“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” Tin huffed, tentatively lowering himself down onto an uncomfortable looking concrete bleacher overlooking the university football pitch. “You’re about to graduate in business management, not anthropology. Why must we mix with these…natives?” Below him on the field, like a swarm of insects, footballers everywhere… Worse, they were Thai Program footballers. They were just so noisy and the crowd that he now found himself part of were jeering and waving plastic implements of torture that overloaded his senses.
He shuddered, feeling suddenly out of his depth.
“Well, I think this is a perfectly pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Anyway, we graduate next week, and this our last chance to see a university game,” Pete said happily, looking around with wide eyes, his handsome face alight. Tin had no idea how he always managed to look so sodding amiable. People always loved Pete. The opposite could be said of himself. He was permanently disagreeable and, even though he was usually good at hiding it, uncomfortable in social situations. He had no wish to be liked or admired. He’d long since learned that people only wanted him for what they could get from him, and he’d long since stopped caring. That was all people ever wanted – family, ‘friends’ and peers – it was all he was worth.
Pete was the only person alive that Tin gave a shit about, his best friend, who had been there for him when nobody else had. Pete had suffered a similar fate to Tin, being from a rich family as well, except he had a mother who loved him, something that Tin struggled to comprehend. Where Tin had built walls around himself, Pete was soft and that made it easier for people to take advantage of him. He was so nice and trusting.
‘Pleasant’ would be the last word Tin would use to describe what had to be at least the third depth of hell he currently found himself in. “If you say so,” he said, loosening his tie as though that might make heat evaporate. “Why the sudden interest in football anyway? You hate sports.”
“No, I don’t. I like sport. I like football.”
Tin raised an eyebrow. “Explain the offside rule.” Tin had spent many years boarding at a school in England where many of his fellow pupils had been football crazy. Tin did not share their enthusiasm, but he had picked up many uninteresting facts about the game.
“The off— The what rule?” Pete’s cheeks were turning an unflattering shade of red.
“What is your favourite team?” Tin allowed himself a little enjoyment at Pete’s expense.
Pete frowned. “Um. Manchester?” He folded his arms across his chest and glared at Tin. “Fine. I kind of met a guy last week. In a university football uniform. In the elevator of our building.”
“Alright, so which one is he?” Tin scanned the field, briefly assessing all of the players. It was fair to say that none of the Thai Programs had been at the front of the queue when good looks were being handed out, and there was certainly no one in Pete’s league. He could concede that a couple of them were passable. Number 13 had a pleasant face, and number 10 might be alright if Tin squinted. He saw nothing worth giving up an afternoon for that was for sure.
“The one who has the ball, number 7.”
The guy with the ball was short, average looking and one-hundred and ten percent Thai Program. Tin wouldn’t go as far as to say he was ugly, but ‘plain’ definitely covered it. He watched as Seven passed the ball to a mud splattered and equally bland looking number 3. “Did you talk to him? In the elevator.”
Pete refocused in Tin’s direction, cheeks still flushed. Lucky for Pete he was the most handsome guy in the IC and there wasn’t a lot that could take that prize away. “It was when the elevator broke down last week. He managed to get the doors open and helped me out. I think I said, ‘is there anything I can do?’ and ‘thank you’.”
Of course, Pete would like the hero type. “If you want to date a guy you should date me.” Tin full body turned to Pete. “We’d make a good-looking couple.”
“Tin, you don’t see me like that and it’s mutual.”
Tin shrugged, unfazed. It wasn’t that he wanted to date Pete, that really would be too weird, he didn’t want to date anyone, but if they were a couple Pete would be protected from all the vultures that circled him, and they were friends who cared about one another. That was a lot more than most of the couples in Tin’s circle. “At least we can be assured that neither of us is after the other’s money.”
“I plan to be with someone because I love them. No offence, Tin,” Pete stared dreamily at Seven, or as the back of his shirt also divulged, ‘Ae’. “Although you’re my best friend, you know love you, obviously, just not like that.”
