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distance can never separate us

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Breathing in the homey scent of Pran, seemingly for the last time, Pat closes his eyes to let reality sink deep into his bones. His hands are busy tracing the bumps and hills on Pran's knuckles, the smoothness of his skin, the warmth that burns a fragment of his soul to crackling cinders. Pat lives in this moment, enveloping Pran in the confinements he dares to call Pran's, never his, to begin with, and by doing so, Pat tries to assure himself- it will be alright. Maybe, it will. 

Playing with the messy strands of Pran's hair, cracking ridiculous jokes whenever he can, only to witness the amused grin, to drown in his melodious chuckles, makes him believe that someday, one fine day, they can do this again and again. For as long as they want without running away, hiding from the cruelty of their destiny and seeking much-needed answers. Minus the fear and heartbreaks and tears. Only good things for them both. 

The ride back home is tranquil, filled with silent hushes and heavy, loaded sighs. Pat listens to it all, the sound of the engine vrooming, Pran's content hum whenever he places a tender kiss on his forehead, the crown of his head, the apple of his cheek. Pran snuggles closer, resting his head on his shoulder, half of his body flush against half of Pat's, carving his space there. Pat, in utter despondence, tries to remember them all in his mind, heart, body, skin, everywhere that his thoughts can ever process. Because once they arrive home, it will be over. He can never have Pran in his arms like this, look at him with love that is so overwhelming and flooding, call his name like a mantra, a promise. Let it be this moment- Pat seizes every chance he has, like a greedy man, a loon, engraving every notion of Pran in the remnants of happiness beating in his heart. 

Darkness drapes the previously sunny sky with shades of twilight. The crescent moon is high above their heads as they descend the stairs of the bus, fingers intertwined. Ten laces with ten, cold, trembling, scared of the future that is so uncertain, palpable- us, we, will no longer exist tomorrow in the real world, in the universe where they should be. Those memories shared in between vulnerable moments, the desperate kisses exchanged underneath the pouring moonlight, the scalding warmth of skin on skin as words of I love you cascaded from swollen lips, will now be a blaring reminder, a tragic mockery to them. Forever is not for Pat and Pran to experience. Forever is not for Pat and Pran.

But a part of him still believes they can work things out. Even when they arrive in front of their houses, Pat is hesitant to let go. Will it be worth it? Sacrificing everything they have, the gruesome yesterdays they went through for this moment of separation? Of tarnished insanity, futile fortune and cruel fate? Is it worth it, Pat wonders, to give up their love, Pran, to this undeserving world? Because the world never goes with them, after all, only against them. So, why do they have to be the victims of their twisted game? Why them?

The look on Pran's face, the glimmer in his eyes renders Pat speechless. Those eyes, always so sincere, full of love, are looking at him with gentle admiration, an endless whirlpool of thank you and  I love you that is always left unspoken. In Pran's quietness, feelings muted with a dimpled smile and sparkling eyes, a nod and a hum, Pat finds utmost refuge there. In his silence, Pat understands that he is not giving up on them- he has never given up on them, on Pat. But fate has always been ludicrous in scheming Pat and Pran's story, and Pran is aware of it, more than Pat will ever be. As much as they want to have a taste, only a nip, of the sweetness of forever, the succulent flesh of the forbidden fruit in each other's Eden, they can't. 

Pat wants to hold him. Pat wants to cling onto Pran for the rest of his life, clutching the sense of clarity and home and eternity from Pran's existence, only to make him feel whole again, alive, breathing. But he can't. He no longer can. Distance tries to separate them again. Wasn't those three agonizing years enough?

Hopelessly, Pat says, "Let's go home," and tears gush from his eyes for the nth time. But Pat lets them be. He is too tired to swallow the rippling turmoil anyway. 

Pran is smiling at him, beautiful, breathtaking. Even if the glint does not reach his eyes, Pat still thinks he is gorgeous. His one and only Pran have always been the brightest star in his galaxy. 

"Good luck, buddy."

Pat whirls in that circle again. Do you want us to be friends? Do you still want us to be friends? And Pat's answer has always been a firm no. Now, he gravely acknowledges the word friend, the only connection left between them, the term that puts a sad smile on Pran's face, the plausible ending for their story. It hurts. Looking at Pran, knowing that tomorrow will open new doors to both of them, but they are no longer by each other's side. Their footsteps are fading away from the coarse sand, places where they once visited no longer bear the traces of them. The memories from their yesterdays will continue to haunt him, an endless vicious cycle. Pat hears it all, the cracking, the shattering, the screeching, the screaming in his heart. It hurts.

As he glances at Pran, he tries to muster a smile. His vision blurs as tears well in his eyes, waiting for their turn to fall. Pran smiles at him for one last time. Pat etches that picturesque view in his head, all the while reminding himself, don't forget, don't forget, don't forget

When Pran is no longer in his line of sight, he feels like a bucket of cold water splashes on his face, a wake-up call. The reality, now, this moment is approaching him. Behind the closed door, Pat opens them, and here- in the spacious living room, in his mother's tender embrace, confessions of we broke up, I'm sorry Pa, Ma, and the piercing you did the right thing- Pat loses himself entirely. 

 

(:(

 

Pran closes the door with a quiet thud. The loud click resounds in his four walls as he locks it shut, closing off the outside world that continuously drives him out of breath, pushing him closer to madness. 

When he turns around, he allows his heart to pulverize into pieces. His back relaxes against the door, tears quell on his skin, frozen against his cheeks, leaving harsh marks everywhere, a tormenting mnemonic that it is the end. Pran closes his eyes and breathes. As reality seeps into the nooks and crannies of his body, the corners of his room, the dim smiley yellow lights hanging on the wall, Pran wants to scream his lungs out. Feelings are flooding, overpouring, and Pran can no longer concede them. It is all too much and too little- the time spent with Pat felt so short, fleeting, unattainable. Regret bursts his chest into bloody flames, the tsunami of what if I insisted on staying and we should've spent more days on the village crushes onto him without mercy. What if's- so many of them- sinful and out of bounds. It has happened, though. It is their calling, fate. Pran and Pat, once sworn enemies, acclaimed friends, star-crossed lovers, now- forced strangers with memories. 

He stumbles to his bed as his body gives up on him, too tired to even sit up straight. The room across his is dark, void from the vibrant liveliness, and Pran knows it is the last straw for them both. He wishes to be by Pat's side, climb to his room and knock on his window, and maybe Pat will embrace him again, the way he always does, with a smile so luminous, with a pair of fierce eyes, love and adoration and respect blares in them. His touches, a constant reassurance, I'm here. Pran misses it all. 

Can he? Can he cross the barred bridge again?

For the first time since he cried in Pat's arms on the rooftop, Pran allows his tears to stifle him alive. He no longer hides it, the broken sobs and battered breaths that flee from his quivering lips. Tonight, he broods his heart open; to the dull stars, the moonless sky, the cold breeze, the gloaming of Pat's room. It is over for them. The realization munches on his skin, sucking the last ounce of life from his soulless body. 

Pran cries himself to sleep. And when he wakes up tomorrow, he will wipe the dried tear tracks away as if it meant nothing.

 

(:(

 

Pat learns from Wai that Pran is moving to Singapore. He will continue his studies and possibly start a new life there. 

Singapore, Pat repeats, tasting only bitterness on his tongue at the sudden notice. Singapore, 876 miles, 1410 kilometres, two hours and nine minutes by flight, twenty-six hours by road. It is not too far, Pat thinks. He can always pay a visit to Pran's new university, bring him lunch to his new workplace, crash in his new apartment complex. Pat can, only if. He ingests the information with a terse nod, thanking Wai for breaking the news to him. 

They knew about their break-up, Paa, Ink, Korn, Wai and the rest of their close friends. But none of them dared to address the issue further. Pat appreciates the gesture so much, thankful for their understanding. It makes things easier for Pat, in a sense. He does not have to think of excuses that means nothing to them. It is the truth, the bittersweet truth made from both sides of the coin. It is the liberty they have always wanted to experience, the essence of approval they tried so hard to gain from their parents, but now, nothing matters anymore. Freedom without Pran by his side is like living without a soul. It does not matter, whatever he has right now.

Like fate, Pat catches a glimpse of Pran from the corner of his eyes. In his hands, there is a document, and Pat does not have to see to know its content. Like deja vu, their eyes meet. In the sea of students walking and greeting one another, the hecticness of youthful laughter and childish repartee, a red string of fate connects them still. Pat sees only Pran, the same way he did back in high school. The day Pran transferred to somewhere further, the last day he ever saw him. It is happening again, and Pat knows he has the power to change their story, to make Pran stay, but can he? 

Pran stares at him. There is no anger in those eyes. No fear, resentment or hatred he detected before. When they were still so young and clueless about their feelings, they childishly deduced every emotion whirring in their hearts as a given outcome from their supposedly-enemies status. Hope, so much hope, is the only layer Pat sees. His heart is beating in teetering staccatos, the voices in his head are screaming profanities at him, his limbs are eager to lunge forward and engulf Pran in his arms. All those things that he once did before reality rushes in. 

