It’s the first same-sex wedding Win’s ever attended in Thailand, and he has to focus on breathing evenly as he witnesses this uniquely Thai ceremony binding two men in matrimony. He never really believed he’d see something like this in his own country, and more than once, Sandee takes his hand and squeezes his fingers, rubbing her thumb over his knuckles with knowing affection.
As Pete and Kao bow first to Kao’s mother and then to Pete’s father, Win rubs a tear from his cheek. Their ceremony has reignited long-dormant hope for a more inclusive future for people like them.
Of course, Win has Sandee, so it may not matter for him if things continue to go well with her.
But for Pete and Kao, and for their families, it’s wonderful.
The instant Win and Sandee finish their part in the shell ceremony, Sandee kisses Win on the cheek and rushes off with Thada to begin their MC duties at the party. She asked Win early in the planning stages if he minded her spending so much time with her ex, but Win assured her that he didn’t. He still doesn’t. Watching the two of them onstage as they lead the proceedings, Win can’t even see the afterimage of their romantic dynamic, eclipsed as it is by their current friendship.
The guest of honor is an older man named Kerkkrai Suthiluck, a CEO and close friend of Pete’s father. He begins his speech by saying, “When my son was in university, he did his internship not at my company, but at Ocean Electric. He had his reasons; some he told to me, others he kept to himself.” Pete’s father chuckles; Kerkkrai gives him a knowing smile. “I found out later that his boyfriend worked there.” A large number of the guests laugh. “Supporting my son’s relationship has never been in question for me, because I raised all three of my children to know their value and to learn their principles from an early age, so I knew he’d chosen wisely. They’ve been married for just over a year now, and when I told my son-in-law that I’d been asked to speak at the wedding of Khun Pon’s son, he asked me to say one thing on their behalf.”
Here he pauses, focusing on Pete and Kao who have gone very still out of respect.
“He said, ‘Tell them to trust what fits and to set aside what doesn’t.’ He’s an engineer, you’ll have to forgive him.” Louder laughter. “What he meant by this, I think, is that in marriage, you’re partnering with someone for a lifetime. But no two people will suit each other perfectly—the only people who believe that haven’t traveled overseas together. Learn to recognize what you can set aside for the sake of harmony.”
For the rest of his speech, Win repeats the advice in his mind. “Trust what fits.” Kerkkrai’s interpretation might not be wrong, but it could mean so much more, couldn’t it? Win glances at Sandee, stood onstage beside Thada, her pale orange dress and vivid coral necklace a confident combination. She draws every eye in the room when she wants to just like Win does; she has the same ambition and rationality Win has; and she shares in his values and dreams. They want the same things, and they support each other fiercely.
If she doesn’t fit him, no one does.
As Kerkkrai leads the guests in cheering, “Chai-Yo! Chai-Yo! Chai-Yo!” Win watches with fondness as Kao covers Pete’s hand on top of the table and gives him a wide, beaming smile.
It’s just after ten when the after-party begins, and the guests have diminished by about a third. The staff remove the extra tables, and Win takes a new seat where Thada directs him. With Pete and Kao’s permission, Thada and Sandee have organized a quiz show for the younger guests. They’ve apparently rigged it so that Kao will win a very public viewing of a romantic music video made with footage Pete has taken over the years of their relationship.
Win recognizes Mork across from him and jerks a friendly nod at him. “Prepared to lose?”
According to Sandee—despite her best efforts to keep it secret—word of the surprise video has spread to most of Pete and Kao’s friends. Only Kao still seems unaware, but even if Mork doesn’t know, Win knows Mork well enough to trust that there’s a low risk of him running to Kao to spoil it.
With a smirk, Mork says, “Prepared to nap.”
The younger man sitting between Win and Mork snorts into his glass of water, and Mork shoots him a fond grin.
“Sorry,” the younger man says, wiping his mouth with the back of his wrist.
“P’Win,” Mork says, with some significance in his voice. “This is Team.” He drapes his arm across the back of Team’s chair, and Team puts his glass down to offer Win a wai.
“Nice to meet you,” Win says. He returns the gesture, careful not to remark on Sun’s absence. He hasn’t seen Mork or Sun in over a year, but he remembers them being on rocky territory; it seems they didn’t work out.
Team asks Win, “How do you know the grooms?”
“Friends of my girlfriend.”
Mork nudges Team’s shoulder with his arm and nods at Sandee across the room.
The next time Sandee’s gaze finds him, Win smiles and winks at her.
She grins back.
