"Hey, Pharm~! How can I help you?", were Win's happy words heard by Dean who was concentrating on reading a volume in the living room and hadn't been interested in answering the door when he heard the bell moments before. However, if he had known in advance that the charming cook would be on the other side, he would certainly have ignored his reading to pay attention to him. Not that he would show that, of course.
"Oh, hey, P'Win!", the boy replied in a weak and unusual tone.
Since Pharm had decided to prove to Dean that his food was tasty, it wasn't uncommon to see the young man paying a visit to their apartment either to bring in new dishes or to borrow a last-minute ingredient. It wasn't really "borrowing" because with how much Pharm had been cooking for Dean and Win to eat, you could say they had a private chef, so they were really happy to contribute.
Due to this intimacy that was starting to build between them, it was easy for Dean to see that there was something wrong with the visitor now and that made him put the book down on the couch for good and go see what was going on.
"Can I borrow some flour, Phi?", the boy asked with faded brown eyes. There was definitely something wrong with him.
As Win headed back toward the door with the ingredient in hand, Dean gave him a light nudge, praying his signal would be understood. However, oblivious to what was going on -- or, perhaps, it was Dean who could read Pharm too well -- the blond could understand too little to make something about it.
Dean scratched his head in frustration and decided to take matters into his own hands. "Listen, kid!", he said, addressing Pharm, "Today we have practice at the pool, so whatever you cook, make 8 portions and deliver to this address here at 3 pm.", the tanned man tried to speak in a disinterested tone that would only go unnoticed by those who didn't know him well. It wasn't Win's case, who displayed a smug smile watching the scene and finally understanding the hint that his friend had given him moments before.
In any case, the provocation achieved its goal, because as soon as Pharm's brain registered Dean's words, the boy got a little color in his face -- red with anger -- and managed to summon the energy to respond. "I'm not your private cook, you idiot!", Pharm replied and snatched the small card from Dean's hands as he marched back to his apartment holding the flour in one arm and crumpled up the card with his free hand as he grumbled about his neighbor's lack of courtesy.
"If you wanted to make the boy happy, just be direct, you idiot!", Win teased after closing the door, still grinning widely.
"Shut up, idiot!", Dean replied simply, turning and walking to his room while whistling a song he'd heard on the radio earlier that morning.
"Hold on, let me get this straight.", Team was scratching his head as if that would help him put together the bits of information Pharm had given him between yelling "He's so pretentious!" and "He's such an idiot!". Then he continued: "Not only you're cooking for your favorite hater and his housemate, but also for all the friends they have."
"TEAM!", Pharm retorted in exasperation and blushing a lot. It was a really weird scenario when someone put that way, but as usual, cooking made him forget about his problems and that was what he needed most at the moment.
After Dean stopped leaving annoying comments on his vlogs, Pharm thought he would find peace, but things didn't turn out that way. He began to see messages increasing in numbers from people talking about his appearance in a very rude way.
They were very suggestive comments about what the subscriber intended to do to Pharm. They were explicit to the point that made him very uncomfortable, a true harassment, making him numb and feeling without knowing what to do but leave them unanswered. However, the silent treatment didn't seem to have any effect, as the comments increased in quantity and intensity over time.
Fortunately, with the new task at hand, he had something else to worry about. It was fun to research and prepare something that was tasty and nutritious, as it was intended for a team of swimmers.
"Oh, and I'm going to need you to help me deliver it, Team!", Pharm suddenly shot at his friend who paused in his action to turn to the other.
"Why do I have to help you feed those people?!", Team asked, sounding offended.
"Because you're the best friend in the world!", Pharm used all the power of his pleading gaze to persuade the other who had no choice but to agree with a resigned sigh.
The day passed smoothly and it wasn't hard to find the place where Dean, Win and their team trained. Arriving there, both boys were greeted with enthusiasm by the hungry athletes and the cook received countless praises for his unparalleled talent. Everyone had promised to subscribe to his channel and leave a lot of comments.
As they prepared to leave, Dean approached where the boys were and tried to use his best tone to invite Team to step aside for a moment. "Hey Nong! Win's calling you in the locker rooms!", he used his thumb to point at the door on the other side of the pool.
"Uh, what could this be, Team?", Pharm asked naively.
"It must be about the offer of a spot on the team. He's already commented on it before…", the boy tried to act normally and went on his way. "Go ahead, I'll take the bowls later!", Team waved to his friend as he walked away.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, Dean realized that the sadness he had detected in Pharm was back in the boy's eyes and it physically hurt his heart.
"Hey, Pharm…", Dean called, but he felt the question stuck in his throat as he was stared at by the pair of big brown eyes. What could he say? All Pharm seemed to know about him, other than the fact that he was a guy who left annoying messages in his videos, was that he was an equally annoying neighbor. He was nothing or no one to reach out and hold that delicate chin and try to comfort the man before him. It wasn't his right, even if his hands itched to do just that, followed by an uncomfortable blush that took over his face.
Suddenly, Dean felt himself choking on the lump in his throat and Pharm was desperate to help him, patting him on the back. "Hey, hey! Do you need a doctor? Don't tell me you're allergic to something I used in the sandwiches?!"
"N-no, I…", but they were both interrupted by Team and Win who were back.
"Are you alright, Dean?", Win's brows furrowed in concern.
"Yeah, don't worry.", Dean replied, but with his gaze still locked on Pharm. With luck, his words could reach another meaning inside the boy's mind who still looked scared from his coughing and sad about whatever problem he was facing alone.
"Well, we're going now…", Team interfered and taking the bags, led a confused Pharm towards the exit.
Left behind, one of the swimmers scolded the other for his act. "If you're worried about him, ask about it, man!", Win said rolling his eyes, which Dean ignored.
Practice followed its normal pace and at the beginning of the evening the athletes went home as usual. Remembering that he needed to buy some things at the grocery store, Dean asked Win to go ahead and stayed to do shopping. He preferred to carry out the activity alone, to be honest. Until he saw a familiar figure entering the establishment.
Dressed in a simple white shirt and sweatpants, Pharm walked into the place ahead of him, shoulders slumped and looking distracted.
It felt like a chance sent by the universe, and this time Dean decided to take it.