However, in those eyes, Pat sees hesitancy, hopelessness, wordless I'm sorry's, over and over, playing like a broken record. 

In those eyes, Pat stops himself from feeling. He stems himself from thinking. 

It is for the best, Pran seemingly tries to say. 

Defeatedly, Pat blinks the tears away. I know

An ardent smile graces those lips, astounding. Deep down, Pat longs to have a taste, just a graze, only to awaken the dead butterflies in his stomach, the static electricity no longer coursing in his veins. He wants to be alive, smile and laugh with genuine happiness and not forced glee. Those dimples- the sight of them now- hurt. With one last stare, Pran takes his leave. And he disappears from his life. This time though, with a proper, heartbreaking goodbye. 

 

(:(

 

A year later

Pran breathes, eats, lives, sleeps in a foreign country that has become a home to him now. Singapore is not much different from Thailand. Still so jam-packed with passionate people trying to make ends meet, the spicy chilli crab is a delicacy that Pran wants to share with someone back home, knowing too well he can never handle the hot, numbing kick. And Pran will laugh at him as he chugs glasses upon glasses of water, lips now plush, demanding for a kiss. If Pran feels playful enough, he might steal a peck or two, and he will receive a long kiss on his cheeks as a reward. 

In this foreign country, Pran tries to live life with the leftovers. Pat's homey scent no longer loiters on his shirt, but sometimes it comes in gentle whiffs, the distinct smell of Pat, so subtle but there, and tears fill his eyes whenever it happens. The occasional exchange of batteries for his wristwatch, once per six months. Pran thanked the heavens for its functionality even after these years, an old watch that Pran is grateful for keeping. The smile/frown sticky notes plastered on his notice board, more frowns than smiles, it seems these days, but it is okay. That is life. The fading vision of Nong Nao beside his pillow, always getting in their way, is now replaced with a bolster smaller in size, hoping to replicate the doll Pat treasures so dearly. And a pair of fierce eyes holding all the stars and moon combined, always loud and upfront with his feelings, a vivid remembrance on his mind. 

Even after a year of living in this place, he dares to call home, Pran misses Pat more than he can ever imagine. A house consists of walls and a roof, but a home is when Pat is there, lying on his couch without taking a shower first, rummaging through his set of coloured pencils, disorganizing them everywhere, occupying the spaces on his bed, the left side. Home is where Pat is, and it is not here. 

There is never a moment that Pat ever leaves his mind. But life, as Pran learns, must go on. He stops dwelling at the moment as his alarm rings. 8 am, it is time to go to class. 

 

(:(

 

Two years later

Pat is late to class, again. When Pran was around, Pat was never late to class because- shit. Pat needs to stop doing this. 

He storms into the bathroom, turning the shower on, and cold water drips down his body. Pran has always scolded him- it's freezing, dumbass! You'll catch a cold! And he would adjust the temperature for him, a balanced mixture of lukewarm, and Pat would thank Pran with a kiss that led to two, three, twenty, and- Pat needs to stop hurting himself like this.

It has been two years. Pat is already a senior, one step away from graduating. A perpetual notion resides in his mind for as long he can remember- wouldn't it be great if Pran is here? They will be the most respected seniors, breaking the taboo that once clouded the Engineering and Architecture faculty, a link uniting both departments to become the best of frienemies. That would be so cool, Pran and him, the faces of their faculties, the university's it couple, adored by many. And Pat can show off their relationship to the juniors, possibly inspiring them to search for love in the once-prohibited lair, finding their just-friends-but-maybe-more partner as he did. 

Dreams are indeed beautiful. 

During those drunken nights as he sat in front of his room, staring at the closed door opposite of him, no door hanger around the knob, the blooming heartache, the immense pain punched him on the face with much force, but Pat accepted it all. Those nights were the nights Pat could feel his heart pounding again, and it was because of Pran. He delved into it until the present and past muddied, until nightfall transcended into the light. 

But he is late for class. 8.15 am. If Pran knew this, he would receive an earful from him and possibly a pinch on his waist. Do not be late to class again, Pat, his sweet voice reminded him countless times. But Pran is not here. So, does it matter if he is late to class? 

(Well, sadly, it does.)

 

(:(

 

Three years later

Pran comes across a music store with his friend one day. 

From afar, he sees a guitar that catches his attention. The design and colour are almost similar to the guitar he has back in Thailand. It is gorgeous, shining, light in his hands. It is welcoming Pran to hold the body and strum the six strings again after years of quitting. The song plays in his mind, that one song he has been stashing further and further in the back of his head. Pran fights the urge to cry time after time again. And he will always succeed. 

"Do you play the guitar?" his friend asks, observing the way Pran is handling the guitar, curiously waiting for his answer.

A sad smile laces his lips innately, a bittersweet memory from his beautiful past. "I did," Pran answers. His heart is now at the pit of his stomach, and the lump in his throat rises discomfort. "But I've stopped years ago."

"Oh," his friend expresses, a slight frown morphs on his face. "Why? Something happened?"

Pran wishes he is strong enough to answer that question. But he is tired of bearing his heart open when he knows- his only remedy is not here to cure him anymore. If Pran bleeds or injures himself, there is no one to tend his wounds, rub the cream on his bruises or kiss the pain away. He is tired of breaking his heart and having no one to coax him into the realms of comfort. 

With a breath, Pran answers, dejected, "Just because... I don't feel like playing anymore."

 

(:(

 

Four years later

Prasertslip High School, Batch 36 Reunion Party.

"Hong asked me to give you this," Ink says, holding onto a basket of Paa's laundry in her hands. She gazes at Pat, quirking her eyebrows as she asks, "Are you going to the party, Mr Head-of-the-Class?"

Expectancy ignites in his heart like specks of fireworks. An indescribable feeling settles in his chest as the thought of reuniting with his old friends and possibly, with someone from overseas emerges. But there is also worry and uncertainty, lacing the excitement and giddiness in Pat's heart, scarring profoundly in his bones. Will it be another fabrication of his, another one of his wildest dreams to see the person he loves the most again? Where there is no distance separating them, only time and space, what if's and but if's, opportunities slipping away from the junctions of their fingers. Will it be only a scenario in Pat's head?

He chuckles at this, meeting Ink's gaze. "I don't know. I might if I'm free," an excuse perhaps made by autopilot, a self-defence mechanism Pat grows to accustom to after years of accepting his fate, of admitting defeat. 

"How about you? Are you going?" Pat inquires, curious to know if his best friend is coming to the party or not. Or maybe she has better plans with Paa, another weekly escapade they always have, travelling outside of Bangkok together. To say Pat is jealous of them is an overstatement. But he is happy for his sister, albeit he never says this aloud. At least she gets the happy ending she deserves. Pa and Ma are accepting of Paa's relationship with Ink. Pat is content to know that. How he wish it was not so complicated for him and Pran.

There is a pout puckering her lips as she replies, "I am. But I'm not sure when I'll finish work. I might join you later." She takes a glimpse of the ticket in Pat's hand and continues, "I miss them a lot. I haven't met them since we graduated."

Pat finds himself replying, "You're right."

And the ticket feels lighter in his hands now, an airy, radiant beginning. Like the deities have finally removed the heavy burden on his shoulders, the anguish stirring in his chest, Pat exhales the breath he is unaware of holding. 

A smile, then it traverses into a grin. Maybe the universe is giving them a chance to meet. And this time, Pat prays, nothing will ever come their way, not again.

 

(:(

 

Immediately, as he arrives at the venue, walking through the sea of people attending the party, Pat catches sight of the small photo gallery at the entrance. It is a space designated to capture all the memories back in high school, the happy and embarrassing ones. Mostly it was from his gang versus Pran's. Always the fated and said rivals ever since they were young. The same rascals that got into trouble together. He laughs at this, one genuine chuckle in a long time. 

White and turquoise-coloured balloons besmear his vision, beautifully decorated, and those colours remind him of the emerald sea, the sandy beach in the zero-waste village, their safe little haven. Pat wonders if the place still exists, Junior still dreams of becoming a fisherman, and Long Tong still advocates his beliefs about changing his attitude towards the world. 

It is all captivating- the pictures, the memories emanate from every photograph. And Pat thinks it is gorgeous, how memories will always remain beautiful in this stillness, at this moment when time stops ticking, and happiness is safely locked in them. 

Pran is everywhere. Pran with his guitar, him singing on the stage, doing the thing he loves the most, with devotion in his eyes and honey in his voice, a tuneful serenade that Pat can never forget. Even after death, Pat can make up the chords Pran played on his guitar, the lyrics he uttered, the radiance in his eyes as he sang the song he made for him, for them, back in high school and at the small bar at the beach. 

In every photo, Pran catches his attention, reeling him into the custody of his gaze, his smile, his presence. Since Pat came to terms with his feelings, he has never opened his heart to anyone else. He can never will. Pran is the holder of his existence, the key that unlocks the doors to his soul, and Pat believes no one can take that sacred place. In a thousand years, possibly a million, Pran will always be the person he loves. 

