in the capital and more than his father's influences, Tian knows that all that success is due to the enormous talent of his boyfriend who does not stop producing a master piece after another. And his mother, well, to say that Lalita adores Phupha would be an understatement. She seems determined to give Phupha all the love that his own mother couldn't give him and every time he sees them talking or cooking something together, Tian's heart grows bigger because all he has ever wanted is to see Phupha happy.
And he knows that the Phupha of the city has found happiness. Phupha Viriyanon, the young promise of Thai art as he is now known, is more than happy. But this Phupha who has returned to the mountains, this Phupha who seems to be thousands of kilometers away from him seems to be suffering from an old pain, a pain that despite everything cannot be cured with the happiness of his present. There is something in Pha Pun Dao that hurts Phupha, there is something that will always be hurting him and that is one of the wounds that Tian will not be able to heal no matter what he does. Phupha's love and everything he has had to live through have made him mature quickly and right now the boy is aware that love cannot heal everything and that there are deep wounds that nothing and no one can heal.
And even though he knows that, Tian feels a bit selfish for having Phupha take him to that village. Yes, Phupha promised to take him a long time ago but seeing him like this makes Tian regret his wish. In fact, right then and there, he wishes he could stop the car and ask Yod to forget about it all and take them back to where he and Phupha have been building a life they're both proud of. However, when Phupha's eyes meet his, Tian knows that perhaps the pain in Phupha's eyes is one of the last pains the two must face hand in hand.
“If you look to the right you can see the place where the cliff where people count stars is located,” says Phupha with a sweet smile that immediately dissipates the concern in Tian's soul.
No, not that right now he thinks he can protect Phupha from all the pain in his eyes, but at least he can keep him company, he can always stand by his side. He knows he can do that just as Phupha has accompanied him in what has been the most difficult battle he has ever faced.
“Can we go there by car?” asks Tian and Phupha smiles amusedly while Yod laughs a little at his question.
"You and Phupha will have to walk at least two hours to access the cliff," Yod says cheerfully. “In fact, we will also have to walk a bit to reach the village, Mr. Sopasitsakun.”
“Oh! Well, at least I've trained my heart for adventure,” Tian says confidently.
"If you get tired or feel bad, I can carry you on my back," Phupha assures him with total certainty, and Tian feels that he is falling in love with him again. “So don't be afraid, you will be able to count stars on the cliff on New Year's Eve, I swear.”
Tian nods not knowing what else to say. When Phupha has those kinds of gestures with him, nothing else needs to be said. Tian knows that there is no promise in this world that Phupha can break, not when he is the recipient. And he wants to do the same so he just nods and lets his lover cover him with his arms to protect him from the icy wind that keeps surrounding them. Phupha's warmth is comforting. Phupha's arms remain his favorite place in the entire universe. Being close to Phupha is wonderful, and Tian decides that for now, he'll enjoy that closeness.
This is how the trip continues in silence until Yod says that it is time to walk towards the village. Tian nods while Phupha is in charge of carrying the luggage of the two that is nothing more than a huge explorer's backpack. As they walk, Yod tells them that the house they will arrive at will have food prepared and hot water in its small bathroom. As evening is about to fall, Yod tells them that they´d better rest as much as possible and start exploring the place until the next day. Tian nods in absolute agreement because the trip to the village has been hard and besides, he doesn't want to risk getting lost in the cold and darkness.
"The general asked me to be on the lookout for anything you need," Yod says with a friendly smile. “This is a honeymoon trip for the two of you, isn't it? If so, I hope you enjoy your stay in Pha Pun Dao and don't be afraid to express your love: although the houses in the region seem fragile, you can shake the walls without fear. If someone says the noise was too much, we'll say it was the wolves.”
Yod gives them a knowing wink and Phupha kindly appreciates his advice, although Tian knows that in the inside Phupha must be embarrassed to death. But Tian doesn't say anything because at the mention that the two of them will be alone for many nights under the light of a thousand stars, the boy can't help but feel excited. Of course he would love to shake the walls of the house with the intensity of physical love that he and Phupha have shared since that first night by the sea. Phupha now knows the most intricate paths of his body, Phupha knows which places to kiss and touch to raise him through the clouds. Phupha brings down all the stars in the sky for him with a single kiss. And yes, hell yes, that trip is like that honeymoon that the two of them have postponed indefinitely since their pre-surgery ceremony.
This is how they enter the small construction made of wood that is illuminated only by the flames of a small stove on which there are some pots. At the center of the room is a small table covered with more food and a container of water. Beyond the kitchen there is only room for the space where there is a somewhat dilapidated bed that is actually a luxury since the inhabitants of Pha Pun Dao usually sleep on a blanket that is directly in contact with the ground.
