Over the course of the next couple of weeks Tin took Jessica out of on no less than five ‘dates’. It was a mutual companionship, no romance at all, just the good company and that satisfaction that his mother thought she’d come out victorious. Now, Jessica was due to fly back to the States the following day.
“This place is nice,” Jessica said when they’d been seated by the Maître d’ at a table for two in the window of a popular ‘European’ restaurant. “Have you eaten here before?”
“I don’t eat out a lot,” Tin confessed. “This last couple of weeks with you is the most I’ve been out in a long time.” He only went out to eat when it was a Medthanan thing he couldn’t get out and very occasionally with Pete – before Ae had come on the scene. He didn’t exactly have a load of friends to dine out with.
“Welcome to Europa. My name is Can and I’ll be your waiter tonight. Can I— Oh fuck… Sorry I mean, hello, Tin.”
Tin enjoyed the way Can’s cheeks pinked in frustration at discovering Tin’s presence at his place of work. Tin had had no idea that Can even had a job and if he had known he would never have imagined Can in place like this one. Surely a guy like him was more liability than help.
Tin turned his attention to Jessica. “Apologies, Jessica. If I had known this place had such low standards, I would never have brought you here.” Her eyes widened, darting between the two of them as Can thrust a menu towards him, offered Jessica a wai and retreated, muttering something about coming back soon to take a drinks order.
“Who was that?” Jessica asked, watching Can’s retreat with interest. “He’s kinda cute.”
“Cute my ass,” Tin huffed, eyes fixed on Can’s cute ass as he walked away. Realising what he was doing he jerked his gaze back to Jessica. “He’s a friend of Pete’s boyfriend that’s all. We don’t get on.”
“Hm,” Jessica responded, clearly intrigued. She picked up the menu and began to read it. Tin did the same.
After a couple of minutes, a female server appeared, pen poised to take a drinks order. A server that was not Can. “Where did Can go?” Tin asked, scanning the restaurant for the missing Thai Program.
“He was needed to cover another section,” was the reply accompanied by a bright smile. “Would you like to order any drinks?”
Sure enough, throughout the course of the evening Tin observed Can serving other customers and pointedly, at least it felt that way, avoiding looking in Tin’s direction.
When they had reached the dessert stage of the evening Jessica ordered an ‘Eton Mess’ and Tin a coffee. He was startled when she took his hand, dragging his gaze from where Can was flirting with a table of young women.
“You haven’t taken your eyes off the cute waiter all night.” Her tone was teasing, and her eyes sparkled with amusement.
This time it was Tin’s turn to flush. “I don’t know what you mean,” he said, his thoughts running a mile a minute. Had he really been staring that much that Jessica had noticed? “I can’t stand him.”
“Of course not,” she teased, biting her lip to hold back a grin.Tin sighed. “Even if I did…appreciate certain aspects of him, or anyone even—” he hedged, deciding if there was anyone he could be honest with it was Jessica. He patted his left shoulder blade. “—I’m marked.”
Her eyes went as wide as saucers. “Really? Can I see?”
Tin nodded and she stood and walked behind him, easily pulling back the fabric of the thin jumper he wore and peering down to find the mark that marred his skin. “Wow,” she said, letting the material fall back into place and coming to sit back down to look at him intently. “You know, just because you’re marked doesn’t mean you can’t date other people until you meet him or her. Touch them for the first time.”
“I know that. I have…been with other people in the past. I— Can, he—” Tin took a deep breath. “I don’t want just a hook up, you know?”
Tin’s head began to spin, because… Where the actual fuck had that come from? He wanted Can, and not just a quick fuck either? He picked up his wine glass and peered into it, deciding he’d drunk far too much already.
“Have you touched him? Like, are you sure he’s not the one?”
Tin nodded thinking of all their altercations. Contact had been made and nothing had happened. “It’s not him. So, I really can’t go there.”