For the quiz show, each table of six is expected to work together so that one representative can deliver the answer to each question. Win’s table features the presence of June, one of Pete and Kao’s oldest friends, so Win decides to support June’s answers and allow his attention to wander instead. He isn’t nosy by nature, and he isn’t particularly close to Mork, but he liked Sun, and he’s curious what happened to him. The date Mork’s brought along tonight looks considerably younger than Sun, with a much more boyish face and an almost mischievous smile.
Maybe Mork doesn’t have as narrowly-defined a type as some.
Team, Win remembers; the name of Mork’s date is Team.
At the front of the room, Thada says into his microphone, “June, you’re not supposed to be playing, remember?”
Several of the guests burst into laughter while June yells objections.
Sandee points at him with her entire arm. “Don’t make me come over there,” she says. “I’ll chuck your corpse into the sea.”
Mork raises his eyebrows at Win. “She talk to you like that?”
Team glances over as well, eyebrows furrowed.
Win smiles and hooks an arm over the back of his chair to give his girlfriend a supportive wave.
She sees it and smirks back, blowing him a kiss and a wink.
“I never give her reason to,” Win says.
June spears the orange crescent of a shrimp on his plate with a fork and mutters, “Since when does she need a reason?”
“I heard that!” Even without her microphone near her mouth, Sandee’s voice carries crystal clear across the room.
Kao walks up to the stage, takes the microphone from Thada, and serenely says, “Stop ruining our wedding. Thank you.”
Pete shouts, “Yeah!” from their table.
After that, the game proceeds without incident, and Kao wins.
Pete cheerfully leads him to a chair in the center of the room, and Kao’s triumphant grin shifts into a wary sort of alarm. Throughout the music video, Pete stands behind the chair with his arms loosely draped around Kao’s neck, and once the initial embarrassment has faded from Kao’s face, Kao reaches up to hold Pete’s hands against his chest.
As the video ends, Kao turns his head and looks up at Pete, who’s been smiling down at him all the while.
It’s remarkable to Win; they fit so well.
The mountains where Pete and Kao decided to get married aren’t the best place for logical parking, and departing proves to be a grueling exercise for all involved. Win offers to help organize, but Sandee calmly puts both hands on his shoulders, looks him square in the eyes, and says, “You will help best by waiting over there under that tree and being one of the only well-behaved men on this entire mountain range.”
So he does that.
His phone still has 37% left, so he leans on the trunk of the tree he’s been assigned to wait under and scrolls the hashtag Thada made for the wedding. He uploads a photo of his own—a shot of himself and Sandee dancing at the after-party—just before someone else leans on the tree, red-faced and clumsy.
“Whoa,” Win says, reaching before thinking. He grabs the jacket sleeve of Mork’s date, then his arm, holding him steady. “You okay?”
Mork’s date—Team—laughs. “Sorry, hia.” He puts the hand of the arm Win’s holding on the tree, so Win releases him. “Shouldn’t have had the last thing I drank.”
Win checks the surrounding area, but of the guests he sees milling around, none of them is Mork. The golden lights from the venue paint rectangles on the dark lawn, casting a glow just bright enough for Win to see just how flushed Team’s face is.
“Wait here,” Win says, and jogs back into the venue. On the way, he catches Sandee giving him curious eyebrows from across the lawn, but he waves off the question. He retrieves a bottle of water in the cooler near the stage, then returns to the tree where Team has now slumped down to crouch on the grass, head in his hands.
Win crouches beside him, nudging the bottle against one of Team’s elbows. “Here,” he says. “You’ll thank me later.”
Team raises his head, blinks a few times, and says, “Ah.” He takes the water with a clumsy wai consisting of one hand and the side of the bottle. “Thanks, hia.”
Win watches him meticulously untwist the cap, frowning intently at it, and smiles. “Do you remember my name?” he asks.
Team stares at him, caught out, his cheeks round around a gulp of water. Slowly, he shakes his head.
Win laughs. “It’s fine,” he says. “You probably don’t remember your own right now.”
Team swallows, says, “I wanted to tell you something earlier when you were talking to P’Mork about school.”
“Mmhm. I almost went to your university.”
Win turns surprised eyes on him. “Really?”
“Mm, yep.” Team smiles wryly. “They offered me a partial scholarship, but my university was closer to home, and they offered a full one, so I went there.”
“How old are you now?”
Win feels an uncomplicated smile curve his mouth. “I’m twenty-seven. You would have been my junior.”
Team’s smile mirrors his. “That’s what I was thinking, too.”
Across the lawn, Sandee muscles a crooning June into the passenger seat of his girlfriend’s car, shoving his head down so he doesn’t hit it on the doorframe. Win grins. Even though Sandee has said on multiple occasions to June himself that June is the best birth control, she has the same impulse to help others that Win does.
She definitely fits.
