Shortly after Win returns from his two years in London, there’s a welcome-home party in his honor. Team and Wan conspired for months over where to hold it and how to keep it a secret from Win. Ultimately, they went with the easiest option of booking the private beach of a local hotel branch owned by Wan and Win’s family, and then Team enlisted their friends to help decorate—to give it a more personal atmosphere.
The day of the party, to keep Win clueless, Wan asked their father to bring him under the premise of VIP guests throwing a fit over an impossible and unreasonable request.
“One of many reasons my sweet, even-tempered brother is better suited to this career than I am,” Wan tells Team with an angelic smile.
Having needed to remove his headphones several times per gaming session while Wan shrieked boiling fury into the mic, Team just says, “Uh huh.”
Guests scatter across the shore as sunset stains the sky. Some of them are cousins around the same age, most of them are friends from all areas of Win’s life, and three of them are Wan, View, and Team, standing in the center. They all know that Win and his father will arrive through a white gate decked with artificial hibiscus flowers where the grass meets the sand, and so all the guests are generally facing that direction.
When Win appears, he jumps back a full stride as the lot of them yell more or less in unison to greet him. He finds Team in the crowd first, as always, and grins a little wildly. His father laughs, claps his back, and gives his sons and Team a jovial wave before leaving them all to be young, drunk, and embarrassing on their own.
The party was always meant to be an opportunity for Win to reconnect and catch up with all the people he’s lost touch with over the past two years. When Win realizes that, he tucks an arm around Team’s shoulders and kisses the side of his head for recognizing that this is important to him. Team gives Wan equal credit, because it was a conversation they had often in Win’s absence; how much Win was missed, and how much Win was missing.
When the guests have dwindled to just their core friend group from university, the six of them sit in a broad circle by the water, lit by the silver moon above and the golden string lights wound all around the beach.
At one point, Del says, “I didn’t have time to do more than my eyes before I left,” and pouts at Manaow.
Dutifully, Manaow solemnly takes Del’s chin between her thumb and forefinger, turning her face this way and that.
The group watches, every one of them wry and amused.
At last, Manaow declares, “Flawless!” to a few laughs, followed by, “A flawless canvas for me to paint upon!” to louder, more knowing laughter.
After Manaow retrieves her makeup bag from her car and has settled down on the sand again to reapply Del’s makeup, Dean’s the one who asks, “Have you ever done makeup for a man?”
Manaow immediately glances at Pharm and then smirks at Dean. “Why? Are you making a request, P’Dean?”
Pharm, deep in conversation with Team, shoves into Dean’s shoulder with his own hard enough to make Dean sway a little. It does nothing to shake the grin from Dean’s face.
But it prompts Win to ask, “Only Pharm?” with exaggerated innocence.
Team puts a finger over Pharm’s lips, stopping him mid-word. In rapid succession, Team tells Manaow, “Don’t answer that,” then tells Win, “Stop causing problems,” and then lifts his finger and tells Pharm, “Continue.”
Win obediently says nothing, but as an apparent trade, he tugs Team closer to him and rests his head on Team’s shoulder, taking part in none of the three different conversations going on around him.
Some time later, Win picks his head up and crawls across the circle. Team watches him out of his peripheral vision, but Win just whispers something into Manaow’s ear that makes her laugh and say, “Sure, phi,” while she continues meticulously contouring Del’s cheekbones.
Win kisses her on the cheek, says, “Thanks,” and plucks a few items from her makeup bag.
When he returns to his spot next to Team, Team says, “Get away from me,” in no uncertain terms. To reinforce his position, he picks up a broken seashell and chucks it at Win’s chest. He’s always been willing to let Manaow experiment with makeup on his face, but he knows Win far too well to trust him.
To his surprise, though, Win just says, “It’s not for you,” and places the lot of what he’s taken into Team’s hands.
Uncomprehending, Team stares down at the makeup products, then back up at Win, who seems oddly serene. Without prompting, Win closes his eyes and juts his chin out.
“Go ahead,” he says. “I trust you.”
Team says, “I’m not going to—”
“How many chances are you going to get to put makeup on your boyfriend?” Manaow shouts at him, now gingerly dusting her brush over Del’s forehead.
“Fiancé,” Win reminds her, eyes still closed.
“Do it, do it, do it!” Del chants.
“Later, Del, not in publ—”
Team puts his entire hand over Win’s mouth and says, “Fine, I’ll do your makeup if you stop talking.”
Win opens his eyes and nods, insufferably smug.
With a sigh to hide how intrigued he really feels, Team shifts closer to Win until their bare knees touch. Team dumps the products on his calves, sorts through them, and absently asks Manaow over his shoulder, “Do you have wet wipes?”
“To clean my face?” Win asks.
“No, heathen,” Team says. “To clean the brushes.”
“Oh, like you knew,” Win says.
“Here, Team,” Manaow says, chucking several packages across the circle.