Jessica’s hand covered his again and they both turned their attention to Can as he appeared out of the kitchen carrying three plates which he expertly carried to a table in the centre. When he’d successfully placed each meal in front of its recipient, he finally turned his attention in Tin’s direction, eyes meeting Tin’s for a moment before landing on his and Jessica’s joined hands. He turned away and returned to the kitchen and Jessica said, “You can go wherever you want.”
“I’d rather be anywhere else than here,” Can said under his breath, so that only Techno could hear him. He’d been so tempted to decline the invite, but Pete was one of those people who only had to turn his huge wide eyes on him, and Can was unable to say no to him. He’d even said as much to Techno who had ruffled his hair and said he knew exactly how that felt and so did his wallet. Still, Techno held his hand and Can drew strength from it and felt reassured that he could handle any shit that Tin Medthanan chose to throw at him.
In the three weeks since Tin had been a customer at Can’s aunt’s restaurant while he was working a shift it felt as though Tin was everywhere, his contemptuous eyes watching his every move, and to start with he’d given as good as he got, staring right back at him until one of them, usually Tin, gave up first and looked away. He was even coming to football practice with Pete and had been at the last two matches.
Can no longer gave him the opportunity to engage with him, making sure to sit as far away as possible from him if Tin appeared at the lunch table, heading straight to the changing rooms if Tin was at a match, avoiding going to the pub afterwards and just going for a quiet drink with Techno and Good, sometimes just Techno.
Avoiding Ae’s birthday party would have been rude and frankly Can didn’t want to, because Ae was a good friend. However, the moment he arrived and saw Tin talking to a couple of other IC students Can vaguely recognised his mood plummeted.
He grabbed a glass of something alcoholic from a passing waiter and downed the whole thing in two gulps. There, immediately he felt better.
Sixty minutes later and three more glasses of whatever it was he felt amazing. When he caught Tin looking at him, Can waved and blew a kiss. Asshole. Without thinking he sought out Techno’s hand, enjoying it when Techno squeezed his hand reassuringly. Fuck soulmates. Techno cared about him, made him feel nice. Why couldn’t he date him…fall in love with him?
Why couldn’t he have a choice?
It was later when he left Techno’s side and made his way to the bathroom to pee and saw him – the older Medthanan brother – watching the whole party scene from the balcony with an impassive expression. He caught Can looking at him and raised the glass he was holding mockingly. Can glared back, deciding both Medthanan brothers were assholes. When he came out of the bathroom someone grabbed his wrist and Can found himself bundled into a room that looked like and office.
“What the fuck?” Can wrenched his arm back and backed himself straight into a wall.
Tul Medthanan looked back at him with a smug smile. On the desk behind him was a framed photograph of the man in front of him beaming beside an unsmiling Tin. Wait. Was this the Medthanan house? Can had assumed this was Pete’s family home.
“Do you know who I am?”
“No,” Can lied, trying to press himself further backwards despite the very solid wall behind him.
“No?” Tul’s expression was one of disbelief. “You’re in my house.”
“Yes, well, I thought it was Pete’s house until I saw that picture of you on the desk.”
“You don’t remember coming here before?”
“Pretty sure I’d remember coming here.” Can would remember coming somewhere so fancy. This house made his parents’ look like a shack.
Tul’s intense gaze pinned him to the wall. “I remember it well. You were probably about nine years-old and in the care of your older cousin, Gonhin.”
Something clicked into place, something long buried by the passing of time. It wasn’t a claim he could dispute. He’d spent a lot of time with Hin when he was younger, he’d idolised his cousin. He still did. He certainly missed him.
Hin and Can’s fathers were brothers. Uncle Day was kind of a douche and had left Hin and his mother when Hin was still in pre-school so Can had never met him. To help out Aunt Joy, Hin had spent a lot of time with Can’s parents and that had continued into his teen years. Aunt Joy had worked as the housekeeper for a rich family and… Oh. The penny dropped.
“Aunt Joy worked here?” Can had had no idea she’d worked for the Medthanans, he’d never paid that much attention to where she worked if he was honest. Aunt Joy was close to his Ma, but they tended to spend time together out of the house, shopping, eating…going away together to the spa. Can really missed his cousin’s presence but they still talked a few times a week.