Mork materializes from between two cars, exiting the parking lot at a jog. He nods at Win and drops low in front of Team, bracing his hands on Team’s knees.
“Hey,” he says softly. “I had no idea he would show up. I’m sorry.”
Win flits his eyes in the direction Mork came from and sees Sun. He’s in casual clothes, his handsome face mostly unchanged from the last time Win saw him. He’s watching Mork, desperately sad and alone in a way that hooks on some old, painful memories of Win’s own.
Team is quiet, drinking his water while staring over Mork’s shoulder.
“Team,” Mork says. “Hey.”
With a small parting touch to Mork’s shoulder, Win leaves. He finds another tree to wait under, closer to Sandee and far enough from Mork and Team that he can’t hear them at all.
A winding snake of cars, frequently flashing their red brake lights, weaves down the roughly hewn mountain path toward the paved main road. Sandee keeps the music low so Win can concentrate, then turns it up with her phone as soon as they’re back on asphalt. For a while they sit in their separate worlds, Win’s mind drifting back to the ceremony and how Pete and Kao kept sneaking peeks at each other throughout the day, as if they couldn’t quite believe the day was really happening.
Win breaks out of it when Sandee’s hand smooths appreciatively over his side. “You look so good in this,” she says. “I kept finding excuses to point you out to people.”
He shoots her a grin. “Yeah?”
Now that they’re alone, her eyes are noticeably more heated than they have been all day. “Mm.” The road isn’t predictable enough for him to keep his eyes on her, but he can sense her undivided attention on him. “Are you doing anything tomorrow?” she asks.
Without missing a beat, he says, “You,” and grins wider when she barks out a laugh.
They talk about the ceremony, then about Sandee’s job, and finally about Win’s upcoming trip to Barcelona, but the underlying mood remains heated. Forty minutes later, instead of taking the exit that leads to Sandee’s apartment building, he stays on the route to his own. She rests her hand high on his leg with promise, stroking over the fine material just hard enough that he can feel her short nails against his thigh.
His apartment building has a private parking garage underground, and while Win planned to keep his hands to himself until they got through his front door, Sandee’s intentions seem to conflict with his. The moment she’s out of the car, she arches an eyebrow at him over the roof. As she walks around the front of the car, she casually stuffs her bra into her purse, and Win blinks up at the more natural curve of her breasts hanging loose under the sheer fabric of her dress.
She’s already laughing when he catches her around the waist, fixing his mouth to her neck and bunching his hands in the fabric by her hips. They stop there in the middle of the parking garage, her laughter melting into a soft moan as she arches into the kiss.
Weddings, Win learns, really do make people horny.
Once in his apartment, he doesn’t even bother to turn the lights on. He hoists her up onto his kitchen counter, using the blue glow from the city lights as a guide. She holds his face in her hands, kissing deeply and urgently as he works his hands up her thighs and under her dress. He finds nothing but bare skin and breaks the kiss to stare into her mischievous eyes.
“In the purse,” she says.
“How did you get your bra and underwear off in the car without me noticing?” he demands. “Not that it matters—your weird sex magic is hot.”
She says, “You’re a responsible driver,” and slides her fingers into his hair with an appreciative hum. “Even when you’re thinking about speeding so you can fuck me sooner.”
Win says, “I think that’s a compliment, so I’ll take it as one,” and while she laughs, he cups her ass in his hands and steps in between her thighs.
Kissing her has always been easy, and as her legs wrap around his back, he enjoys the simple familiarity of her mild scent and plaintive noises. When he finally works his fingers inside her, she’s soaked, and she pulls away from the kiss with glazed eyes. “P’Win,” she whispers.
He kisses her nose and carries her to the bedroom where he fully intends to spend the next few hours taking her apart.
The dress is a simple fix, and it lands on his bedroom floor with an unceremonious flutter of fabric. She stretches under him, her nipples dark and tight, the scant light through the curtains catching on the wet smears on her thighs. His suit is a little more complicated to remove, but Sandee put him in it, and she knows how to take him out of it. She gives his flushed erection a quick stroke, but when he kisses her again, she makes a soft sound and rests her hands on his shoulders, pressing down with a clear message.
Pleased to oblige, he kisses down her body, pausing to suck and twist her nipples until she’s a little more vocal. She lies down on her back, spreading her legs for him, and then he drags his tongue through the mess he’s made of her slit. She says his name again, pleading, and he works his tongue over her clit with quick, methodic strokes, enjoying the unique taste of her.
When he can hear from her desperate whining that she’s right at the edge, he surrounds her swollen clit with his lips and sucks until she screams.
