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After an entire youth spent perpetually single, Sin is surprised by how easy it is for him to land a boyfriend in university.

He’s barely two weeks into his second year when a handsome boy sits down next to him and says, “Hi, Sin, can I see your phone?” with such a casual air that Sin thinks they might actually know each other from somewhere.

When he asks, “Why?” the boy smiles at him, unabashedly calm, and answers, “Because I want to give you my number.”

The part of Sin’s brain that controls his face muscles pops like a burnt-out lightbulb.

Naturally, it’s at this point that Sin’s four friends come back to the table with their trays full of food. When they see the confident newcomer, they sit down very slowly, staring at him as one collective mob. They’re nowhere as intimidating as they probably want to be, but Sin’s not going to tell them that in front of this guy.

The newcomer turns his placid smile on Sin’s friends and has the audacity to give a little wave. Then he returns his attention to Sin, lifting his eyebrows as a reminder to Sin to respond.

Sin blinks at him.

All of his friends know he’s gay. He got very, very drunk at a party last year and maybe cried about it a little, and ever since, he’s had a protection squad that he hasn’t ever actually needed, but they seem to enjoy the idea of burning down the city for him anyway, so he enjoys the charade.

Aueng tips his chin in the boy’s direction. “Sorn,” he says, “I told you to do this later.”

The boy doesn’t take his eyes off Sin. “Why wait?” he says with a reasonable tilt to his head, like he expects Sin to agree with him.

Sin slowly turns his head, finally breaking eye contact with Sorn to stare at Aueng instead. “What’s going on?” he asks.

Victory hurries to swallow an entire mouthful of soup and gleefully reports, “Sorn’s a first year in the photography club with Aueng and he hasn’t shut up about you since he joined. ‘Who’s your friend with the ponytail, do you think he’s into guys, can you introduce me?’”

Sorn makes a low sound of amusement and doesn’t deny it. He’s straddling the bench with one elbow resting on the table, projecting an aura of belonging in their group even though Sin is now sure that they’ve never met before this.

“Aueng is pretty protective,” Sorn tells Sin. “It took forever to get him to tell me your name.”

“You just saw him for the first time a week ago!” Aueng says.

“See?” Sorn says. He points at Aueng without looking away from Sin. “A whole week.”

He says it with utter earnestness, but Sin can see the mirth in his eyes.

In retrospect, that’s probably when he started to fall.

As charming as Sorn’s first impression was to Sin, it’s not entirely surprising that Sorn has some shadows chasing him. He’s attractive and clever and his family is apparently comfortable with his sexuality, but he’s got his own assortment of baggage that doesn’t spill out until three months into their relationship when Sin kisses Sorn in the driveway of his family’s house.

Sorn pushes Sin away by the chest, his eyes wild with panic.

Sin can’t put together what’s scared him, so he makes the mistake of reaching for him again, to try and soothe him.

Sorn dodges farther back, his back pressed against the passenger’s door. “Stop, stop,” he says. He glances over Sin’s shoulder and licks his lips where Sin just kissed him.

“I’m sorry,” Sin says, baffled. “What…what’s—?”

Sorn exhales when he seems to realize Sin’s not going to try and touch him again. “I just…I don’t know your family,” he says. “I don’t know what they’re okay with. I…I’ve had a bad experience with other people’s parents. I don’t want yours to…get bad ideas about me.”

He explains to Sin that two of his high school friends were forbidden from hanging out with him, and even though they never confronted him directly, he saw how they stared at him during school functions and he heard through the grapevine what they told other parents about him.

Sin digests this new detail of Sorn’s past and says, “I’m glad you told me.”

The only reason they’re even at Sin’s house in the first place is to borrow a bigger frying pan than the one Sin has in his tiny dorm room kitchen. Sorn insisted on cooking dinner for their date tonight, but as a first year, his dorm room kitchen is even more poorly equipped than Sin’s.

They descend into a miasmatic silence, allowing each other space to decide what they should do next. Which road they should take from here.

Finally, Sin says, “I haven’t told my dad that I’m gay.”

Sorn frowns at him. “But you just kissed me,” he says. “The curtains are open!”

Sin offers him a small, sheepish smile. “I didn’t notice,” he admits.

Sorn covers his face with both hands and sighs, “Sin, Sin, Sin.”

“Sorry.” Sin doesn’t dare touch Sorn again, but he needs something to do with his hands, so he picks at his thumbnail for a few seconds. “If it helps, my dad’s said some positive things about gay people before?”