“I’ve seen a lot from this group while you were gone,” Dean tells Win, managing to sound both wise and traumatized.
“Don’t worry, buddy,” Win says, “I won’t leave you alone again.”
Team takes his chin, far more roughly than Manaow did to Del, and says, “Stop talking.”
Win does as he’s commanded, but he won’t stop grinning. He helps Team clean the brushes they’ve borrowed to the sound of the waves rushing the shore and Manaow singing some song from their elementary school years that Pharm claims not to know because he was overseas at the time.
When Team actually starts, he’s far more comfortable with it than Win seems to expect.
“My best friend is Manaow,” Team says, “and I don’t want my boyfriend to look like a seven-year-old playing with his mother’s makeup.”
“I did that,” Dean says casually. “Not my mother’s, though. Grandmother’s.”
Team pauses, then continues as if he didn’t hear anything. He’s finally learned that Dean sets down conversational mines purely to mess with him specifically, and he’s not going to fall for it anymore.
Then Win meets Team’s eyes and mouths, “It’s true,” and, in a whisper, “I’ve seen photos.”
Team nearly draws across Win’s face.
Behind him, Dean snickers, which sets Win off into snickering.
“I hate both of you,” Team decides.
“They’re dangerous together,” Del agrees. “They always have been. They were just on their best behavior when they first met you two.”
“And now you’re both locked in,” Win says, wagging his eyebrows.
Team pinches his nose to shut him up, even though he knows it’s futile at this point.
Win gently bites his hand in retaliation.
As Team works, though, he falls into a kind of peace and rhythm to what he’s doing. He would never call himself any level of proficient at applying makeup, but he probably knows more than average thanks to Manaow. Win seems content to watch his face, and Team is oddly unbothered by the scrutiny.
Too many days have gone by without Win for Team’s taste.
He taps Win’s bottom lip with a narrow brush and says, “Open.”
Team is profoundly unsurprised when Win doesn’t even try to suppress a sultry smile. Holding back his own amusement, Team holds Win still by the chin and carefully paints his lips a shade darker than they are naturally. More like how they look after they’ve been making out for a while.
Then Team swipes the pad of his ring finger over a square of silver eyeshadow and then dabs it over Win’s lids, watching them sparkle under the string lights. Living in murky, cloudy weather for so long has made Win paler than Team thought he could be, but he’s also got a more self-assured peace to him that wasn’t as strong when he left. Part of it, Team hopes, came from knowing he had permanence back home impatiently waiting for him.
All in all, he hasn’t done much. This may not be a test, but he doesn’t want to make Win look ridiculous, either. He’s done what he feels comfortable doing: contouring that emphasizes Win’s naturally striking cheekbones, applying a metallic eyeshadow that brightens the rest of Win’s face, and the dark pink lipstick that doesn’t smudge when Team rubs his thumb over it.
Win sneaks a lick, unrepentant when Team’s breath hitches.
“Okay,” Manaow says, crawling over. “That’s enough foreplay with Manaow’s makeup.”
She stops, mouth open in genuine surprise, as she studies Win’s face, still on all fours.
“Team,” Win says, uneasy. “I can’t read Manaow as well as you can. What did you do to my face?”
“P’Win,” Manaow breathes. “You look beautiful!” She kneels next to Team and shakes him viciously. “Team! You’ve been paying attention!”
“Ow! Let go!”
While Team and Manaow scrap in the sand like children, Win unlocks his phone and opens the camera app to see himself. Team watches—ducking in various directions while Manaow tries to dump a fistful of sand in his hair—as Win smiles with pure amazement at what he sees.
Team’s distraction costs him sand not only in his hair but down his shirt, too.
Later, on the drive back to Team’s apartment, where Win is staying until they figure out where to move together, Win takes Team’s hand and interlocks their fingers tightly.
“You really are perfect for me,” Win tells Team, sublimely earnest in the way that only alcohol and two years of separation can make him. “Thank you for tonight.”
“Your brother did half of it,” Team admits. His face is burning, but he wouldn’t let go of Win’s hand for any price. The road is nearly empty at the moment anyway.
“You had the idea,” Win counters. He leans across the console and kisses Team’s cheek, his lips soft and warm on Team’s skin for just a heartbeat. “You knew I’d love this.”
It would be amusing how much Win likes to brag about Team to Team—if it weren’t so cloyingly sweet it makes Team squirm.
After they shower for bed, Team sits on the counter in his pajama bottoms and Win stands between his thighs in a towel, most of the makeup still untouched. “This stuff is strong,” Win says, peering into the mirror.
“You’ll probably have to use your cleanser longer than you’re used to,” Team says. He traces the full curve of Win’s bottom lip with his thumb the way he did on the beach, but the lipstick is resilient.
Win watches Team’s eyes with heated curiosity. “What do you think it’d take to smudge it?” he wonders.
Team’s breath shallows. “Wanna find out?”
“Yes. Fuck, I missed you.”