He knows they’re far from finished, so he wipes his mouth on his arm and kisses her while she works his erection in slow, hard strokes. When she’s ready again, she pushes him onto his back and straddles him, taking his cock deep with one smooth dip of her hips. She closes her eyes and braces her hands on his chest, her body trembling.
On his first thrust up, her muscles contract around him, her stomach clenches, and she whimpers.
He raises his eyebrows, intrigued, his cock throbbing inside her.
“I told you,” she says, sullen, “that suit looked really good on you.”
Something reluctantly admiring in her tone fires him up further, and he cradles her back to flip them around. She circles her arms around his neck and kisses him as he fucks into her, leaving all trace of gentleness behind.
She chants his name into his mouth, and when he reaches down to pinch one of her stiff nipples, she cries out and comes again. Her muscles spasm hard, clenching around his cock like her body is trying to keep it deep inside her, and the sensation has him urgently pulling out to splash cum on her stomach.
He watches her drag her fingers through it, then flick it at his stomach in retribution.
Another two rounds later, they’re physically spent and mentally exhausted, but on the cusp of sleep, Sandee kisses him once more and whispers, “You’ve ruined me for other men, Phawin.”
He laughs, and she smiles with an echo of something indiscernible at one corner.
His trip to Barcelona is four days of continuous work. His family owns three properties in the area, two high-end and one mid-range. He has appointments to meet with every hotel manager, and strict instructions from his father not to let Valentina bully him into drinking games against her.
“She’ll destroy you, son,” Win’s father says solemnly. “I know you’re competitive, but know your limitations.”
It’s on the fourth night while Win’s sitting on the balcony of his hotel room, alone and desperately drunk after ignoring his father’s warnings, that he finally has time to check his phone in peace.
Sandee’s sent him an audio message, so he smiles and taps on it.
“Hey. I’m just going to sleep. I know you’re busy, but I wanted to say good night.”
He listens to it three more times, the saline wind off the ocean pulling at his hair. Soon he’ll be home; maybe he can persuade her into staying with him the weekend. They can order in and spend both days in bed.
He sends a message back for her to listen to when she wakes up:
“Good morning. Love you.”
He falls asleep on the balcony.
In a delightful turn of events, Win’s only been back home for an hour when Sandee invites him to her place for dinner the following day.
Her apartment is a perfect reflection of her personality: her bedroom is spotless, but the living room—where she spends most of her time—is always in disarray. Colorful blankets strewn over the white sofa, the rug always kicked off-kilter on the hardwood floor. Half her furniture is repurposed, rescued from secondhand stores or friends and then sanded and repainted. The “guest room” is more accurately the DIY room, decorated with half-finished projects with a halfhearted attempt to keep the bed clear in case her mother stops by. Over the past few years, she’s developed an interest in building Rube Goldberg machines, and she keeps boxes of scraps and objects in the closet along with scrapbooks filled with equations and sketches of potential chain reaction experiments.
She rarely uses her dining room table, preferring to eat at her desk with one foot up on the seat, but tonight she’s laid out placemats and her nicest plates. There’re even serving dishes filled with takeout from her favorite Indian restaurant down the road. The only thing missing are candles, but she probably knew Win would tease her if she went that far.
He’d assume she’s aiming for a rare traditionally romantic gesture, except that her expression is drawn and solemn. He knows better than to tease her when she looks like that, so he takes a seat opposite her and tries to quell the queasy feeling in his gut.
They eat in silence, a thick fog gathering between them and obscuring the mood.
When she says, “I wanted to talk to you,” she looks up at him, unreadable.
He sets his spoon down, the spice of his last bite still fiery on his tongue. “Sure,” he says. “Is something wrong?”
It can’t be work. She tells him about her job every day, and apart from some mundane obstacles—mainly caused by the same three coworkers—she seems content. It could be one of her friends, or maybe a relative, but he doesn’t think so.
Everything seems to point to him.
She takes a deep breath and drops her focus to her bowl where she scrapes white lines through the thick red paste with the tip of her spoon. “So,” she says, drawing out the word. “You were the first person I came out to.” As his eyebrows rise, she glances at him. “I knew for a long time,” she adds. “But when I was dating Thada, it didn’t seem important to tell anyone.”
Win says, “I get that.” He told Dean when he was sixteen, but Dean had already come out to him, so it was more for Dean’s benefit, so Dean would know that they were on the same side facing a difficult future.
Except that Win’s hasn’t been that difficult. He dated girls at first, then women, and now Sandee. He slept with men in the gaps in between each relationship, but he told only who he wanted to tell, because he had that luxury. He told Sandee early because he’s made it a policy to tell everyone he dates; his sexuality is part of him, and he’s never been willing to hide it from his partners.