Sorn parts his fingers to stare at him through the gaps. “So why haven’t you told him?” he asks.

“Haven’t gotten around to it,” Sin says. “I’ve never dated anyone before, so it wasn’t really relevant.“

He’s making a very dedicated study of his nail beds, so he jumps when Sorn takes both of his hands in his own.

“If you ever want to tell them,” Sorn says, “I’ll be there with you. If you want me to be.“

Sin tells himself very firmly not to kiss him again. He settles for squeezing Sorn’s hands.

“Thank you. I’ll think about it.”

Their first anniversary is on a Thursday, and they don’t finish their respective club meetings until late in the evening, but that doesn’t stop Sorn from making them dinner and packing all of it into a sizable picnic basket.

The entire debate team knows Sorn well, and every single member expresses various degrees of envy as they see him leaning on the wall opposite the door with food, waiting for Sin.

“Where are we taking that?” Sin asks, tapping the picnic basket with his debate binder.

Sorn smacks the binder away. “None of your business,” he says.

“Isn’t it?” Sin laughs.

“Shh, it was cleverer in my head.”

Sorn’s cousin is high up in the construction world, it turns out, and through some questionable means, he’s given his favorite baby cousin access to the roof of a fourteen-storey building earmarked for demolition. The view of the city from the top is stunning, and after they finish eating a soup that Sorn swears is meant to be eaten cold, Sorn surprises Sin with a copy of the blueprints to the building.

“I couldn’t think of anything better to get someone studying to be an architect,“ Sorn says. He’s braced his hands on the rooftop wall, the small of his back supported by the edge. His eyes are on the crinkled blueprint held open in Sin’s hands. “I mean, I thought it was cool anyway,” he adds. He shifts his fingers on the granite while he waits for Sin’s reaction.

He usually never second-guesses his gifts, so it’s cute to see him nervous.

Sin grins at him and savors Sorn’s answering smile.

“I love you,” Sin says.

It’s the first time either of them has ever said it, and it’s as easy for Sin to say as his decision to date Sorn was to make.

Later, between languid kisses as the city sparkles behind them, Sorn asks, “Do I get something too?”

Sin makes an affirmative noise. Back in his dorm room he has a basket full of various kitchen utensils that Sorn has wished for over the past year—including a pineapple corer and a professional ice cream scoop.

Sorn responds with a happy sound and kisses Sin’s cheek in thanks before returning to deeper kisses with more intent.

Sin is already planning what to do for next year.

A month or two after their second anniversary, Sin visits home and overhears his father on the phone with someone. His voice is pitched in a tone Sin has never heard before, so he softens his footsteps as he approaches the kitchen.

“You don’t have to do that,” his father says. He’s sitting at the kitchen table, leaning back in a chair, his eyes closed. “When he gets here, I’ll talk to him.”

An uncomfortable sensation travels up Sin’s spine. Something about the way his father says “he” and “him” make it clear who he means.

“Thanks. Yeah. You too. And tell your Intouch thank you for the khanom piek poon. The kids loved it.”

There doesn’t seem to be anything more after that, and after a long silence, Sin decides to show himself. His father is sitting more comfortably in the chair now, playing the cartoon-y memory game on his phone that he doesn’t like anyone knowing he plays.

“Hi, Dad.”

Sin’s father swipes out of the game so smoothly Sin has to wonder how many times he’s successfully avoided exposure in the past. He lifts his gaze with utter composure and says, “Sin, how was the drive?”

They breeze through pleasantries, and just when Sin is about to ask about the person on the phone, his father asks, “Do you remember your Uncle Korn?”

Sin shakes his head. He sits in the chair across the table and puts his phone face down to prove he won’t be looking at it while they talk.

His father nods, his mouth set in a sad smile. “You were young still. You’ve heard me mention him, though?”

Sin nods. He knows Uncle Korn is the family outcast his grandfather refuses to talk about, but his father has told stories about him here and there throughout Sin’s life. It’s clear they still talk to each other, but it’s been a very long time since Sin has met his uncle in person.

“Before I say anything more about him,” Sin’s father says, “I know you have a boyfriend.”

Sin’s breath skips, but his mind is already working triple-time to decipher his father’s tone of voice. It doesn’t set off any warning bells, but the shock is still intense.