The austerity of the house surprises Tian deeply and he suddenly realizes the enormous difference between his privileged life and the life of those people who can live in a place like that, a place that is full of deficiencies and discomforts. Tian thinks that the people of Pha Pun Dao have to face a difficult life and lack of fair opportunities since they are born and when his eyes meet Phupha who is now arranging their few belongings on the floor and tells him that he will prepare dinner for both of them, Tian can't help but admire him because Phupha has done nothing but fight against the world's adversity as well since the first of his days in this world.
It is somewhat dazzling for Tian to think that none of these shortcomings caused Phupha to become angry or filled with bitterness or pessimism. Right now, while his lover is boiling water to make noodles and says that later they will have to put a net over the bed so that the mosquitoes don't eat them alive, Tian can see only light on his face. Yes, Phupha is still a simple boy who grew up surrounded by mountains even though he now rubs shoulders with Bangkok's highest society and that's charming. Phupha, his Phupha is still the same in essence and seeing him like this, seeing him smile in the middle of a place where everything seems to be missing is a miracle and Tian tells himself that in reality he wouldn't mind living in that house all his life, not because Phupha is there with him. With Phupha by his side, nothing or no one else is really needed.
“Tian, it's too cold to take a bath but I've heated up some water so you can wipe yourself with a towel,” Phupha says warmly. “You can do it while I finish preparing dinner, okay?”
Tian smiles and can't help but run to him just to hug him tight and catch Phupha in an adoring kiss that makes Phupha take him in his arms with a hint of surprise because he doesn't understand where all the effusiveness is coming from.
"You are the best thing that has ever happened to me and I love you more than anything in the universe," Tian says over her lips. “You know that, right Phu? Do you know that you are the best gift that life gave me?”
"Yes, I know, you're the same to me," Phupha says as he caresses Tian´s face, "Why are you telling me now?"
"Because I don't want you to forget, I don't want your eyes to get sad anymore," Tian says calmly. “Phu, I forgot that there are many sad memories for you in this place. You should have told me, Phu. I know you're doing all of this for me, but if your heart aches because your father is in this place and the painful memories of losing your mother, then we can leave tomorrow. You are always taking care of me and I know that I don't do the same with you, I feel embarrassed about that but I'm serious: if being here doesn't make you happy, you can tell me and we'll go, we can go to grandma's house at seashore instead.”
"Don't say that, you always take care of me too, you and your parents," says Phupha with a smile full of love and Tian wants to kiss him again because right now he feels that he loves him more than his own existence. “Tian, now I have a new family, why should I feel sad? I don't need the love of a father who never loved me, why would I need something I never had? I don't care that he's here, I won't go talk to him and I know he won't come near us. And as for my mother, she is not pain inside me. My mother lives in these mountains, she lives in the flowers and in the stars on the cliff because that is where we spread her ashes. Mom is here, I feel her in the air and meeting her again doesn't make me feel sad so don't worry, okay? If I've been a bit quiet since we got here it's because I was afraid my father would make a scene but General Teerayut must have threatened him so that's fine.”
"Do you still call my father "the general"?" Tian asks, feeling a thousand times calmer. “He's been asking you to call him Dad practically since the first time we had lunch together.”
"No, I can't get used to calling him that," Phupha says, smiling a little shyly.
"But you do call Lalita mom," Tian says, making Phupha's cheeks blush violently.
"Mom treats me like one of her children, you know I usually spend the afternoons with her now that you've started doing more practices on the farms, I'm teaching her how to paint," Phupha says a little shyly. “She says that my mother has asked her to take care of me through you and well…does it bother you that I call her that?”
"No, of course not, I find it adorable," Tian says honestly. “You are Lalita's favorite son, seriously. Since she can't adopt you, she's already planning a lavish wedding party for you and me because that woman will make everyone know that you're her son no matter what.”
“Do you see it? You have given me a family, Tian. There is nothing that hurts inside me when I think that I have formed a family with you,” says Phupha, ending the conversation. “So you don't have to worry about me. I am happy to be here with you and I will take you to all my favorite places. So come on, come on, let's clean you up and then you have to have dinner. This last semester has been difficult for you; you have to rest and regain strength, okay?”
Tian nods and decides that at least for tonight he won't let worry cloud his happiness because he knows Phupha's father may look for an opportunity to attack his son like he always has. But Tian will not allow it. Of course not. What's more, he will look for the opportunity to meet with that man of filth to clarify one or two things that were pending since their telephone confrontation. Yes, he too can and will protect Phupha, Tian swears to himself that he will never let anything hurt the beautiful heart that beats in Phupha's chest again.