Then, two years ago, Sandee fought him for control of the remote, arguing, “I hang out with men all day—we’re going to watch something we can both enjoy,” with the strong implication that the cast of the movie they were watching slanted too hard in the direction of one gender. It was the first time Win had heard her acknowledge her sexuality, but he’d assumed by how casually she said it that she’d told others before.
“P’Win,” Sandee says. She puts her fork down so quietly it doesn’t make a sound against the ceramic edge of the bowl. “You’ve made me so happy.” Her carefully choice of words isn’t lost on him.
So…that’s what this is.
To his surprise, the pain feels less pronounced this time.
She meets his eyes, her expression nuanced with layers of hesitance, determination, and empathy. “I care a lot about you,” she says. “I don’t necessarily want to break up, but—” She opens her mouth around the next word, then closes it. She thinks for a second, then says, “I think we should. I want to try seeing women. A woman. Kitty.”
It’s fascinating how the core reason spills out of her like a landslide. Even Sandee didn’t seem to expect to say so much, but it just tumbled out, the truth demanding to be heard.
He breathes a laugh through his nose. “Well,” he says, as lightly as he can. “From experience, I highly recommend women.”
She smiles hesitantly, then more sincerely the longer Win holds eye contact.
“It’s okay, Sandee,” he says. This part he’s good at. “I’ve only dated women, but I’ve slept with men, too. I get it. You deserve the chance to know for yourself what’s right for you.”
She nods, hopeful. “Right? I mean…I’ve known I’m bi since university, but I was dating Thada then. And we were completely monogamous, so I couldn’t exactly explore any other side of myself. Then when we broke up, I wanted to try dating women—but then—”
She met Win.
“And it’s not your fault!” she adds. “Of course not. I—” She reaches across the small table and picks up his hand, drawing it closer so she can hold it in both of hers. Her fingertips are calloused, a physical toughness to her that he’s always admired because she’s never been ashamed of the manual work she does. “You know you’re wonderful,” she says fervently. “You’re smart, sweet, thoughtful—”
“Good in bed, gorgeous, rich,” Win finishes with a wink.
She smacks his hand without even a change in expression, and Win finally feels the first cut. She’s never been afraid to call him out or give him her unvarnished opinions. She’s always seen him. He thought that would make the difference this time; he thought what they had was genuine enough to last. She knows who he is, and he thought she might even love him for it, but she’s never said so, not like that, and now she wants to end things.
He can’t blame her, of course.
“I just—” She interrupts herself again, frowning. Visibly, she makes the choice to continue. “When I met her, something felt different. But comfortable. And…I just found myself thinking, ‘What if there’s someone who…fits me better?’”
He cuts his gaze down.
“And once I thought that,” she continues, her voice small, “I knew it wasn’t fair to you. We both deserve someone who fits, y’know?”
In spite of his most earnest hopes, he knows that they don’t fit. Not enough to count in the long run. And so: two years, three months, and four days after their first date, Win kisses Sandee on the temple, hugs her once at her front door, and leaves their relationship for good.
In the aftermath, he sits in his car outside her building for forty minutes, forehead on the steering wheel. He could cry; he thinks he might even want to. When he was younger, crying worked for situations like this. A flash-cut of deep hurt, followed by a cathartic downpour of emotion, and then capped off with a slowly developed scar.
This time, he doesn’t cry.
Overall, it hurts less than past breakups, but it hurts longer.
For the first few weeks, he turns down invitations from their circle of friends; their friends all love Sandee, and they loved Win and Sandee together. They send him innocent questions that he answers as vaguely as he can, but even that’s too exhausting after the first ten instances. He wants Sandee to know he supports her, but he also can’t bring himself to face hearing about how her new relationship is going.
He commits more of his free time to work and family, his two constants. His parents only ask once about Sandee, and he can’t be more grateful for that. He tells them they ended things amicably, which is the truth, and tells them he’s not interested in seeing someone else for a while, which isn’t.
A month passes, then two.
He goes out with friends from university one Saturday night. They stop in at one of their favorite gay bars, and Win takes home a guy with a nice jawline and a clever tongue. They have sex on his couch, and the guy is gone before two in the morning. Win cleans up and showers alone.
Eventually, the pain subsides, and then a terrible coldness takes its place.
Win returns, once again, to the dark space before square one:
Who would even want me?
On Saturdays that he has free, Win has lunch with Dean and Dean’s husband, Pharm. Dean and Pharm only knew Sandee through Win, so conversations with them are much, much less likely to slip into that area of the recent past. Of all of Win’s friends, they’re the safest—and frankly the most aspirational as a couple.