Tin rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to the action on the field. Pete was right to dismiss the suggestion. Tin almost envied his friend for his crush on the footballer even if it was ill advised and doomed to eventual failure. He himself had never had romantic feelings for anyone. He was far from being a virgin, but no one had ever held his interest long enough for more than one date, or to call it what it really was, a hook-up. He hadn’t been joking when he’d said to Pete about the money either. People were so shallow and grabby.
The noise from the crowd suddenly increased and Tin saw that number 3 was dribbling the ball towards the goal. He successfully fired the ball into the back of the net and promptly lost his footing and skidded a metre or so across the damp grass. Everyone leapt to their feet waving their plastic tat in the air and screaming. Three was pulled to his feet by Seven, patted on the back and pulled into a one-armed hug before several other team members piled onto him and he vanished into the scrum.
Tin was thankful when the whistle went for time and the torture was over. He started to edge in the direction of the car park and freedom. As he moved sideways out of the bleachers the football players began to vanish underneath the bleachers where Tin assumed the changing rooms were located.
He spotted that Seven and Three had remained on the field to talk to a tall guy in jeans and a blue hoody. Three was talking animatedly, gesturing wildly with his arms, Seven was listening with a half-smile and the third person listened with a fond expression. It was then that Seven turned his attention from his friend and locked his eyes on Pete who was following along behind Tin. Tin watched as he said something to Three who nodded and with a wave to the other guy they both set off across the tarmac towards them.
“Hello again,” Seven said as he approached Pete. He glanced quickly at Tin who instinctively took a protective step closer to Pete.
Pete nearly swooned. “Hi,” he managed, suddenly all shy and bashful. “Congratulations on the win.”
“Thank you.” An open smile spread across the face of Pete’s elevator-rescue hero. “We didn’t get chance for introductions the other day. I’m Ae. This is my friend Can.”
Can, or Three, had mud smeared all down the left side of his body and it extended to his face and hair which was matted with gunk. Tin couldn’t help wrinkling his nose and that did not go unnoticed, and the guy narrowed his black eyes at him.
Pete, stars in his eyes, said, “I’m Pete. This is my friend Tin.”
“We are going to ‘The Green Room’ for celebration drinks, will you join us?” Ae asked without taking his eyes from Pete’s to acknowledge Tin. “We just need to go and get changed first.”
“I don’t think—” Tin began, having no intention of going to some dive of a bar to hang out with the football team and their entourage. This was the first free time he’d had in ages, and he wanted to go home to relax.
Pete had other ideas. “Tin, come on, let’s go. It might be fun.”
Tin highly doubted it, but as he technically had nowhere else to be and he disliked the idea of leaving Pete alone with these strangers he nodded. “Yes, fun,” he sniffed, pointedly looking whatever his name was, Three, up and down — taking in the sweat, mud and grass stains — twisting his features in distaste before raising an eyebrow. “I highly doubt there will be anything there to interest me.”
Three’s eyes widened, and to Tin’s annoyance he returned the motion, slowly looking him up and down, taking him in from head to toe before meeting his gaze head-on, his dark eyes seeming to throw Tin a challenge that just for a second Tin wanted to meet and something twisted his insides before he boxed it swiftly away. From the corner of his eye, he saw Three’s fist clench then he snorted to himself and turned his attention to his friend. “Come on, Ae, let’s get going,” he encouraged.
Ae nodded and said, eyes still on Pete, “So I’ll see you there in about half an hour?” and at Pete’s return nod he beamed and followed his teammate in the direction of the changing rooms beneath the bleachers.
Tin could feel the annoyance emanating from his friend as they walked in the direction of the bar. Eventually Pete broke the silence by saying, “Must you always be so rude?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Tin said, narrowing his eyes as the bar came into view, garish neon lettering declaring its name above the door. He heaved a laden sigh. “This place is a dive. Must we really go in?”
Pete levelled Tin with his best withering glare. “You can go home if you want. I’m staying.” He paused with his hand on the door and looked at Tin with a raised eyebrow. “Well?”