A sudden tap on his shoulder is enough to stop Pat from tracking the memory lane. His heart picks up speed as assumptions arise, invoking innocent hope from the spaces in between his ribcage, and it climbs to his throat, the anticipation. Could it be?

As he turns around, expecting the unexpected, Pat is ready to forfeit himself from this world. There is only one person in mind, and Pat wants it to be canon, no longer a divergence. But he meets eyes with Satang, a good old friend of his.

"Hi," he greets, observing Pat from head to toe. "Why are you just standing there? Aren't you going inside?" 

Over the years, Pat has grown to master the art of dumping his true feelings. It is natural now to him. But it was hard at the beginning. Pat- someone who speaks feelings openly- felt as if there were chains around his ankles, a cloth in his mouth and handcuffs around his wrist. He could no longer express his thoughts and opinions freely without second-guessing himself, void from the Pran would be disappointed if you said that to your parents, and all those nonsense he never considered before. Now, he masks his emotions with a smile that does not reach his eyes, but no one notices this. Maybe Pat is doing a fantastic job, after all.

He gestures Satang to take the lead, smiling at him for a great measure. 

"Okay, come on," Satang says, wrapping his hand around his shoulder. "Were you stuck in the traffic?" his friend inquires, initiating small talks here and there, and Pat delves into it, another expertise he polishes after taking over his father's company. 

"Yeah. And it was so hard to get a parking spot."

"Same here."

And it goes on and on. How Pat wishes he could wrap his head around the context of their conversation. But nothing comes to mind, only emptiness and the same numbing sadness. 

 

(:(

 

Talking to Satang and Dunk surely bring back good old memories shared in high school. It is funny to think of it from his perspective now, as an adult, as a working man, to remember that he put a booger in Satang's mouth, and Dunk's you didn't even take a shower to school!  Was he that gross back in high school? The thought of it makes him snicker. Why did Pran even like me? Oh- there it goes again. His heart, now made of glass, breaks for the umpteenth time. 

"Hey, what are you doing anyway?" Dunk asks, genuinely interested. 

Pat takes his time to answer, crossing his arms, holding his guard up. "Well, I'm handling my family's business, taking on my father's spot. Construction supplies, something like that."

Dunk nods in awe and respect. "That's great, though. You don't have to trouble yourself to find a job." 

"What I can say is, there are pros and cons. It's not all good, but it's not too bad, either," Pat explains, and both of his friends agree, coming to the same wavelength.

Pat chews on the snack, savouring the flavour on his tastebuds, but pauses for a brief when Satang exclaims, "Hey, your old rival is here."

And it takes zero-second for Pat to respond, turning his head to the direction Satang is showing with his eyes. 

Pat's world has stopped revolving four years ago, too long ago. But now, at this moment, on this very instant, everything fades out, Satang and Dunk are no longer here, the peals of laughter and boisterous conversations die down in a blink. The world, his world, stops again, but this time, an explosion of colours paint his vision. The mundaneness of the universe before evaporates. Everything is coming back to life now. In streaks of gold and blue and red and orange and yellow and everything magical: his heart stops beating wholly. His soul is now hollow, empty, waiting to be filled by the grace of his true love. 

Pran.

Pran is here. Pat is not dreaming, and this is not a drill, not a crazy imagination of his, not a pathetic mirage that continuously awakens him in the middle of the night. Pran is here.

He- breathtaking, gorgeous, groundbreaking, beautiful, pretty, adorable- Pran is really here.

His heart, oh his heart, is drumming so outlandishly in his chest. It surprises him- how he is still dormant in his seat, how his hands and feet are not moving on their own, to engulf Pran in a bone-crushing hug, appreciating the curve of his waist as his arms slot around them, just like he did four years ago. 

Pat blinks once, twice, and stops when he reaches fifty. It is too good to be true, and the sensation breezing in his mind and heart is a downright sinful pleasure. 

Pran is approaching him, or Satang or Dunk, heck, it does not matter. He is walking towards his table, and Pat watches him with intent eyes, trying to solve the riddles repressed behind the expression on his face. The familiar stoic facade Pat saw when they first reunited. Those long three years of separation after Pran's sudden transferal. Those three years are not equivalent to the past four years they went through, Pat regards. 

And he stops in his tracks when Pat believes he is about to take another stride closer. Pran is always good at throwing him off-guard. That is so attractive of him, Pat thinks. Pran is effortlessly sexy and alluring and mysterious in his unique, irresistible way that Pat can never get enough of it. Even after years of partition, the fire in his heart, only Pran can rekindle that blaze with just a stare. 

Pat is the first to break eye contact, taking his time to let everything falls into place. 

"Hi, Pran! This way!"

From the table opposite them, Aun and Captain are calling for him. Pran beams, holding his hand up to greet his friends. He changes his destination to their table instead, but his eyes stay on Pat the whole way. 

They are exchanging conversations, and Pran is smiling, laughing even. His body, his lips, his smile is on Aun and Captain, but his eyes, those gleaming eyes, are on Pat, always, always. Never once did those eyes go astray, off their orbit, the shared bubble they are living in at the moment. 

And Pat sees nothing else but Pran.

"You are staring at him. What's there to wait? Isn't it time to punch him?"

He laughs at this.

If only Dunk knew the thoughts spinning in his mind right now, he would flip in surprise. There is nothing Pat wills to do than hold Pran close. But that is a secret, a looming past that shall remain in his yesterdays. It is beautiful that way, whatever they had before reality banged on their door. 

"Chill out, dude," Satang eases the tension. "We're grown men now. No more fighting."

Before his mind can process the jumbling thoughts, his lips convene a reply, "But something can never change." 

Something, in Pat's dictionary, is his love for Pran. 

"Wait, does this mean your kids and his kids will have to hate each other too? Just like their fathers?"

"Hoi, that's like a drama!"

Dodging their frivolous instances, Pat passes the glass closer to Satang. "Ah, here, just drink!"

"And shut up!" Dunk intervenes, earning an eye roll from Satang. 

"Ah, you too!" the glass clicks as Pat glides it closer to Dunk, all the while smiling at his friends.

When he looks to the front, Pran's eyes are still on him. His lips take an upturn, a brief smile, more like an inept hello. Pat watches it unravel with his naked eyes, the wrinkles at the corner of his eyes, the mellow lights shining from them, still so mesmerizing. Pat is in wonderment. But it is all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Both of them did, in the end. Can he still marvel in Pran's smile after all these years? Is he allowed to now?

In retrospect, he neither smiles nor frowns. In between those two, a fine line extended before his sight, splitting him from making a definite choice. In between those tempting possibilities, Pat wonders, where does he stand? 

 

(:(

 

In his crazy and fun ways to make the reunion going, Hong suggested a game called Funny Old Days. To break the ice, the awkwardness that loiters after long years of not seeing each other. 

"We'll get to see pictures of us back then and tell me how differently they're right now!"

Everyone is clapping in excitement, wriggling in their seats. Clamorous woos and eager oos circle the cheery ambience. Uneasiness dissipates as soon everyone begins to warm up with one another. 

"The one with the top score gets a one-night free accommodation voucher!" 

The laughter dies down as Hong adds, "At my house!"

Strings of boos are now a song that everyone sings, erupting a new set of demonic laughter from Hong. "Don't you guys want it?"

"No!"

"I'm just joking! It's a five-star hotel by the beach in Ko Samet!" he discards the dissatisfaction from the crowds naturally. "Okay! Let's not waste more time. Let's play the game now!"

And the fun begins.

Pran leans back on his chair, crossing his arms, and stares at the screen a few meters away from him. One picture pops out, and another, and another. And in every photo, Pran notices, amid the mass of people surrounding them, he and Pat will always remain by each other's side, always so close, always so ready to wreak havoc and race to the top. 

It is exhilarating to compete with Pat. Pat understands him even more than he does. Crazy, Pran thinks. And being the cunning devil he is, Pat uses that advantage to get the best out of him.  Why are you so slow? Speed up, jackass! I can draw even better than you! I'm the coolest kid in this school! Not you! Always there to incite him, a driving force that grounds him into place, sheltering him from the pressure of becoming the perfect son his mother wants him to be. Pat- always so loud and outspoken, a doer than a dweller, acts before he thinks- and Pran is still, helplessly, mindlessly, wordlessly, in love with him.

There is never anyone else in his life, not even close. Some casual flings here and there, just because Pran thinks he needs to move on like a normal human being with feelings and needs. Just because he believes Pat is doing the same thing too, living, moving on, forgetting the past that blasts so much hope and beauty in their hearts. But it is all in vain, never the same. They are not Pat.

A picture of Pat appears on the screen. He was wearing the silly Santa's cape around his neck, drumsticks in between his fingers, but his attention was not on the camera. Pran wonders if it was on him. 

Then, there is a photo of Pran and Pat on the field, fire emblazing from two sets of eyes, ready to punch each other in the face. Pran does not remember the cause of his anger and dissatisfaction, but back then and until four years ago, Pat has always been on his nerves. There is always something in the way Pat talks or behaves or moves or even breathes that torches the hunger for attention; I'm better than you, I scored more goals than you, keep your eyes on the ball and not on my handsome face, dumbass! Those notions that rage the thrill of adrenaline in his system, Pran enjoys having a morsel of them all. 