Never tell anyone where I am, Can, promise me? Can never broke a promise and he had a feeling he was about to be tested on that.
“Your aunt worked for my family for many years. Your cousin grew up alongside me. He never mentioned me?”
“Hin talked of a Tul, but I just met you, I had no idea he talked of you.”
Tul stepped closer, his whole demeanour menacing. Can braced himself, he knew what came next. He was right. “Where is he? Where is Hin?”
Tin was not a huge fan of parties, especially not parties in his own house whereby his escape would be noticed. Well, by Pete at least. Whatever had possessed him to agree to this ridiculous idea? Renovations at Pete’s mother’s house had ruled out having the party there, but it could easily have been held in a nightclub or bar, or anywhere else that wasn’t right here.
He already felt horribly out of sorts. Seeing Can holding hands with his football captain had done a real number on him. Jessica had managed to pry information out of him that he’d barely admitted to himself. That he wanted Can. Who knew, he might even be able to have him one time, maybe more, if he stopped being such an asshole to him. Then again, maybe not. Maybe the football captain senior and Can were boyfriends or worse, soulmates.
Why did the thought of that make him feel like throwing up? He’d already ascertained that Can wasn’t the one meant for him as his mark remained stubbornly benign. He didn’t even know if Can had a mark anyway and the odds were vastly against it.
He needed to be alone to process. He needed to be away from this celebration that did nothing for him other than to remind him just how alone he really was. The party was fully staffed, it wasn’t like he was the actual host either, Pete was playing that role. He was going to his room.
Fate had other ideas though, as his father’s office door opened and Can came tumbling out looking a little dishevelled and rosy cheeked. Like the masochist he was Tin looked beyond Can into the room behind, dreading to see the football captain there looking just as ruffled as Can. Instead, he found his brother, but not the calm impassive version he was used to these days, but one whose face twisted with an emotion that he couldn’t place on him.
The jealousy that stabbed through him at his first thought that they’d been making out nearly bent him in two, but it dispersed with what happened next. Whatever was between the two was not passion, at least not for each other.
Tul took two long paces to the doorway and came to a standstill at the sight of Tin. He shot a glare at Can who had moved to hide behind Tin and said, “This conversation is not over.”
Tul closed the door leaving Tin stunned and Can incandescent with rage.
“Yes it is!” Can yelled at the closed door, nearly bursting Tin’s eardrums with his proximity. He looked at Tin and his expression sobered and morphed into a pout. “Your brother reminds me of the Terminator.”
“What was that all about?”
Can frowned. “I’m not sure I should tell you. You might want to blackmail me into telling you what I wouldn’t tell him.”
Tin grabbed hold of Can’s wrist. “We need to talk,” he said and led Can towards the stairs and his bedroom.
Can surprisingly didn’t put up a fight even when they reach Tin’s room and he let go of him and pushed him inside. “Hey! You can’t just—” He stopped dead and clutched his side. “Oh fuck.” His eyes flew up to Tin’s, wide and afraid.
Puzzled, Tin started to speak but got as far as “What—” when he felt it. The space between his shoulders was on fire. His soul mark had ignited. How in hell? “How can it be you?”
Can dropped down onto the nearest seat, the end of the sofa, looking totally devastated. Confused brown eyes looked up at him. Can shook his head. “We’d touched before today. I’d ruled you out. How—” He palmed his face, rubbing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger then crossed his arms at the hem of his t-shirt and pulled it up over his head. The mark was unmistakable, familiar, on the side of his slender torso, it was glowing sunset gold.
Following his lead, Tin undid his shirt and slid it down to reveal his back, turning round to view his own mark in the mirror. It was the perfect match for the one on Can. In the reflection he could see Can’s incredulous face. His energy leaving him, Tin sank down onto the sofa besides Can.
Their eyes met and Can gave a small smile and said, “Surprise?”
“You could say that,” Tin said, feeling a wash of heat and dizziness rising up. “Do you feel—” Before he could even finish the question his world turned black.