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Falling Stars

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Tew doesn’t go to class the next day, partly because his eyes are still too raw to see and partly because he wants to wallow in his bed all day. Instead, he stays in his room, curled up beneath his covers as he waits for his eyes to heal. When his stomach demands food he scrounges up whatever he can find in his fridge - leftover pad Thai and half a bottle of water - before crawling back into his bed. He tries reading, running his fingers over the familiar Braille of his favorite novel, but he can’t focus on it. Less than a chapter in he abandons it.

It’s quiet, and without the distraction of classes or his friends Tew finds himself replaying his conversation with Dae over and over. He should have answered, should have said something. Maybe then his heart wouldn’t feel so ragged, as though it had been shoved into the shredder only to be yanked out halfway through.

A knock on the door interrupts his thoughts. For a moment Tew considers not answering. It would be easy to roll over, curl further underneath the blankets and pretend he didn’t hear anything until whoever was at the door left. It would be easy, but cowardly, and Tew has already been cowardly enough by staying in his dorm. He sighs and pulls himself out of bed, walking slowly to accommodate his blurry vision and only tripping once. He opens the door to see an indistinct figure in front of him. Tew squints and then blinks rapidly before deciding that the person standing in front of him must be Kong. Tew is unsurprised at his appearance.

“Maprang asked me to bring you this,” the figure says, confirming Tew’s assumption. Kong holds out a blob that turns out to be a bag. Tew takes it as Kong continues, “I brought you the notes from class today too. You can’t make up the lab though.”

Tew grimaces but nods. He’d forgotten about that, but their professor has always been strict about attendance so he’s not surprised. He’ll have to hope there’s extra credit or that he aces the rest of the big assignments.

“Thanks,” he says, and Kong nods. Tew steps back and lets Kong step into his room.

He shuts the door and then turns, squeezing his eyes shut before opening them again in hopes of clearing his vision. It doesn’t work.

“Let me help you,” he hears Kongpob say, and then there’s a hand brushing against his shoulder.

“Thanks,” he mutters, and lets Kong guide him back to his bed.

“How’re you doing?” he hears Kong ask. Tew pauses briefly in opening the bag Maprang had sent him.

“Fine.”

“You know, for someone who always tells me to open up, you’re pretty bad at it,” Kongpob says matter of factly, and Tew scowls in his general direction.

“I learned from the best.”

An unexpected burst of laughter and then Tew’s bed dips slightly as Kong settles beside him.

“Do you want to talk?”

“Not really,” Tew admits.

“Okay,” Kongpob says easily.

There’s the rustling of a backpack and then the sound of a computer turning on. Kongpob must have brought his homework with him. He’s quiet, and Tew takes a moment to go through the bag Maprang sent him. It’s food, what he thinks is a package of instant noodles and what feels like a bag of cookies. Despite his mood, Tew smiles. The gift is very Maprang. He closes his eyes, leaning against his headboard as he listens to the dull tapping of the keyboard.

It’s a comfortable white noise, and Tew is content to simply listen. For a while. Being stuck in bed all day mulling over his past actions has made him restless, second guessing all of his thoughts. Opening his eyes, he focuses on Kongpob’s blurry figure. Kongpob is still hunched over his computer, seemingly done typing as he taps something on the screen.

“Are you still working?” he asks.

Kongpob looks over at him and shakes his head. “No.”

Tew can’t see him well enough to know if he’s telling the truth. But, Kong had offered, so he decides to be selfish.

“What do I do now?” he asks. He slumps further down on his bed until he can look up at the dorm room’s ugly white ceiling.

“Depends on what you want.”

“Not helpful.” Tew rolls his eyes and immediately wishes he hadn’t. The action sends a twinge of pain through his eyes and he hisses in pain. He closes his eyes, patting the bed until he finds the washcloth he’d set there earlier. It’s still damp but not cold anymore; he’ll have to replace it soon. Despite this he places it over his eyes.

“What would you do if you were in my place?”

“You know what I did,” Kongpob says softly. Tew purses his lips. He does, and the prospect of going through something similar isn’t appealing.

“Yeah, I know. It still worked out for you though.” Tew works to keep the envy out of his voice.

“That doesn’t mean it was always easy.”