All Pran can do right now is smile and laugh. Only those and nothing more. 

He feels Pat's eyes on him, and it takes his every willpower to ignore his heated gaze. But it continues to burn half of his body, a piece of his core, a scrap of his sanity. Hold on, hold on, hold on, Pran perilously says. 

And it is the final straw. Pran can never say no to Pat. 

He meets Pat's eyes when the rest of their classmates initiate a controversial discourse on who has changed and who has not, eager to win the one-night free accommodation to one of Thailand's most prestigious hotels and beautiful beaches. 

Satang holds his hands up and screams, "It's Pat and Pran! Look at them! They are different then and now!"

Woos and oos reverberate in the small space of the venue. Hong cheers loudly at the realization, and by then, all eyes are on them, on these two rivals that can never be more than enemies. 

Oh, what do they know? Pran asks with his eyes.

They don't know shit, Pat answers with a smile.

As a result, Satang wins the voucher. Good for him. 

 

(:(

 

Pat, for a moment, finds it hard to breathe. Reality is playing with his heart, pulling all the right strings, and it is too much for him to withhold. He takes a second away from Satang and Dunk, letting them talk gibberish and nonsensical things as they sip another glass of cocktail, heavily infused with potent vodka. 

His feet bring him to the buffet table, deserted at the far end, away from the people and the stage. He retrieves a glass; the orange coloured concoction is stagnant in his shaky hands. Pat spaces out, his mind taking him on a detour to other places, not here, in this reunion party, in this private place located at the heart of Bangkok city. 

He attempts to solve the last piece of the puzzle- his sanity is at stake. He needs to be alone and away from the crowd, a second of peace to comprehend the craze of everything. But in the corner of his eyes, he spots Pran. He cruises closer, too fast for Pat's liking, and stops next to him. He takes a glass of blue mojito, twirling it around, and his actions put a stop to his thoughts. Pat wonders if the drink will spill all over Pran's shirt or on the table, or even worse if his fingers slip and the glass falls to the ground, sharp pieces scatter all over the floor-

He looks at Pran, and they are equal. Parallel lines, they are, moving in the same direction to a destination that is still undecided. It is happening, right now, the urge to hold him skyrockets, free-falling from his head and down to his dress shoes. Close, closer, just a little bit closer-

"Pat! Get ready. We're up next," Satang intervenes, slitting through the moment for him and Pran. Dear God, Pat interjects, beaten. Why now?

Dejected, he puts the glass back on the table, untouched and pats Satang on the shoulder. "Let's go," he says, not turning back. 

But he hears it all too clear- Satang's Pran, you too. Join us. How he wishes he could mute the voices in his head. Pran. Pran. Pran

Pat can't breathe.

 

(:(

 

It is all in the song. His feelings, the conceded truth, the hopes and fears, the vow for a future together, dusty old anger and resentment, the glowing, burning love, everything that Pran never learns to express without the help of his guitar and the melodies he composed, is all for Pat. Before, now and after, it will always be his. 

One thing that Pran has always been so sure of is his feelings for Pat. Inevitable, the admiration he harbours towards Pat, the love that develops in his heart, the roots and shoots finding their sun to grow, and it is Pat, always been. 

Enemies, Pran once believed it was all they could be. Nothing in this world could push them closer, transiting the frontiers made by their parents, a cruel fate none of them could bypass. Friends, a term that Pran never knew would exist between them. It has been so long, too long for Pran to remember when and where the lines faded; the word enemy was bile in his throat. Friend tasted so lovely and sinful on his tongue, and Pran desired for that addictive confirmation more than he needed air to breathe. On the rooftop, however, Pat disclosed an earth-shattering fact. He never wanted to be friends with Pran. Four years ago, Pran wondered, could they be more than just friends?

They could. Magically, more than friends. Boyfriends, an endearment so fragile like paper planes. Both of them tried to handle it with the utmost care and precision, nurtured the red string between them with so much love that it flooded the whole rooftop with liquid gold. Pran and Pat, miraculously, were more than friends at one point in their lives.  

Like deja vu, his heart encourages him to turn around, and when he does, Pat will look at him with those same eyes from seven years ago, four years ago, and a thousand years in the future. 

Pat is smiling, and the heavens have never been so astonishing. He is glowing, white lights graze half of his face, and another stays hidden in the dark. But Pran has seen it all. In broad daylight and muted sundown, in every shade of colours, in every expanse of Pat- an unforgettable image that Pran stores in the holiest casket of his heart.  

The song comes to an end, but Pran believes it is a new beginning for them. 

 

(:(

 

Gravity will always pull us towards the centre of the earth. Yet Pran will always draw him closer to paradise. And Pat knows by then, Pran is his middle. 

He ends up standing by his side, and Pat catches the scent he misses so dearly, the fading whiff that no longer covers Nong Nao's body, that flowery, powdery fragrance that once caressed his receptors with stability and certainty. It is intense, mind-boggling, and Pat searches for something to hold onto, someone's shoulder, leverage, anything. He is dizzy, intoxicated with the pleasant scent of Pran, to the point of having the robust urge to vomit. But he gobbles it all like he always does.

The side of his pinky meets Pran's, still so smooth and slightly cold. If he is in his right mind, Pat will lace their fingers instantly, by heart, just like back in the old days. 

But he is not in his right mind. He pulls away and clasps his hands together. The slight contact left a scorching mark on his skin, another disdain to his timid self. 

Feelings, all nameless and warping, suffocating and healing, overpowering and underwhelming, Pat is just so hopeless this way. He steals a glance, another two, and it is impossible to count by now. When they start distributing the pictures to everyone, Pat becomes the epicentre of debate again. Hoi, Pat! You're not looking at the camera! Are you looking at Pran? Oho, are you guys a thing? 

Why would he? Pran is by his side. Today might be the last time he sees Pran. Pat grabs the chances he has, knowing all too well that tomorrow is never kind to him. Never in the past four years, and possibly never in the next life. 

He takes them all, the good and the bad, the impending heartaches and upcoming lonelier nights, like a feral animal searching for its prey. Tonight, Pran is his, even if for transient. 

 

(:(

 

Pran wants Pat to stay.

He wants Pat to chase after him and hold his wrist, begging him to stop and look at him. 

He wants Pat to hug him and pat his head, whispering those nectar promises to his ears, concealing the fear growing in their in-sync hearts.

Pran wants Pat to stay. 

But Pat is giving drunk-Satang a ride, like a good and kind soul he is. How nice of him, Pran says.

 

(:(

 

He helps Satang into the cab, and Dunk nods at him, seemingly understanding the franticness in his eyes. Pat pays for the cab and runs in the opposite direction, praying for godsends to transpire again. 

Pat runs and runs, and there, under the orange streetlight, he sees Pran walking, right foot first then left, like he always does. His back is lonely and cold, screaming for Pat to hold, cradle, envelop in a soul-mending hug. 

"Pran!"

It takes five seconds for Pran to turn around, and yes, Pat has been counting since day one. 

His heart stops. But Pat tries to come up with something to make him less panicky. "Do you... want to have a ride?" 

Pran nods, a small smile gracing his lips.

Perhaps, Pat deduces, miracles happen at the most random times, the most unexpected interventions. And God says; it is now. 

 

(:(

 

The ride is quiet, and flashes of yesterday cover his vision with calming loudness. Pat has a new car, a sporty Toyota Prius, glossing in red, and it speaks so much of his personality, the fire in his eyes, the determination in his heart, the unrelenting belief in their relationship, in Pran. How can he ever forget? Pat gives him so much to remember, and every memory tells a story fit for different occasions. When he is sad, he remembers the night Pat gulped a tall glass of beer, followed by a choir of burps, excess liquid dripping from the corner of his lips. When he is happy, he remembers Pat barged into the lecture hall and handed the forgotten-USB-because-he-was-in-a-hurry for his presentation, a hero saving his damsel in distress. The proud smile on his face was blinding, and Pran mirrored the grin with his dimples and two crescent eyes. Pat is everything Pran yearns for, a treasure, a gem, a pearl in the ocean, but if only it is easy. 

They pass the familiar road, a route he knows by heart. When Pat stops the engine, Pran realizes they are in front of their old apartment complex. His heart accelerates as his mind makes a different set of assumptions. There is so many why's but so little because; what will happen, then?

Pran wants to ask so many questions, but foolishly, he follows Pat to the entrance. They greet the security guard, the same uncle from four years ago. He allows them access, only for an hour, though, as they are no longer the residents there. Pat thanks the guard again, and they are now on the lift, sharing the same space.

He knows where they are going. But his heart is racing, and his mind creates multiple scenarios, both pretty and ugly. Pran is not ready for any of the outcomes.

Pat takes the lead. He opens the door and gestures Pran to enter. Pran is hesitant, afraid even, of the next minute alone with Pat, no longer in the margins crammed with their classmates. But the twinkle in those eyes exhorts Pran to obey. 

Here he is, after four years, standing on the rooftop, the starting point of it all. Thankfully, it ended somewhere else, and at least, only sunny, bittersweet memories remained here. 