“How?” Sin asks. No name has been mentioned yet. He can make one up if pressed. He knows Sorn was willing to be here for this, but he’s not here, so—

His father smiles, the small and wry one that appears when one of his children has underestimated him. “We’ve never talked about this before, and I…admit I didn’t know how to bring it up, but—”

“I’m gay,” Sin blurts.

His father’s smile grows warmer. “I know. It’s okay.” He reaches across the table and pats Sin’s clasped hands. “It’s okay.”

Sin doesn’t know what his own face looks like that his father feels the need to say it twice, but he appreciates it.

“How did you know I’m seeing someone?” Sin asks. His throat is a little raw.

His father folds his arms around his middle and leans back in his chair with a quiet laugh. “The boy I see on your Facebook page, right? Sorn?”

Sin doesn’t know why he hesitates before he nods—habit, probably.

“He’s the boy you kissed in the driveway two years ago, right?”

The next nod is even slower to happen and is also accompanied by a grimace.

His father raises his eyebrows. “I admit I haven’t dated for a while, and I don’t know if boys date boys differently from how I dated girls, but—”

“We’re dating,” Sin says, just to stop that sentence.

His father seems…pleased. Then,

“Sin. I want you to be happy.” His father’s eyes grow somber. “I don’t know what stage of your relationship you’re at, or if you and Sorn are just in a casual relationship—”

“It’s not,” Sin says. “It’s not casual. It’s—” He has to break eye contact to even consider what he’s about to say to his father, and when he gathers the nerve, he can only stare at his hands clasped on the table and say quietly, “I love him.”

There’s silence in the wake of that, and when Sin dares to look up, his father’s eyes are bright with emotion.

“Does he love you?” his father asks.

Sin’s never been asked that particular question before. He doesn’t know what it’ll feel like to answer it. When he says, “Yeah,” he can’t help but smile, because he knows it’s true.

Sorn loves him.

“Your Uncle Korn was on the phone just now,” his father says. “He’d like to see you.”

It seems like a complete departure from the conversation they’ve been having, but his father’s voice and expression are utterly earnest.

Sin says, “Okay,” with a curious lift at the end.

“He wants to introduce you to his partner.”

Sorn takes them through the last part of the drive on the narrow, winding mountain roads. He has more experience driving in rural areas given that’s where he learned how to drive. As a bonus, he’s not as distracted by what they’re going to be doing today.

“I’ve never met an older gay couple, have you?” Sin asks.

Sorn shakes his head, smoothly navigating them past a logging truck. “Never. I think you’re the oldest gay person I’ve ever met.”

Sin gives him a wry look. “You only said that because you know I won’t smack you right now.”

Sorn has the audacity to take his eyes off the road long enough to wink at him.

Their familiar back-and-forth helps sets Sin at ease, and then after they’re through the most perilous area, Sorn takes Sin’s hand and interlaces their fingers on his thigh.

According to Sin’s father, Uncle Korn and his partner had a rough start when they first met in university. Their parents were vehemently opposed to their relationship, and it drove them to elope and cut ties with both their families. They’ve been together ever since, and they only make the rare appearance at family gatherings when Sin’s grandfather is ill or absent, which doesn’t happen often.

Sin can’t even remember meeting his uncle’s partner, but he doesn’t say so. He suspects it would make his father sad, even though he can’t put his finger on why he has that impression.

A little after noon, Sin and Sorn arrive at a solid house surrounded by trees in a clearing that overlooks the valley. There’s a man a little older than Sin’s father waiting on a porch swing. He has a mug in his hands, and he’s clearly been sitting there a while.

When Sin opens the car door and steps out, he’s ambushed by long-dormant memories.

This is the uncle who gave Sin his favorite stuffed lion, the one he gave to his younger brother a few years later when he was born.

This is the uncle who picked him up under the arms when he was very little and swung him in a circle until he laughed so hard he was breathless.

This is the uncle whose name he couldn’t pronounce. The uncle he decided to call Cocoa instead, to the delight of everyone in the room. One person’s laughter rang louder than the rest, and Sin wonders if that person was his uncle’s partner.

As Sin walks up the dirt path, distantly registering the sound of Sorn’s door opening and closing behind him, his nerves gradually drain away. It’s been a long time, yes, but he knows this person.

His uncle sets the mug on a table next to the swing and stands up. His face is austere and distinguished, but his eyes are kind. He’s quite handsome, too, but it’s clear from the way he carries himself that his looks have zero bearing on his opinion of himself.

Sin raises his hands in a wai.