Their warm, welcoming house sits just within the city limits, designed for them by Pharm’s cousin. Around the block is Pharm’s restaurant, a staple of the city that all domestic tourists know to visit at least once while they’re in the capital. Dean works from the restaurant whenever he can get away with it, and both their success and unspoken devotion to each other has made them famous in their local community.
Win arrives to a full table, and as the three of them tuck into the simple spicy shrimp soup Pharm made for them, Win asks them how the restaurant’s renovations are going. Pharm tilts his head to one side in the universal sign for, “Not good, not bad,” and Dean follows up by mouthing, “Regulations,” which explains nothing, but Win just nods.
Inevitably, Pharm asks, “How are things with you, P’Win?”
And maybe it’s because Dean and Pharm are the only ones he keeps in touch with nowadays that Win decides to tell him, “Not great,” with a wry smile.
He tells them how he’s distanced himself not only from Sandee, but from their mutual friends as well. They all seem to understand, but he still misses the easy camaraderie. “And sometimes I just want to know how she’s doing,” he adds.
Pharm zeroes in on him like he’s been lying in wait for that particular statement. “Is it too soon to ask her?”
“I can’t.” Win rubs his eyebrow with the pad of his thumb, staring down at the scraped-clean bottom of the turquoise bowl before him. “It’s not really that I want to know about her, necessarily, even though that’s part of it. I still care about her.”
Pharm nods; Dean waits.
Win’s spent months stewing in negative emotion after negative emotion, and making sense of anything through a miasma like that takes energy he doesn’t have anymore. Putting into words what he wants when he can’t even identify it himself is almost impossible. But he decides to try. “I just want to know what it’s like for her to date someone of another gender after only dating one her whole life,” he says.
“Because you’ve only dated one gender?” Dean prompts.
Win concedes the point with a narrow-eyed glance. “Fine, yes, but look,” he says, “it wasn’t intentional. It was just easier to find girls who wanted to date me.”
Dean stares at him, inducing a plethora of memories from their joined past of boys at school with hope-filled smiles and then men in bars with interested grins.
“I said ’date’, asshole,” Win says, flat.
And it’s not Dean’s fault that he’s never spared a thought to the attractiveness of any other gender. He was a lonely, miserable gay boy until he met Pharm in university, and now they’re besotted, inseparable gay husbands. Win, on the other hand, has enjoyed the sexual company of multiple genders, but all of his relationships have been with women. All of them were lovely and fun and appeared in his life exactly when he was looking to date someone, so it’s not like he made an effort to only date one gender. It’s just…easier to find the roads that society has already paved.
And, sure, maybe some of the people of other genders might have been hoping to date a man like Win. Just not Win himself.
“Maybe it’s the tattoos,” Win mutters into his glass of water.
Dean snorts with dismissive amusement.
“P’Win,” Pharm says, “can I ask you a personal question? If it’s too invasive, I’ll understand.”
Win grins and folds his arms on the table, pointedly looking away from Dean. “For you, sweet Pharm, you can ask me two personal questions.”
Dean chucks a napkin that bounces off Win’s forehead. Then he seems to decide that’s not punishment enough and reaches for a fork.
Pharm casually takes it from him without looking. “Would you be interested in dating a man?”
Dean stops glaring at Win to turn to Pharm with a thoughtful expression that Win doesn’t understand. Dean and Pharm have been together for years now, and Win has learned that Pharm rarely says anything without careful deliberation first. If he’s asking, it’s not for the sake of pure curiosity; he has a motive.
A smile spreads across Win’s lips. “Have anyone in mind?”
Pharm returns the smile, deceptively guileless. “Maybe.”
Trying to get more information from him leads nowhere, so Win eventually gives up. He tells Pharm, “If the guy’s someone you approve of, I’ll meet him,” because he’s probably someone like Dean, and if nothing else, they’ll end up good friends.
A week later, Win hasn’t forgotten his exchange with Pharm, nor has he heard from anyone new, so he surmises that Pharm either hasn’t had time yet or the guy isn’t interested. One of the down sides of maintaining a presence on social media is that it removes the necessity of meeting in person; it’s entirely likely the guy looked up Win through Pharm and decided to pass, and Pharm is too kind to tell him.
He decides to focus on the merits of being unattached, because he knows they must exist. He has friends his age and older who aren’t seeing anyone, and they seem happy. Just because he can’t seem to make anyone else happy long-term doesn’t mean he can’t make himself happy.
He’s in the middle of making plans to see one such single buddy of his when a friend request notification drops down at the top of his phone screen. The name “Teerayu” hits a memory in the corner of his mind, so he clicks on it. He knows Pharm didn’t mention a name or Win would have looked him up by now, but it’s possible they’ve met elsewhere.