It is half past midnight, but Bangkok is still bustling with life and energy. Cars are honking, and people are drowning in glasses of alcohol, taking advantage of the fun and jubilant night, an escape from the worries of today. 

The railings are cold against his palms, and the night air soothes the ache thriving in his chest. Feelings are always overwhelming, and Pran knows it is all because of Pat. Pat- the sole reason for everything.

Pat takes his position, two feet away from Pran, and he is quiet, enjoying the view feasted in front of them. Neon lights from the multitude of buildings, white lights from the massive billboards, orange lights from the streetlamps, red lights from rows of cars, all bedazzling, weaved into a cacophony of rainbow synergy. Beautiful.

Pran holds his breath as Pat inches closer. By then, there is no illogical space between them. Pran finds no intention in him to run away. He wants this,  needs this, but he is terrified of declaring it aloud- in this world that once rendered him powerless. They took Pat away from him before. They can definitely do it again.

But Pat has always been the braver soldier, the stronger fighter, the loyal believer. Even now, after four years, Pat is still the same. 

Pat glides his hand nearer to Pran, and their pinkies touch again, only a tender scrape of skin. But it is enough to kindle the blaze in his heart, the memories that never vacate his mind, the familiarity of Pat's rough canvas against his. It is still the same. Everything about Pat is like a blueprint Pran uses for his upcoming project, the draft for his new song. Consistency. Perseverance. Familiarity. Home. Pat is his home.

This time, Pran wants to be the first to make a move. Quivering slightly from the cold and the anxiety, Pran links their pinkies together. Pat no longer moves. He gazes to his left, fear of crossing the line, but soon meets those tender eyes, tears pouring from them like a downpour, a continuous heavy rain. 

He blinks, and, oh- a stream of tears follow suit. 

Pat looks at him with certified attentiveness, delicate fondness, and oozing loveliness. His heart, mind, body melts and melts and melts. And he flows and flows and flows like water, formless, free. Free, free,  free at last. 

Pran wishes to say something, anything. Brainstorming, Pran tries to think of things to do along the way. Maybe he can wipe Pat's tears and run his fingers across sunken cheeks. Perhaps Pran can hug Pat and nuzzle closer to the spot in between his neck and chest, his name engraved all over the place. Possibly he can kiss the sadness away- from his forehead and venturing south, stagnant on his lips, long and passionate, the way Pat likes it. 

But he is glued to his feet. The world continues to spin, but Pran stays there, riveted on the rooftop, with Pat echoing the same thoughts trumpeting in his mind. 

 

(:(

 

Pat is digging his own grave when he lets Pran into his apartment. 

Pran insists on going home, but Pat is too self-centred to let him get away again. When Pran held his hand, he knew it would be worth it. Another painful memory to his collections, it will not hurt as much. He is ready for the pang that comes with Pran, the same numbing ache he encountered before. 

When Pran exits the bathroom, wearing Pat's clothes, too loose around the neck, showing the mounds of his collarbone, his heart hammers against his chest. A sinful vista that Pat had seen countless times before but will always affect him in various ways. 

"I-" he stutters, gulping away the nervousness churning in his throat. "I'm going to take a shower. Feel free to sit anywhere or do anything," he says and sprints to the bathroom, closing the door as soon he enters.

He hears faint giggles coming from Pran, and his body aviates lofty to the stars, dancing away with the moon. Pran laughed because of him. He finds no words to explain the emotions filling the cavity of his body, only good things.  

Fifteen minutes pass and Pat turns the shower off. He dries his wet hair with a towel and enters his room. Pran is there, looking out at the window, tension no longer saddling his shoulders. Peaceful, serene- Pat smiles at this. 

"Do you want something to drink?"

Pran jolts a little at the sudden intrusion. He turns around, shock clear on his face, but a smile soon adorns in ardent strokes, tired eyes unwinding at him. "No thanks," he answers.

It is the first proper conversation they had for the night, and Pat knows he is silly for feeling extra giddy because of it. But Pran makes him appreciate the little things, the unseen details, the small but significant wonders of the world. Those little things that connect them still; the watch Pran is wearing, the Nong Nao on his bed, Pran's phone case, are all from their yesterdays. A connotation that it was not all ugly. Some were pretty, pretty moments, too. And Pran has always been the prettiest amongst them all, still is. 

 

(:(

 

Lying on the same bed, side by side, their backs flush against the soft mattress, eyes glued to the ceiling, darkness fills the crevices in Pat's room, and Pran contemplates the choices he made. 

Pat turns his body to the left, and he is now facing Pran. But he is not ready to get lost in those eyes yet. Still too early to break the forts he fought so hard to build.

"Pran?"

Silence. 

"Pran? Are you asleep?"

Croaking a reply, Pran says, "No."

Pat heaves a deep sigh. Pran does the same.

"You can sleep. I know you're tired."

But I know we need to talk, Pran intended to say. 

"Goodnight, Pr-"

"Pat."

"Hm?" comes as an answer. Pran hears it, the layers of apprehension, dismay, dread in that simple murmur. Somehow, his heart smashes at the idea of it. Pat, not knowing what to say, how to express those feelings aloud, the method he once championed.

Pran turns to face Pat. Faint rays coming from the nightlight skim his skin, just enough for Pran to make out the lines of his eyebrows and the high of his cheekbones. 

"I-" Pran stops. He doesn't know what to say.

And Pat, his perfect counterpart, fills the vacancy by asking, "How are you?"

Pat makes everything easy for him. Easier to breathe, think, love, live. "I'm fine," he answers, partially a white lie, but Pat is not stupid. He knows. 

"You?"

"Okay, I guess."

As if this distance is a joke to Pat, he mocks them by inching closer. His knees bump with Pran, same old same old. A territory only Pat can divulge. 

"How's Singapore?"

"Hotter than Thailand."

Pat laughs. "You hate that," he says.

Pran smiles at this, warmth spreading all over his body. "Yeah, but my workspace is fully air-conditioned. Super cold even in the afternoon."

Laughter spills from those lips continuously, and Pran knows it all comes from his noble, kind heart. "Seems like the perfect place for you, oh?"

Nowhere is perfect without you. Words die down instantly before they escape Pran's lips. 

"Maybe," he creaks a reply. "Maybe not."

It is quiet again. The whir of the aircon and Pat's steady breathing almost lull him to sleep. But curiosity kicks in, and Pran dares himself to ask, "You're working in your father's company?"

Time ticks for ten seconds as Pat braces a response, "Yeah."

"Is everything good?"

"Maybe, maybe not."

Pran clicks his tongue. Pat cackles at this.

Time passes to infinity. Minutes come to a screeching halt as Pat speaks again, "Pran?"

"Hm?"

"Are you... staying?"

Pat's question is so vague, open to many answers and solutions. However, the child-like undertone in his voice, the same fear he once heard during one of those muffled nights, convinces Pran of a designated answer fit for his inquiry. 

"I'm on a two week leave now. But my boss is transferring me to Thailand after the project with Marina Bay ends."

Pat instantly awakens, and Pran echoes his movements. They are sitting on the bed facing each other. Knees bumping knees, hands hanging in midair, not knowing if they can hold each other again, but they revel in the possibilities anyway.  

He is seeking the truth, validation, confirmation, and Pran's heart is heavy with something indefinable. Maybe it is because of the sheen in Pat's eyes, the wistful smile looping his lips; Pran wants to break the walls surrounding him and lunges forward into the domains of Pat. He can't, not yet.

"Are you serious? You're not lying?"

Pran bites his lips, relieving the monstrous impulse to cry. "Why would I lie to you, hm?"

Pat smiles, and a tear rolls down from his eyes without notice. Oh, that heart-stopping, thought-halting moment arrives again at his doorstep. 

"Pran- I- you're not leaving anymore- that's- that's great- I- I-"

"Pat?"

"Huh?"

He raises his arms, wide enough to fit a certain Naphat between his legs and limbs. Pran smiles encouragingly. Pat's handsome face is like the bokeh in his tear-filled eyes. Blurry, everywhere, fragmented. But Pran remembers his face by heart. Even with his eyes closed, he can still draw a perfect portrait of him. 

With a breath, he says, "You can hug me."

And Pat falls and falls and falls. In his arms, in the empty spaces, in the points of his collarbone, in Pran. A place where he rightfully belongs.

Pat hugs him tight and cushion his body with tender care. Five-pointed star running back and forth, travelling everywhere, smoothening the wrinkles of his t-shirt, tracing the dents of his spine. Ardent kisses on his shoulder blade, peppering pecks on his neck and up to his ear, whispers upon whispers of heartfelt I miss you's settling permanently on his body for eternity. 

Pran embraces him close, one hand gripping the back of his neck, another safely nestled around his waist. I miss you too, Pran answers, the only thing that matters, the only reply Pat wants to hear.

Tonight, in the safety of Pat's four walls, the profound zeal of faithful hands around his body, Pran can finally breathe again.

 

(:(

 

When he awakens to an empty bed the next day, Pat is not surprised. 