“You look healthy,” Uncle Korn says. His eyes travel a slight distance to the right where Sorn is standing. “This is—?”

The sound of the front door opening calls Sin’s attention, and someone shouts, “Stop right there! I don’t want to miss this! Bring them inside!”

The man grinning at them offers a genial wave.

And Uncle Korn’s smile, when it appears, changes him completely.

The outside of the house is deceptively simple and staid—the inside is warm and inviting, the furniture neutral tones with splashes of bright color accenting the walls and floor, with mixed scents of cypress from the ceiling beams and spices that waft out from the kitchen.

Uncle Korn’s partner immediately establishes himself as a whirlwind. No sooner than they’re inside the house does he say, “You’re hungry, I hope,” and disappears into the kitchen. “It’s not done yet, though! Ten minutes!”

Uncle Korn smiles after him for a second, then says to Sin and Sorn, “He’s excited. Forgive him.”

Sin trades a secret smile with Sorn—neither of them knew what to expect, but they’re already at ease.

While Uncle Korn’s partner hums to himself in the kitchen, Sin and Sorn sit on the longer end of their L-shaped sofa and go through introductions. Uncle Korn predictably puts them through the round of questioning typical with family members. Year of university, area of study, career goals, all that.

Sorn answers everything with perfect manners, and Sin can’t resist the occasional proud smile whenever Sorn brings up things like his dream of opening a restaurant or his failed attempt at making a dark room inside his dorm room for his photographs.

He sees Uncle Korn noticing one of those proud smiles and realizes with a jolt that he doesn’t have to hide them here.

When lunch is ready, Uncle Korn finally has the chance to put his arm around his partner’s waist and say, “This is my husband, Intouch.”

His partner beams. “Correct.” He taps the ring on his finger with emphasis. “Not legally, of course. Just in every other way that matters.”

Uncle Korn—whose own ring Sin finally notices—nods with obvious pleasure. He looks at his husband as though Intouch designed and crafted the stars in the sky just for him.

Halfway through lunch, after they’ve all unanimously raved about the food, Uncle Korn tells them three separate stories about Intouch’s first forays into cooking. One involved the near total destruction of their first apartment.

“I can still poison you and make it look like an accident,” Intouch says to his husband sweetly.

“You haven’t yet,” Uncle Korn says. “So, that threat is starting to lose its potency after twenty-six years.”

“I’m just lulling you into a false sense of security, love,” Intouch says.

“Terrifying,” Uncle Korn assures him.

Intouch toasts him with a coy smile.

“Sorry we made you two drive all the way up here,” Uncle Korn says. “We’re not used to being in the city anymore.”

“We’re weird mountain people now,” Intouch says.

“I actually liked the drive,” Sorn says. “I grew up near here, so I’m used to it.”

“It…wouldn’t be my favorite experience if I did it on my own,” Sin admits.

“I’d do it again for you,” Sorn says, knocking Sin’s knee under the table with his own.

“Isn’t he sweet,” Intouch remarks with a genuine smile. “You two are cute.”

Sorn blushes, and Sin grins as he recognizes it happening.

“Well, regardless, we’ll come see you next,” Uncle Korn says. “We’re not big fans of the city but we don’t just stay on the mountain all year.”

“Shh,” Intouch says. “Don’t spoil our mysterious image.”

With suaveness Sin can only dream of having, Uncle Korn plucks Intouch’s hand from the table and kisses his ring, maintaining eye contact the whole time. Intouch tries to look unimpressed, but he fails miserably, and he ends up squeezing Uncle Korn’s hand in return.

They stay for another two hours after lunch, talking mainly about Sorn’s restaurant plans and gaining insight from Intouch on some local cuisines he could integrate into the menu, and then Uncle Korn checks on his phone what time sunset will be and suggests that they try and get back to their dorm before dark.

Sin lingers by the table, reluctant to leave, and helps his uncle gather the dishes. Sorn and Intouch continue their chat in their own secret language of food. Intouch laughs when Uncle Korn makes a “I don’t even try to keep up” face at Sin.

At the door, Uncle Korn clasps Sorn’s shoulder and Intouch surprises Sin by scooping him into a warm hug and holding him tight. “You were such a sweet, kind boy,” he says against Sin’s hair. “I’m so happy you’ve become the man you are.“

Sin doesn’t know what to say, and he can’t remember the last time anyone hugged him so protectively. Intouch’s hand cradles the back of his neck and after a long moment, he whispers, “If you ever need anything—anything at all—you call us, okay? No matter what time it is, wherever you are. You’re our family.”