“Fine.” Tin gritted his teeth. Pete was so naïve, and Tin couldn’t trust him to go into a place like this alone. He approached and the bar and, sliding into an empty spot he ordered two soft drinks and looked around. The place was popular with university students and probably only half-full due to the early hour. The music was loud and in English, which Tin preferred and as yet, there was no sign of any of the football team. However, holding a large table in the corner was the blue hoody guy from the pitch and three others, quite likely he was waiting for the players to arrive. Tin turned away and accepted the drinks from the barman.
“You’re such a snob,” Pete continued to voice his displeasure at Tin as he accepted the drink. “I don’t understand what you have against the Thai Programs. They’re nice.”
“You think everyone is nice.” Tin tactfully didn’t mention the Trump incident. Pete was a good guy, too trusting and had fallen victim to a con man. Tin had had to call in some favours to ensure the asshole kept clear of Pete in the future.
They carried their drinks to a high table nearby, Tin deliberately not mentioning that he’d spotted where the football team would likely be gathering. He glanced in that direction again and noted that a couple of pretty girls had joined the party, but as yet no team members.
After a several minutes chatting about taking a vacation they were planning together after graduation Tin asked, “What’s so special about Ae?”
“Everything about him. He’s handsome, polite…really fit,” Pete said with a dreamy sigh. He elbowed Tin gently. “What about you? I know you have a heart somewhere underneath all that stone. Ae’s friend Can is cute—”
“Stop right there,” Tin said shortly, his focus on the bubbles rising in his glass. “If I wanted someone then I’m perfectly capable of finding someone who is not a dirty, unremarkable, mud-covered Thai Program urchin.” He shuddered dramatically.
“What? You know—” Tin stalled as eyes landed on Seven, or rather, Ae who had appeared beside the table, nervously looking behind him for a moment before his focus shifted entirely onto Pete like Tin was a pillar of salt.
Pete nodded, “I said I would.”
“Can I get you a drink?”
“I’ve got one thanks.”
Ae seemed unable to tear his eyes off Pete. “Will you join us? My friends have the big table in the corner.”
Pete nodded his agreement and slid down from the stool. He motioned with his eyes for Tin to follow.
Tin was reluctantly about to follow when his attention was drawn beyond Pete and his suitor to the rear of a lithe guy who was now holding court with the group of obvious Thai Programs who had converged near the bar. He wore tight arse hugging faded jeans with white Converse and a snug black t-shirt. Tin wasn’t blind, he could acknowledge the guy had a very nice bottom indeed and rather good thighs. They were all laughing at what he was saying, but then, to Tin’s horror, everyone turned to look at him as did the owner of the tight backside. Fuck, all washed up, mud stain free and really fucking pretty, it was number 3, Can.
The snobby asshole didn’t like being laughed at. That only made Can want to annoy him more. He couldn’t know that what Can had said about him had been both a compliment and an insult. “I just met the man of my dreams,” he’d told his friends, drawing them in for the punchline. “And there I am, about to make my move when I hear him call me a ‘mud covered urchin’. Oh, my heart.” He’d slammed a hand over his heart and staggered a little and turned them all in the direction of the disdainful IC student…Tin? They’d laughed on cue and Can had enjoyed the angry expression that had produced just a little too much.
Man of his dreams? Not so much. Yes he was tall and handsome, but Can wasn’t easily swayed by a handsome face and sad eyes. The guy was damned lucky Can was had matured some in the last couple of years, and despite the strong urge was no longer as quick to throw a punch as his younger self had been. Still, the just the thought of seeing that smug face with a bloody nose was pleasantly satisfying. Let’s see how good-looking the asshole was then.
It was a shame Ae was so smitten with Pete. He hadn’t stopped talking about the guy since the incident with the elevator a few days ago — well, he’d mentioned him a few times which for Ae was a lot. Seeing him here today had seen Ae’s face light up and a spring appear in his step. So no, perhaps it wasn’t a shame at all, and Pete seemed to be a nice guy, unlike his sour faced friend.
Can accepted his beer from Pond and followed his friends over to the table Type and Techno had reserved for them. Techno made room for him between himself and Type. Despite graduating and finding their first jobs, he and his old seniors had maintained close friendships and Can was glad for it, he both enjoyed and felt safe in their company.