Whatever they did the night before, the holy exchange of pledges, their limbs tangled underneath a shared blanket, Pat knew it was too good to be true. If Pran no longer wants to see him, he respects that. Another reason for him to move on, then.

Deliciousness wafts in the air. The smell of grilled sausages and buttered toast linger everywhere. The growls and howls coming from a hungry stomach motivate Pat to jump off the bed and dash to the kitchen, pronto. 

Sensing his arrival, Pran turns around. One hand holds the spatula, and one hand on his waist. "Morning," Pran greets, smiling from ear to ear.

For a second, Pat pinches himself everywhere he can. Ow, he pouts. It stings. He is not dreaming. 

"Are you going to stand there all day? Help me get the plates," he orders. Pran turns off the stove and places the hot frying pan on the countertop. He cocks his head sideways, questioningly. "Pat?"

He blinks, and the spell wears off. "Huh?"

Pran chuckles. "The plates?"

"Oh, yeah, yeah," Pat runs to the cabinet, retrieving two plates, one blue and the other red. He hands them to Pran. "Here," he says in utter confusion, his movements all the while robotic. 

Pran places two sausages on each plate, a pile of scrambled eggs on the side, and two toast buttered to perfection. As he uncaps the blueberry jam, Pran says, "Since you don't have condensed milk, this will do."

"Pran."

"Hm? Why? Don't you like this jam? It's the only flavour the store-"

"I thought you left."

He stops from smearing the jam on the bread. Pran searches for his eyes, and Pat sees nothing but budding determination and mantles of love exuding in yellow hues. 

"You barely have anything edible in your fridge. Do you think I'll leave you hungry and unsatisfied?" Pran questions, resuming his duty to coat the toast with purple, sweet and tart jam. 

Pat shakes his head, a determined no.

"You know me so well. Why did you even ask?" Pran scintillates the brightest smile Pat has ever seen since last night. Even the sun can never come close to the dazzling brilliance. 

When Pran goes to the sink, Pat follows him, embracing him from the back. "Pran," he calls, desperate, terrified.

"Hm?"

"Tell me this isn't a dream."

Pran faces him, doe-like eyes glimmering, dimples present on his cheeks, so beautiful, so close but still so far away. "You're awake. Of course, it's not a dream."

"Pran..." he deems, emphasizing every syllable, conveying his turbulent emotions with the last ounce of hope left in him. 

Jam-tainted fingers are hovering above his cheeks, and Pat leans in, chasing after them. The sticky sweetness on his skin doesn't matter now. He only wants to know if this is a chance for them to start over, to taste the nectar from the flowers in their garden anew. Is it a yes or a no? Pat is dying to know.

His eyes shine as words tumble from his lips. "I'm here to stay. For as long you want me to be. You don't have to fight alone. Aren't I Naphat's trusty partner in crime?"

And all hell breaks loose, one minute at a time. Pat does nothing else but hugs Pran for the rest of the day. 

 

(:(

 

Pat drives him to his parent's house after they had a quick take-out for lunch. He parks his car far from the gates of Pran's house, afraid his parents would see them together, terrified if it will be the reason for Pran to move away from him again. 

"Are you sure about this?" Pat asks. He is busy stroking Pran's hands. Gingerly, tenderly. Since last night, this morning, Pat has never let go of his hands, and Pran wants it to be this way forever. 

"We're grown-ups now, Pat. We deserve to make our own choices."

"But I don't want you to hate them. Your mother-"

He places his index finger on Pat's lips, silencing him. "I won't. She won't. Trust me."

Pat releases a groan from the back of his throat, pushing the fingers away from his mouth. "How can you be so sure?"

"And how can you be so unsure?"

Pat rolls his eyes. Shia, he moans. "You're lucky I love you."

Another strike to his pulsating heart. Another foregrounding reason to fight for Pat and their love. This time, no one is running away. Pran is going to make the impossible possible. 

He winks at Pat. "I am."

"You've become so confident after staying overseas for too long. What kind of people you met there, huh?"

"Handsome and hot people with high IQ and witty jokes."

"Pfft!" Pat mocks disgust. "I'm far better than those guys you met!"

Of course, it is the truth. But Pran likes playing with Pat's mental state more than he remembers. It is such a fun and thrilling experience to drive Pat to the edge of the cliff, with 50-50 chances of surviving or toppling from the madness Pran compelled. 

"Dream on, dumbass."

"Make me, baby."

Pran loves this- the crude jokes and ear-splitting laughter and gentle kisses on his hands, a sneaky peck at the corner of his lips, the boiling love in those fierce eyes as he looks at him- he is in love with Pat still, and it physically and emotionally hurts.

When he receives a call from his mother, asking his whereabouts, Pran immediately turns to look at him. The confidence and bravery dissipate when the moment approaches. But Pat is there to ensure him; by holding his hand, flashing his charming smile. It will be alright. Maybe the world is finally going with them and not against them anymore. 

"Do you still have my LINE ID?" Pat asks.

Sadness flashed in his eyes for a millisecond as Pran answered, "I changed my number..."

Pat nods, a small smile appears on his face, understanding. "Give me your phone."

And they do the same thing they did four years ago. pranaparakul, Pran's new ID. Oh

Suddenly, Pat pinches his cheeks, hard enough to leave red finger marks on his skin. "Oh, look at you being all adult-like and mature~ Where's my previously childish, praninlove boyfriend went to, hm?"

He slaps Pat's hands away from tantalizing his cheeks. Pran looks at the screen, Pat's ID detected, pat.naphat. Pat changed his name, too. Pran doesn't comment on this. He knows it is the same for them both, the cause of the change. But he keeps the discovery all to himself. It doesn't matter now. 

"Text me whenever. I'm here if you need me," Pat confirms, patting his head for extra measures. 

"You too," he replies.

When Pran is about to open the door, Pat stops him. He waits for Pat to continue. Pran fails to contain his laughter as Pat grabs a plastic of sweet mangoes and baby mangoes from the backseat, Pran and his mother's favourite fruit. He hands them to Pran, a smile brewing there. "For my boyfriend and my future mother-in-law."

Thankful, Pran plants a kiss on the tip of Pat's nose. "Thanks. She'll love this."

And Pran exits his boyfriend's car, waving at him with a gleeful grin. Pat mirrors his smile, eyes now two little crescents, a sight Pran has missed so dearly ever since they separated. He can see it now without restraints, and hopefully, for the rest of his life. 

A goodbye, but a beautiful one. A goodbye that ends when a hello slips from one's lips, a long-lasting, unyielding forever. A separation that ends when one texts a quick, hey, and gets another hey :) as a reply. 

 

(:(

 

"Ma! Pa! Paa! I'm home!"

Pat walks into the living room and sees everyone, including Ink. He smiles at her, all-knowing. 

He sits close to his mother, two paper bags now placed on the table. His father is on defence, nudging him to say everything in his mind, curious, the Chinese newspaper still in his hands, but he knows his father only uses that as a distraction. 

"Nothing, Pa," he says. "My friend just came back from abroad. He asked me to give you this."

His mother is the first to peak into the gift as Pat pushes the bags nearer to them. His father, feigning ignorance, acknowledges the present with a slight nod. Uninterested, undisturbed as always. 

"Let's see what's inside!" his mother chirps, getting Pat's signal for help. "Wow! It's imported liquor! I want to have a taste!"

Pat glances at his father, and he seems a bit interested. He has always loved fine wines, imported liquors, hand-crafted beers. But he hides them all behind that stoic, unbothered countenance of his. 

"If nobody wants it, it's mine then," his mother announces, quirking her perfectly drawn eyebrows. Paa and Ink join the conversation, keeping the ball rolling, but his father would not break

But Pat knows by now. Sooner or later, his father will hold a white flag and disclose defeat. He only has to keep trying harder.

 

(:(

 

Pat watches as his father plays with the liquor Pran gives him, swirling the glass around, foams floating on the surface of the brownish liquid as he does. 

He approaches his father in silence, with another glass in his hands, and pulls the chair on the left side of the dining table. His father stops moving immediately, placing the glass back in its place. Pat fills his father's glass, then his, and waits for him. 

Clank! They cheered. Two glasses met in the middle. Pat drinks the bitter taste in two gulps. The pungent smell of imported liquor jabs his nose, making him cough a little. 

His father is looking at him, but Pat doesn't know what meaning those eyes behold. The mist in them, the tenderness that appears only during powerless, honest sessions between a father and son. Pat finds himself meandering to that moment again, four years ago. The hunger for his father's approval, droplets of tears falling from his eyes when the cat was out of the bag, the disappointment he felt afterwards, still so fresh in his mind. The wound, still healing, is now profusely bleeding again. 

"Pat," his father calls.

"Yes, Pa?"

He takes the glass of alcohol, shoving it to the air, in between Pat and him. "This liquor," he starts, "the neighbour's son gave it to me, right?"

Blinking the growing fear away, Pat nods. 

"You're still contacting him?"

"We met yesterday, during the reunion party," Pat clarifies. Somehow, he has a hunch where this is going and how it will end, but Pat doesn't let his guard down easily. His father raised him to be a fighter. He will never run away without a good fight. Not again. 

"How's he doing?" 