A small disbelieving laugh bubbles out of him. He knows that Kong has always been the more obviously affectionate of the two, but over time he’s witnessed P’Arthit’s quieter, but just as genuine, shows of love. Once, Tew had accidentally come across them on a date, and been simultaneously awed and envious of they looked at each other. Of how, despite the absence of PDA other couples had, he could see how much they loved each other in the attentive way Kong placed food on P'Arthit's way, how P'Arthit gently chided Kong to rest more, the way that they smiled at each other as though there was nothing else they'd rather be looking at.

“The two of you make it seem like it.”

Kongpob laughs. “Because I love him. And he loves me. We fight and then we talk. That’s how we make it work.”

Tew nods. The wash cloth slips down his face at the movement and he readjusts it.

“Do you think Dae likes me?”

“You know him better than I do,” Kongpob hedges.

“Kongpob.”

Kongpob doesn’t answer immediately and Tew braces himself.

“I don’t know,” Kongpob says. Tew had expected as much, but it still makes his stomach drop. “But I think you’re one of the people closest to him on campus. I’ve never seen him with other people so much.”

Kongpob pats his shoulder comfortingly. It doesn’t do much to make Tew feel better but he appreciates the effort and honesty.

“Should I keep trying? Or am I being too much?”

The hand on his shoulder disappears, and there’s a shuffling sound. Then he feels the bed shift beneath him until Kong is settled against his side, reminiscent of Maprang on their movie nights.

“I think,” Kongpob says carefully, “you should ask Dae that.” He nudges Tew gently. “But whatever he says, I’m here, yeah?”

“I know,” Tew says quietly, and he imagines Kongpob is smiling.

Kongpob doesn’t say anything else, just quietly asks if he can look at the book Tew had discarded. Tew mutters a quiet assent as he turns Kong’s words over in his head, considering them. Beside him, Kong is quiet, only the turning of the pages making it clear he hadn’t fallen asleep. The two of them settle into a comfortable silence, only broken by the sound of pages turning. At least until a loud rumbling sound breaks the quiet. Tew sits up, the washcloth falling off his face again as he places a hand over his stomach, as though hoping to muffle the sound.

Kongpob looks up from the book. “Do you want me to make you something to eat?”

Tew immediately shakes his head. “No,” he says quickly.

“Are you sure? Maprang said you probably haven’t eaten enough so I should make su-”

“Kongpob,” Tew cuts him off. “I respect you. So much. As my friend, as the head hazer, as a person, but you’re never going to make food in my kitchen again.”

Kongpob pouts. It’s exaggerated and probably more for Tew’s benefit than anything else, but he laughs anyway.

~

Kongpob texts him the next day.

Are you coming to class today?

Tew stares at the message. His sight is fine after yesterday’s break and a night’s rest, but the thought of going to classes and catching up on what he missed is less than appealing. Just as he’s about to reply, his phone buzzes with a reminder for three different meetings today. Tew sighs deeply before sending Kongpob a reply and then getting ready for the day.

Yeah. I’ve got meetings to go to.

A quick glance at his clock shows that he has to hurry in order to make his first meeting of the day. He shoves his books and laptop into his backpack before rushing outside so he can make it on time to the Student Center.

The morning passes in a blur of meetings and classes, and he’s grateful for the break lunch provides. He’s on his way to meet Maprang for lunch when he catches sight of a face he wasn’t prepared to see so soon.

Tew swallows, steps faltering as Dae approaches. As though in slow motion, his eyes lock with Dae’s as they both come to a stop. A thousand words jostle for space in his brain, but none of them come out of his mouth. Then Dae walks past him in a painfully familiar move. It isn’t until the junior disappears from sight that Tew is able to begin walking again. He moves lethargically to the cafeteria, gathering his food before shuffling over to where Maprang is waiting.

“Hey!”

Maprang greets him brightly, looking up from the notebook in front of her and waving at him with her pen still in her hand. Tew nods as he picks at his meal, still stuck on the way Dae had ignored him in the hallway.

“How are you?”

Tew shrugs. Maprang frowns at his lack of response, poking at his shoulder with the end of her pen.

“What’s going on?” she demands.

Tew shrugs again. Maprang huffs, clearly dissatisfied with his answer. He can feel her gaze on him as he pokes at the rice on his plate.

“Is this about Dae?” she asks, narrowing her eyes at him.

Tew doesn’t answer.

“Tew.”

“I don’t really wanna talk right now,” he says. It comes out sad rather than sharp, and it makes him feel more pathetic.