He spent the next half-an-hour or so enjoying good natured banter with everyone, the only interruption being Ae’s swift arrival and introduction of Pete and Tin. Pete had beamed at everyone with a polite wai. Tin had glowered beside him and offered no greeting. He’d taken the seat adjacent to Pete where he still remained as he attempted to drain all the joy from the room with his negative energy.
“What’s your deal?” Pond challenged, pointing at Tin, when there was a lull in the conversation. “You haven’t spoken a word to anyone since you sat down.”
“I have nothing to say.”
“Nothing at all? How dull your life must be,” Bow said causing Tin’s intense brown eyes to land on her briefly before glancing in Can’s direction for a moment.
“I’m sure it would seem that way to Thai Programs such as yourselves.” He was still looking at Can. Can openly stared back at him. Let him stare. Probably checking his unremarkable face for remnants of urchin mud or whatever. What a douche. “Excuse me,” Tin said, still looking at Can as he stood, only breaking eye contact when he turned and headed in the direction of the bathrooms.
Bow snorted. “How can he be so handsome and so empty at the same time?”
Someone else said, “You know who that is right? Tin Medthanan. His family owns half of Bangkok.”
Can stared at Tin’s retreating figure, registering Pete muttering something to Ae and following his friend. Bow was wrong, the guy wasn’t empty. He was probably lot of things, a rich snob being one of them, but he seemed really unhappy…and Can was massively overthinking the situation, the guy was an asshole first and foremost. He shook his head and returned himself to the conversation that had easily moved onto teasing Pond about when he was going to propose to ChaAim with ChaAim denying that she’d ever want to marry Pond despite them having been together for about three years.
Before he knew it, they had turned on him. “Can what about your grandfather’s will? You’re running out of time!”
Can laughed and rolled his eyes. His grandfather had died almost two years ago, skipped his own sons and entailed his recent lottery win upon this two grandchildren with the arbitrary proviso they got married within five years. The old man had always been, as his Ma often said, ‘someone who dances to the beat of his own drum’.
“I wish I’d never told you guys about that,” Can complained, but he was grinning. “I’m considering options. Anyone up for it?” Can wasn’t even allowed to know the sum in question, and it possibly wasn’t worth the hassle of fake marrying someone, the cost of the wedding would probably be more than the inheritance! Bow’s friend from the Faculty of Law was helping him find a way around the marriage clause, he just had to hope she came through soon.
“Marry Techno. He’s pretty enough to make anyone a beautiful bride,” Type teased, and everyone howled with laughter.
“Oii!” protested Techno, but he was smiling, cheeks flushed pink.
Can joined in, laughing at the idea of he and Techno getting married. He knew for a fact that if anyone was going to marry Techno it would be Good. He’d had a massive crush on him since they were freshmen, not that he’d ever said as much to Can, but Can knew his best friend.
“Here comes the bride!” Pond sang in English and almost fell off his chair laughing at his own joke.
When everyone calmed down Can said, almost wistfully, “Seriously though, I’m only ever getting married to someone I really love.” He meant it too.
“How are you going to find ‘real love’ when you never date anyone? You rarely even hook up,” Mai said, and the rest of the table joined in the banter.
“I hook up. I just don’t feel the need to kiss and tell,” Can protested weakly. Despite his chatterbox personality some things just stayed private. He hooked up plenty…okay, there was just that one time and it didn’t really count anyway but that was his business. Lately he was just too busy to bother trying again. “And I don’t have the time to date.”
Mai raised an eyebrow and Can narrowed his eyes at him and stuck out his tongue. He couldn’t be mad at Mai. He was one of the nicest guys he knew.
“Can,” Good began, “That girl from work…kissed you. She’s…pretty.”
A chorus of whoops and people asking, “What girl?” followed and Can felt his cheeks flame. The problem living in a shared apartment with six other people was that it was difficult to keep secrets. His co-worker, Zo, had given him a lift back from work the other day when it had been raining so hard the world outside the café window had become a blur of bright streaked lights. He’d been grateful for the offer, but less appreciative of the nervous confession and the unwanted kiss when she’d pulled up outside his building. Of course, it was inevitable one of his flatmates had seen this happen. He just didn’t think Good would betray him by telling everyone!