The face is instantly familiar, and then Win wonders why. He’s certain they’ve never hooked up, and his memory isn’t drawing any paths to the people he’s met through school or work. It has to be Pharm’s mystery candidate, and maybe he’s seen the guy in photos.
He follows Teerayu back.
The following morning, Win joins his father to Phuket for a three-day event. It’s masked as the twentieth anniversary of a resort there, but in reality they’re there to persuade investors in a string of proposed branches all across East Asia. Win’s not especially necessary for it, lacking enough experience to be of help to his father, and too experienced and well-known to be left at home to continue working on his other projects. He’s here to allay any concerns about the capability of the chain’s future CEO, which means following his father deferentially and saying respectful things to everyone they meet.
By the second day, his brain is both exhausted and electric, the social part overused and the academic part underused. He’s smiled politely more in the past two days than he has in the entirety of his twenty-seven years. The more widespread the hotel’s reach gets, the more cultures become involved in the business dealings, and the more pressure added to Win’s shoulders. His father began with one hotel in Bangkok, and now they have over a hundred scattered across Asia, Europe, and the Americas—with plans to expand further.
To empty his mind somewhat, Win stretches across his hotel room’s queen-size bed and scrolls through Instagram videos.
Teerayu hasn’t made any further moves. No photos liked, no comments made, no messages sent. Yesterday morning he posted a single photo of a duck with the emoji for a chicken as the caption, and Win spent more time than he’ll ever admit trying to decipher whether or not it was intended to be some sort of code toward him.
He’s decided it isn’t.
Or it is, and he has no idea how to take it.
When Win bores of Instagram, he writes Dean a text.
[ Did your husband send this Teerayu guy after me? ]
In his usual fashion, Dean doesn’t respond until twelve hours later with a single:
[ Yeah ]
Win’s eating congee for breakfast in his room, so he rolls his eyes and stabs the call button on his phone.
Dean answers on the second ring. “What?”
“He hasn’t said anything to me,” Win complains.
“Have you said anything to him?”
“What? No. That’s not how this works. He added me.”
Dean takes his time before answering. “Are you being…shy?”
Dean says, “Huh,” and hangs up.
Win says, “Asshole,” and then carries his room service tray from the table to the floor outside his room.
The third day is less intense than the previous two. By nature of it being the final day, some of their investors and clients have flights to catch, so Win spends the event standing next to his father while harried people stop them to apologize for their early departure and offer their business cards and apologies.
Dinner is served to fewer than half of the attendees from the first two nights, and yet by the time the last client leaves from the front of the hotel in a silver Lexus, Win is pretty sure he could fall asleep standing up. Everything seemed to go well, and Win’s father seems pleased, so Win forces his shoulders to relax a little. In the elevator, his father says, “I changed our flight to eleven,” with a wry smile into the mirrored doors’ reflection.
Win exhales hard and slumps back against the hand bar behind him. “Thank you,” he says sincerely.
Back in his room, he chucks his phone on the bed and doesn’t look at it again until well past eleven when he’s showered and dressed in the hotel’s complimentary pajama bottoms. He sprawls on his stomach and skims through the message notifications on his screen; there’s one from Dean about the show Win told him to watch (“It was pretty good”), over two hundred from his family chat—mostly cheerful arguing between View and Wan, and one article about the various health benefits of mung beans from their mother, and one from—
Win slides his thumb across the message notification from Teerayu. He’s taken to Instagram’s message page, where a short line changes Win’s life.
[ Do you remember me? We met at Pete and Kao’s wedding. ]
Win’s eyebrows slowly draw in as his brain first recalls the ceremony, then the post-wedding sex he had with his ex-girlfriend, then the build-up of the drive home, and then—
Win goes to Teerayu’s page and scrolls down farther than he bothered when Teerayu first added him. Sure enough, months back, there’s a single shot of him with—oh.
They did meet.
They sat at the same table. Win got him a bottle of water and then walked away when Mork showed up. With Sun staring mournfully after him from the parking lot. The memory, fuzzy and almost forgotten, comes into sharp relief detail by detail.
“I almost went to your university.”
He called Win “hia”.
But Win still can’t place the name, so he decides that Teerayu was introduced with his nickname.
He returns to the message box and responds.
[ We did. Sorry, I don’t remember your nickname. ]
There’s no immediate response, so Win pushes out of bed to finish toweling his hair dry. When he’s done, there’s only a simple response waiting, politely worded.
[ It’s Team, hia. ]
Why is Mork’s boyfriend writing him private messages on Instagram past midnight? Surely he’s not the one Pharm was talking about. Or is he? Win clicks back to Team’s page and scrolls through the few accounts he follows until yup, there’s Pharm. And Dean. And…a decent number of people Win knows.