Sin says, “Okay,” and doesn’t cry, but it’s a very, very near thing.

“Good,” Intouch says. “We’ll always be here for you. Remember that.”

Sin exhales, and a weight he never knew his heart was carrying, invisible but persistent, drops away.

After Sin graduates from university the following year, there’s a party and a cake. The party is attended by Sin’s immediate and extended family, and for some of them, it’s their first time meeting Sorn as Sin’s boyfriend.

There are some hesitations, and some misguided questions, but Sorn handles them all beautifully and only once does he retreat to Sin’s bedroom to take a break. Sin follows him there and sits with him on the bed and kisses his temple and tells him they can ditch the whole party if he wants, but Sorn only smiles and says, “Your uncles will be here soon. I still want to see them.”

Uncle Korn and Intouch have become semi-regular presences in Sin’s life, enthusiastically embraced by Sin and Sorn both. Their story has emerged in bits and pieces with every successive visit, but Sin suspects they’re editing out a lot of the more traumatic events from their retelling.

Sin has never had to take up Intouch on his offer for support, but just knowing he has that option—and that safe haven in the mountains—makes him feel that much braver when he’s out with Sorn.

The cake for his party is store-bought, because Sorn refuses to bake on the grounds that he’s not a scientist, but Sorn does deign to decorate it. In the kitchen, Sin’s father fills a piping bag with blue-tinted frosting and hands it off to Sorn, who beams with a level of confidence that Sin isn’t entirely sure he’s earned.

While Sorn pipes Sin’s formal name onto the top of the vanilla-frosted cake, laughing shamelessly while Sin makes doubtful faces at the lopsided script, a car pulls into the driveway.

“Korn is here!” Uncle Kard shouts from the living room.

When Sin opens the front door, already smiling, Intouch presents a box of sweets he made with confidence he has earned, and Uncle Korn gives Sin’s father and Uncle Kard both an affectionate hug.

In a corner of the room, Sin’s grandfather watches their warm greeting play out before him with studied indifference. From what Sin can tell, his vehemence has been weathered by time.

And, it seems, by Sin himself.

Sin’s father asked Sin to be the one to tell his grandfather about his relationship with Sorn, and Sin agreed. To this day, Sin has no idea how the conversation went. He only knows that his grandfather has been faultlessly polite to Sorn so far, and he’s expecting that level of respect to continue.

Sorn hands Sin’s grandfather a slice of cake, and the old man says, “Thank you,” with the slightest of nods.

From across the room, Sin notices Intouch watching the exchange, standing at Uncle Korn’s side while a pair of distant relatives catch them up on their children’s latest exploits. When he sees Sin looking, Intouch shows him a small comforting smile. He adds a subtle thumb’s up with the hand tucked under his arm.

It’s a blatant We have your back.

Sin smiles back.

He waits until Sorn is finished passing out cake, then takes his hand and tugs him outside into the garden. The sun has long since set by this point, so Sin has to turn on some of the garden lanterns to avoid tripping on the sprinklers.

In the center of the lawn, Sin sits down on the grass and Sorn sits opposite him, their hands clasped and their knees touching.

“Tired?” Sin asks.

On cue, Sorn yawns.

Sin grins and squeezes his hands. ”Wanna go to bed?” he asks with a suggestive tilt of his eyebrows.

“Not with your grandfather in the house,” Sorn says.

“He’s old,” Sin jokes, “what’s he gonna hear?”

“You,” Sorn says. His delivery is flat and dryer than sand.

Sin grins. “You like it when I’m loud.“

“Again—and I can’t stress this enough—not with your grandfather in the house.”

So they stay put, and they talk.

Eventually, Sorn yawns so wide he tears up, so Sin masterfully navigates them upstairs to his bedroom without being seen. They take turns washing up for bed, sneaking up and down the hall like fugitives, and when they’re both finally wrapped up in Sin’s blankets, they take a moment to listen to the sounds of the party continuing downstairs.

Sorn slides his arm around Sin’s waist and holds him to his chest, sighing against the back of his neck with utter contentment.

Sin strokes the back of his hand, delighted as he always is to be someone precious to someone like Sorn.

“You make me feel really lucky,” Sorn tells him, sleepy.

Sin absorbs all the combined sources of happiness in this one moment: warm and safe in his boyfriend's arms with his family gathered downstairs.

“Likewise,” he whispers.