Can received his fair share of attention from both sexes, especially from customers when he worked the front of house at the café and now, apparently, from fellow staff members. He was a friendly guy, good at putting people at ease, and despite what a certain person had said about him, he knew he was no supermodel, but he didn’t think he was totally ugly. That was probably a combination that drew people in. He shrugged and said, “It’s nice to be appreciated by someone who doesn’t think I’m a ‘dirty urchin’!” Those who had heard his tale regarding Tin earlier all laughed but Good’s eyes widened in horror and Can turned to find Tin had returned from the bathroom and had reached the table. Their eyes met and Can felt an intense surge of satisfaction and smirked at him. He gave no shits what Tin Met…Men…whatever his name was thought of him and if he’d looked like an urchin after ninety minutes of a heavy-going football game then so what? He’d like to see what Mr Snobby would look like after the same level of exertion. Asshole.
Can gulped down his beer and said, “Anyone for another?’
Tin found out at the end of the night that Ae not only lived in their building but that there was seven of them, seven! They lived on the fourth floor in one of the standard apartments if one could call a six-bedroom apartment ‘standard’. Pete had offered Ae and two of the others a lift home and Tin had been horrified when he’d learned their destination. It hadn’t even occurred to him before then that the reason Ae had been in the building’s elevator the other day when it had broken down would be because he lived there!
Apparently one of them had a relative who owned the place or something and the students lived there free. They’d lived there for two years! Tin and Pete had only moved into the penthouse a few weeks ago when renovations had disrupted the quiet at their old place. It was one of the many properties owned by his family business and would do for the few short months they needed it.
Tin had left Pete to his goodbyes with Ae and continued in the elevator up to the penthouse on the fifty-third floor, like a peace seeking missile. He shut the door of his bedroom and leant back against it with closed eyes. First the football match, then the endless thump of music at the bar topped off by a carload of noisy Thai Programs, and that was just the extra two. Ae, in his favour, didn’t appear to be the boisterous sort. A tall boy and a girl with a very high-pitched voice made enough noise for twenty people.
He took a shower and sat down on his bed to towel his wet hair, relishing the quiet of the apartment. One side of the bedroom was a wall of glass that offered a panoramic view of the city, a city that was full of life and colour. The total opposite to how he felt.
Pete was his only anchor, and Tin could see that Pete was forging a strong connection with someone else. Already he could see that Pete’s feelings for the Thai Program kid were stronger than the how he’d felt with that bastard Trump. Trump had found his way in with flattery and Pete’s loneliness had done the rest.
Tin’s connection with Pete was strong, born of years of friendship, one that had lasted throughout Tin’s years in England. Pete had been the only one to immediately believe him when he’d been accused things he hadn’t done. Pete had always had his back. Tin intended the same in return, and his protectiveness of him came as natural as breathing, and that meant making sure Pete didn’t throw his heart at another gold digger.
People were selfish, clever and manipulative. Tin had learnt first-hand just how far people would go to get their own way, especially when money was involved. The smell of money made them weak and greedy. Pete had fallen into that trap once before and Tin would make sure he never did again.
Pete’s family was rich, but even with all their millions they were paupers compared to the Medthanan family, and that wasn’t a boast, it was fact. Not that there was any ‘family’ left to enjoy the wealth. His father was dead and no other family member aside from himself had any claim on it.
Tin could not hide from his family name. All of his hook-ups only wanted him for that name, they didn’t want to get to know the real him. He wasn’t proud of it and sometimes he wondered why he even bothered, the sex did nothing for him, not really, just a momentary distraction, a brief flare of pleasure, from the monotony that was his day-to-day life.
He often wondered what would it feel like to be like other people, who saw something in another person that made them want give themselves over to them completely, who could trust another person enough to want to?
What would it feel like to love someone and have that someone love you back? It was unlikely he’d ever find out.