Pat doesn't expect that at all. Of all conceivable questions and prompts, Pat never thought of that sentence coming from his father. "He's doing great, Pa. He is handling a project with Marina Bay Sands. Pran's working on a new landmark there."

"Permanently?"

He shakes his head. "He's going back here when the project ends."

His father takes another sip of the liquor before he questions, "And what you're going to do when he returns?"

Pat tries to think of the best reason, the one that will not make his father contemplate the choices he made for his future. Bracing himself for the worst possible outcomes, Pat answers adamantly, "I want to be with him."

He expects his father to lash out and say those same lines he grew up with, he's a bad influence to you, and you must get better grades than him, but only silence and a few exhales here and there, nothing else.

Pat tries again. "Pa, I love Pran. I want to be with him," the bricks that made up his heart now shatter altogether. "I'm an adult now. I want to build my future. And Pran is a part of my plans."

His father is silently ingesting the last drop of liquor. A muffled tsk relapses from his lips as he finishes his drink. 

Fiddling in his seat, Pat continues. "He saved Paa that day when we returned home from the river."

His father stops moving. His eyes are now on Pat, on focus, wide open, mouth agape, startled. 

"She was about to drown, and I was scared. I blanked. Pran was there, and he saved Paa. Without him, Paa wouldn't have survived..."

And by now, Pat opens the door to his soul. One by one, quiet tears cascade from his eyes. The truth that he kept for far too long. It is time to release them from imprisonment. 

"Pa... please?" 

His father looks at him- without a smile or any evident emotion on his face. And it breaks his heart to know that maybe, whatever he said or the endless tears he shed meant nothing to the person he looked up to the most. It never did, not for years ago, and not now. 

He stands up and pushes the chair back in its place. Pat counts the number of times his heartbreaks because of his father over the years. Those days spent mulling over his father's indifference, the long-due apology that Pat believes his father owed him to this day. He deserves it- Pran deserves it- however, some plans ended up only to the gutter.  

But when his father's voice cuts the deafening silence between them, the genuine, "Be a gentleman and take good care of him" floats midair; he feels as if someone is stepping on his chest, squeezing all the contents out from his lungs. Invisible, lava-like blood drips everywhere, but the pain is bearable, tolerable, nothing compared to the day he lost Pran to the world. 

Pat sips another mouthful of alcohol as reality dawns on him. It is a yes. After all these years of battling with himself, the monochrome tomorrow, the nightmare he went through- it is a yes. 

Concrete walls of multiple what if's and ceaseless but if's are crushing all over him, and Pat smiles with tears streaming from his eyes. 

 

(:(

 

His mother enjoyed the mangoes. She loved how fragrant the sweet ones were, and the tartiness of the young ones matched perfectly with the simple dipping sauce she made, nam pla waan, and she went back for a second, third bites. 

Pran observed her savouring the crisp unripened fruit, how happy and delighted she was, along with his father choosing the ripened ones over the green ones. She teased him of having a child's tastebud, and he wondered how could she ingest the sour fruit as if it was nothing. 

He loves his family. Even after the things his mother did, the slap that left a pricking mark on his cheek, the anger burning in her eyes when she saw him on the stage with Pat, the disappointment when he told her they were boyfriends, Pran could never bring himself to hate her. Hate is such a powerful, distasteful word that would bring nothing but emotional damage to anyone enduring the aftermath of it. Though sometimes, Pran wished he could, especially when he thought of Pat and the tragic ending to their story, the unfairness of it all. But he doesn't blame her or even Pat's father- everyone made mistakes once or twice in their lives. And not everyone is brave enough to ask forgiveness, for seeking forgiveness is another step to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was within us. 

When his mother went to the kitchen to get another glass of water, Pran looked at his father, curious, impatient. "Pa, do you know where my guitar is?"

He took a slice of yellow mangoes and said, always on alert, "I think it's still in the storage room. You can look there, hm?"

Pran smiled at this, grateful. It was good to know his mother didn't throw his guitar away. Maybe, hope would still prevail at the end of a bumpy road. "Okay, Pa. Thank you."

And as Pran enters his room, the guitar is already on the bed, waiting for him. His heart skips multiple beats as if he meets someone special after long years of parting ways. Pran runs his fingers along the neck, feeling the tensed wires on his skin, and plucks a chord or two, testing the waters. The excitement, the memories, the joy he feels right now is surreal, engaging- perhaps this guitar is his first love, and through it comes Pat in a close second. Or maybe they are both his first loves (he wouldn't want Pat to be jealous over a guitar).  

The window to his room is open ajar, and Pran knows Pat can listen to him from the other side of the world. He wants to- this song he plays is for him, always. Licking his lips, Pran positions himself comfortably on the bed and starts to strum the guitar in his hands. 

 

If our love was a song,

If our story was written out to sing along,

What kind of song do you think our love would be?

 

Is love a beautiful world?

Something of grandeur,

Is it a sky, a mountain, a sea or other kinds of splendour? 

 

A knock resounds on the door. Pran stops, scrambling to place the guitar back on the bed as his mother enters his room. Panic ascends in his chest, a natural fight or flight response he governed after years of finding freedom and silencing the screeching notes of his mother's words. 

"Ma," Pran calls, lips dry, eyes going hysterical. Did she hear the song he sang? Of course, she did, the door wasn't-

"Why did you stop playing?" 

"Hm?"

She takes the guitar from her side and gives them to Pran. Reluctant, Pran remains stationary. His body betrays him as no will is there in him to move a muscle. But the look in his mother's eyes, the soft glint that makes her look ten times beautiful, hundred times approachable, burns a mental image in Pran's mind, a new memory that his brain works so diligently to save. 

She is persistent, and Pran understands from where he gets the trait. He smiles at her and takes the guitar. 

"The song you played," she begins, "is different from the song back in high school?"

Pran doesn't expect his mother to spot the difference. Maybe Pran underestimated the power of a mother's intuition after all. 

Nodding, Pran meekly answers, "Yes. It's a song I made a few years ago."

She smiles. Her eyes are glassy, slightly red as she says, "The lyrics are beautiful."

It is too much for Pran to bear. The openness his mother is showing, the vulnerability in her gaze, the shine that says so much but no words are coming from her lips, is something Pran never dares to visualize. She flourishes a sense of hope, a tinge of freedom in Pran. But where will these innocent, all-too-beautiful emotions end up being? Will it remain behind closed doors, only in these four walls of his childhood bedroom?

"Ma-"

"Maybe Pat can have dinner with us. Whenever he's free."

And that is all it takes for Pran to break into pieces. 

Shell-shock, he stops breathing. But then it hits him, gently, like waves crashing on his feet, the granules in between his fingers, the scorching summer sun, all too profound, all too much. 

He hugs her, close and closer, inhaling the motherly scent he grew to love, the comfort of her embrace, the warmth she radiates. All too familiar. Pran chokes up, tears dampening her dark blue blouse, but she doesn't say anything. She holds him, nestles Pran like the little child he was, still her one and only sweetheart, the apple of her eyes. 

Settling in her embrace, Pran found the answer he had been dying to know.

"Tell him to stop coming to our house through your window. Sooner or later, he'll break his bones. So unrefined," she mocks, but Pran hears no malice there. Only acceptance and happiness for Pran and Pat. 

The night is silent, but Pran's heart is thrumming fast, orchestrating another song to commemorate this eventful ending for a memorable day. 

 

(:(

 

Ming finds his way to the red garbage bin outside the house, two bags of rubbish in his hands. The sun rises from the horizon, gliding across the skyline. He takes his time to look at the growing glow, and faint yellow rays splatter everywhere on the face of the earth. 

Fate has always had ways of interjoining people, and destiny works its magic today as he meets Dissaya, his old friend, again. 

Ming feels like running away. He always does- the only option he has, the constant he isn't willing to change. 

But after years of despising one another and knowing too well, their sons are suffering because of their overdue feud- Ming figures, he can't keep his ego high for too long. 

Pat was hurting for so many years, and in those years, he tried to discard the dimness in his son's eyes, the strictness in his once cheery voice, the silence in his room, drums no longer tainted with a human touch. Ming tried to ignore the signs, but it backfired whenever he convinced himself that Pat would move on. It's only a momentary crush- Ming once told his son. You'll get over him in no time, he persuaded, turning yet another blind eye when a tear rolls from Pat's eyes. How awful was he to shun his son's feelings like that? Shouldn't he know better?

Dissaya looks at him from the corner of her eyes, still so fierce and filled with anger, but there is also softness. Ming knows it is not for or because of him, though. 

Fidgeting, Ming tries his luck. "Mueng," he calls, adverting his eyes quickly when Dissaya meets his stare.

"What?" she asks, sharp, precise.

"Your son- he- tell him I said thanks for the liquor," Ming blunders with his words. His mind thought of a better conversation starter, a sincere I'm sorry for everything I did, but it didn't work out as planned. Well, the world is never on his side, either. Ming shouldn't be too surprised.