Maprang nods, but he can practically feel her holding herself back from asking him more questions. Then she smiles at him, soft and reassuring and safe, and Tew is so so grateful to her.

“Okay,” she says. “Did you hear about what happened on Prae’s floor today?”

He doesn’t, but he knows Maprang isn’t really asking about that. So he nods, and lets her story about Prae’s floor mates fill the air.

The rest of the day goes much the same as the morning, and by the end of it Tew is too stressed about the upcoming planning for next student council fundraiser to think of anything else.

As the week continues, Tew finds himself pouring all of his attention on the student council’s fundraiser and his classes. There’s a lot to plan, and it helps to pull focus away from the ache in his chest. One morning, his sister texts him, telling him their dad’s been asking about him. Tew glances at the text and immediately feels guilty, making a mental note to call later that night. Besides, there was something he wanted to ask him anyway.

Despite his plans, Tew ends up agreeing to work late with Kong so they can work on their training plan for next year’s hazers. He ends up leaving much later than planned, calling his dad on his walk back to the dorms. The phone rings for so long he thinks he’ll have to try again tomorrow but then his dad picks up.

“Tew?”

His dad is difficult to hear over what sounds like the television, but Tew can tell he’s surprised but pleased. There’s a twinge of guilt at not calling in so long. He’ll have to visit soon.

“Hey dad.”

“It’s late, is everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Everything’s good,” he rushes to assure his dad. “Sorry for calling so late, I didn’t notice.”

“Don’t worry.” There’s an unidentifiable sound and then the sound of the television fades. “It’s always good to hear your voice, you don’t visit that often.”

“I know, I’m sorry.” Tew apologizes again. “I’ll visit soon.”

“Good. So, what was it you called about?”

“I’m, I just wanted to ask you about something.”

His dad hums in acknowledgment and Tew exhales deeply before speaking.

“What- I mean, how did you…” Tew falters. He’s never spoken to his father about the stars that run in their veins. He doesn’t know how to start this conversation. Thankfully, his father seems content to wait for Tew to gather his thoughts. Patient as he had been when first teaching Tew Braille, his father remains quiet and ready to listen. Eventually, Tew is ready.

“The first time you cried,” Tew starts, and hears a soft sound of surprise, “did you lose any of your sight?”

“Not the first time.” There is a moment of quiet and Tew can practically hear the realization hit his father. “Does that mean…?”

“Yeah,” he says roughly, swallowing to try and hold back any tears that might come.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s,” Tew falters once again, unable to push the word okay out of his mouth. “I didn’t think it’d hurt so much,” is what he ends up saying.

His father gives a wry laugh.

“It looks so beautiful doesn’t it?” Tew nods even though he knows his father can’t see him.

“Like a personal meteor shower,” his dad continues. “Golden and glowing, and so precious once they’ve dried. But they come out like rubbing gravel into your eyes.”

“Yeah.” Tew shakes his head. “I don’t know how you did that so many times.”

“Seven times bad, seven times good,” his father says quietly. It’s one of his favorite phrases to use. “Even though it hurt, I got something good out of it. They were wonderful, and good to me, even if we didn’t stay together. I’m glad I loved them. And I will remember that at one time, they were the person I loved most.”

It sounds poetic, put that way, but Tew is still too scraped raw to truly appreciate his father’s words. But none of them left you in the middle of the sidewalk, crying and still holding a pathetic gift in your hand, he wants to say.

“That’s not how it feels for me.”

“I know.”

The words, kind and empathetic as they’re meant to be, grate on him. You don’t know. You don’t because none of the people you loved walked away because you were a man, he thinks. It isn’t fair to Dae, to make that assumption, but he’s still sore and not a good enough person to stop that thought from emerging. Because what if that was the reason Dae had left? What if Tew might have had a chance if he weren’t a man?

“Tew.”

Tew jolts at the sound of his name.

“Dad?”

“Come home this weekend,” his father says, and Tew can hear the warmth in his voice, picture the concerned expression his father was no doubt wearing. “Come home, and tell me about what happened.”

Tew thinks of the long list of tasks he still has yet to do, the half finished systems essay and lab prep he has to start working on. There’s so much he needs to do, and yet. He misses home. Misses his parents’ cooking and the way Bon would wag his tail in greeting and even Pear though he’d never admit it. Besides, he was planning to visit anyway.

“I will,” he promises, and he knows his father is smiling at the end of the other line.