Dissaya looks at him in sheer disbelief as if she knows the other alternative Ming tried to convey. There is always mutual equality between them. Even since, in high school, they were the inseparable duo, the most influential student for their excellent grades and overall performance. Ming and Dissaya, Dissaya and Ming, once good buddies. Now? Perhaps, they are bad buddies with the stupidest hunger to kill one another and bring misery to each other's lives. But they withstand the temptation for the sake of their sons, only for them.

She snickers, crossing her arms. "I can't believe Pran gave you that thousand-dollar liquor and didn't save a bottle for me," she announces, annoyed. "You better treat my son right for all the money he wasted on you!"

"Hey!" Ming places his hands on the sides of his waist, intimidated, challenged by her words. "Do you think the mangoes my son gave to you were inexpensive? Those are imported mangoes! The Miyazaki's!"

"Well, it didn't cost him a fortune, did he?"

"It's February! Do you think it's easy to find mangoes when it's not in season?"

"Who told Pat to give me mangoes, then?"

"Pran told him you like it! How would I know?"

And the banter continues until the sun is high in the sky. At least, for now, they had found their common denominator. Even if the debate will highly likely go on for the rest of their lives, it is better than nothing. At least, there is acceptance, maybe forgiveness, the one thing that matters. 

 

(:(

 

With the blindfold wrapped around his eyes, Pran rests his fate on Pat's hands, allowing his boyfriend to take him wherever. He has faith in him, although he is lowkey afraid if Pat attempts to pull a prank on him, the whimsical Pat-way. Still, he follows his lead. His feet cross the cold tiles of Pat's apartment, and Pran makes a note in his head, please convince Pat to buy a carpet.

"Are we there yet?" he asks. His eyes are burning, and worry pumps his heart in accelerating beats. Just what on earth is his boyfriend planning to do? 

Pat kisses him on the cheek, a chaste peck. "One minute, baby." 

Pran, a goner, a Pat-calls-him-teerak-on-a-daily-basis enthusiast, fails to prevent the smile from turning into a grin. 

He hears rustling sounds everywhere, swift movements from one spot to another, occasional ow's and oos resonating in the spacious space. He can't see him, but Pran knows how frenzied Pat is right now, coming up with a surprise even though his birthday is still far ahead. No one knows what this is about, but that is the fun of it all. 

"Okay, okay," Pat ends up standing by his right, his fingers touching Pran's wrist, pulling him closer. "Are you ready?"

"If this is a prank, I'll return to Singapore instantly!"

"Jokes on you, baby, but that threat doesn't work on me anymore," he whistles confidently.

Pran can almost see the smirk on his face. He wants to punch him in the face. "I'll be going and cancel my transferal to Thailand."

"Hey," Pat is serious now. "That's not funny."

"I'm not being funny, Pat."

Warm palms on both sides of his cheeks, and Pran leans to the touch. So cosy. "I'm just joking, Pran..." Pat confesses. "Don't leave me..." he pleads, desperate, terrified.

Oh, how can he ever do such a thing? "Pat, my eyes are hurting..."

"Oh! Okay, okay, sorry," Pat moves to stand behind him. He feels the knot around his head loosening, and the blind comes off right away. 

Pran takes his time to flutter his eyes open, adjusting to the fluorescent lights dangling above his head. Once done, he blinks, searching for Pat. 

Pat stretches his hand for Pran to take and naturally laces their fingers together, guiding Pran to the wall painted with pictures of them over the years. He stops in his tracks, no thoughts, head empty, his heart arrives at a standstill. 

He takes in the view, the yellow lights looping from one corner to the other, the profuse memories that come in every photograph, narrating various stories from their past and open to the present. Pran studies the pictures one by one, reading the notes they exchanged during class, all corny pick-up lines and cringe-worthy love confessions (mostly from Pat), laughing at them all. Never once did his hands leave Pat, and Pat tightens the grip around their entwined fingers whenever Pran jumps in joy, one new memory locked in his heart forever. 

While appreciating the gift, Pran notices the guitar pick Pat gave him back in high school, glued between the Fresh Fest participant tag, the picture they took before the Christmas party begins, and the photo from their double date with Ink and Paa.

Instinctively, he reaches out and drafts the pick with the tip of his fingers, Pat's first gift to him. Beautiful. 

Pat embraces him from the back and rests his chin on his shoulder. "I found it on the table in your old room. You tried so hard to forget me. I'm offended," he pouts, faking distress.

Pran grins at the newly-found fact. "You sneaked into my room after I moved out?"

Taken aback, Pat releases the grip around his waist, but Pran is quicker this time. He holds Pat, his hands firm on top of the other, preventing him from running away. 

"Pat?"

"I just missed you, okay?" he confesses, pursing his lips, eyes twinkling with foreign shyness and glowing love. "I didn't get to send you to the airport. It was too late when I knew from Wai. I could only go to your room and try to remember you by..."

Pran turns around, hands now circling Pat's waist, and he holds him close, their foreheads meeting halfway. "Thank you," he says and steals a kiss from Pat's lips. 

Pat giggles like a love-struck fool, staring at him with such intensity that leaves him breathless and aching for more. Pran is no better. His jaw hurts from all the smiles, dimples now perpetually rooming on his cheeks. 

Outlining the features on his face, leaving butterfly pecks all over his skin, Pran relishes the infatuation Pat engraves to his existence, knowing that now, nothing is coming in their way ever again. Just he and Pat, the sky, the mountain, the sea and other wonders this world has in store for them. 

Fierce eyes invoke the same burning emotions inside him, inducing Pran reckless, void from anything but love and love and love for the one and only Pat. 

When he looks up, the doors to Pat's heart is wide open, waiting for Pran to enter. And he smiles, bountiful words leaving his lips with a tender hello. He steps into that room with Pat and closes the door, locking it safe. 

"I love you," Pat says, breathy, with a smile made of thousands of twinkling stars. 

Pran tries to think of something extraordinary, a Shakesperian confession that befits the love Pat bestows on him. But what he has is the subdued, ordinary and overused term. He smiles, so stupidly in love. "I love you."

And it is enough. Always enough. 

The smile on Pat's face is so blinding, and Pran feels like a champion for being the reason behind it. It is always in the little details- their story comes in heated fights and tearful kisses and fleeting touches and mutual understanding and slow-love making and years of separation and more years of reunion. Forever? Forever is an understatement for Pran and Pat. They are infinite. 

Pat breaks away from the hold, his fingers twirling around Pran's watch, attending to the worn-out material. "I need to buy you a new one."

His heart staggers at the thought. This watch means the world to him, and maybe Pran has attachment issues, but he doesn't want to give up one of the earliest memory he shared with Pat. It is too precious, too beautiful to let go. 

"But-"

"We can hang it on this board, and you don't have to flaunt around as if I didn't notice you're wearing it after the day we met again."

Stunned, Pran asks, "You noticed?"

"How couldn't I? You wore it because you wanted me to, right?"

He flushes at this. "Stupid," Pran mumbles under his breath. Pat hits the nail right on his heart, but it is another secret for a different day. Crimson heat blooms all over his cheeks and down to his neck. "Why would I?"

Pat takes a step forward, one at a time, caging Pran to the wall, pouncing on him like a wild animal hungry for its meal. "You love me," he says, and Pat kisses him on the lips, three seconds. Pran wishes it is longer. 

"I don't," Pran counterattacks, sticking out his tongue and rolling his eyes.

"You just confessed to me a few minutes ago. Why are you lying to yourself?"

"Huh? Weren't you the first to say it?"

"Oh!" Pat exclaims, overly dramatic in his Pat-esque nature. "So, you want to play it that way, huh?"

Pran flicks his chin, a silent challenge, a tempting invitation. "Bring it on, fierce eyes."

And Pat lunges on him, chasing Pran around his apartment, grounding him on the couch, the wall, and Pran changes the game. He pins Pat to the kitchen counter, and he screams from the top of his lungs once Pran bites the skin under his ear, a loud Pran, this is not a porno! echo loudly. Pran prays for the walls to be soundproof and Pat's neighbour to be understanding because tonight, someone is crying for his name, and yes, he will do the same. 

 

(:(

 

Pran listens to his heart, and he has always known the answer. Love is nothing else but Pat: someone that he can never be friends with, a person he never wants to call an enemy from day one.

Pat reads the meaning between the lines of their song, and he has found the answer. Love is nothing else but Pran: someone he never wants to be friends with, a person he never sees as an opponent. 

Sharing the earphones, Pran taking the left bud and the right bud is for Pat; they listen to the song that captures their story, an evergreen reminder of the times they shared and the future awaits them. Like the gallery of pictures on the wall, this song brings back those golden yesterdays into the present world, the feel of it all, beautiful, worthwhile, perfectly imperfect. Never changes- their love. 

From the rooftop of their apartment, pinkies interlaced, Our Song is on repeat, over and over, a love story that never ceases to exist. For once in a long time, forever is no longer an elusive dream but a vivid reality they are ready to embark on, a new journey that awaits, no longer stranded behind the scenes. And distance, well, it did take a different turn, but now, even distance can never separate them. 

Pran and Pat know- their love will continue to live in the song, just because the lyrics are nothing new, there are no perfect words to describe their feelings- but they know. And that is enough.