A new message notification drops down as Win’s exploring Team’s photos for signs of his current relationship status.
[ Pharm gave me your IG handle. He pointed out how many mutual friends we have and thought we should talk. ]
Win sends back a politely-worded message, his mind whirling through a thousand different nightmare scenarios. Mork doesn’t seem like the jealous type, but even so. No one likes being cheated on, and Win’s only second date with a guy led to discovering that he was married.
…Enough of this.
Win calls Dean.
Halfway into the first ring, Dean picks up. “It’s past midnight,” he says.
“Is Team single?”
There’s an audible rustle of blankets and a soft, “Is he okay?”
Dean says, “He’s fine,” in a soft voice, and then, “Yes, he’s single, asshole,” in his best friend voice. “We’re going to sleep now. Don’t call after midnight unless you’re injured.”
Absently, Win says, “Jerk,” and hangs up.
Team hasn’t said anything more, and Win recognizes that their chat up to this point is painfully boring. It’s only half a step above Team asking what Win’s doing and Win telling him that he’s not doing much.
Now that he knows Team is single, Win’s mind moves on to other variables. There’s no telling when Team’s breakup with Mork happened. Pharm only suggested Team about a week ago, so it could’ve been quite recent. Mork is still on Team’s friends’ list, after all. Perhaps it was amicable. Who ended it? Maybe Mork did, and Team is still holding on to hope that he’ll change his mind.
How would it feel to be Team’s rebound?
It’s time to gather information through flirting.
[ It’s a shame we went so long without meeting. ]
[ I know, hia. It is. ]
As cheerfully as he can with exhaustion pummeling his brain, Win thanks the flight attendant who serves him his lunch tray. His father continues sleeping, arms folded and head lolling a little to one side, braced against the neck pillow Win gave him before takeoff. First class is full and quiet, everyone suited and solemn. The flight will take a little over an hour, and Win appears to be the only one who’s requested a meal.
While he ladles clear broth and shrimp from his tom yum soup onto his spoon, Win reviews what he learned about Team in their two hours of messaging last night.
1) Team has been friends with Pharm since their second year in university when Team became a regular, frequent commenter on Pharm’s cooking videos.
2) Team is a swimmer.
3) His public social media accounts use “Team”; the private ones use “Teerayu”.
He’s slated to compete in the next Olympics, and—according to Win’s light research—he’s taken home a slew of medals, several of them from nationals and even more from competitions as far overseas as North America and Europe.
Just before two in the morning, Team suggested meeting for coffee at Pharm’s restaurant in a few days, and Win agreed. Team sent the QR code for Win to add him to his LINE app, and then they both went to sleep after exchanging first messages there.
As the plane descends through the vapor to a spectacular view of the sun-cast buildings of Bangkok, Win rests his head on the window frame. Team isn’t just a guy; he’s Pharm’s friend. This time, there’s much more at risk, more collateral damage at stake, than just Win’s feelings.
It begs the question: should he try dating Team at all?
About a month ago, Pharm made the choice to keep the restaurant open throughout the renovation process. During the day, all the builders’ equipment is packed away and the seating area in back carefully sealed off from the main building; after closing, the builders return and work for a few hours. Progress is slow, but Pharm decided that it was more important to keep the restaurant a fixture in people’s daily routines than to close down entirely for some added efficiency.
On LINE, Team explains all of this to Win, who already knew through Dean. Team seems excited to boast about his friend, though, so Win doesn’t interrupt except to express equal admiration for the hard work Pharm has put into his passion for continuing the life of traditional food in the Modern Age.
Win leaves his motorcycle parked behind the restaurant as he always does and walks to the main entrance to meet Team. His stomach is wrenched and wrapped around itself as he considers the consequences of messing this up. Pharm and Dean would never choose sides, but they would probably show some disappointment all the same. They’d have to avoid mentioning Team’s name unless Win went out of his way to keep things conciliatory, which he’ll have to.
With a breath, Win opens the restaurant door.
Team’s hair has grown since the wedding, but that’s the only obvious change. And his clothes. Instead of the tailored tan suit Win remembers, Team’s wearing a long-sleeved black shirt underneath a soft blue T-shirt, his mid-thigh white shorts leaving his powerful, tan muscled legs on display. The sight of him smirking across the counter at Pharm makes Win wonder why he didn’t absorb the sheer level of attractiveness when they met.
It’s fortunate that Win dressed to impress, too.
The door chime alerts Pharm and Team to Win’s arrival, and from a booth in the back of the restaurant, Dean offers him a nod. Team’s body language projects comfort, his hip lazily braced on the counter. But when Win says, “Hey,” Team stands more to attention, his smirk shifting into a smile as he offers up a quick wai.
The slouching was cute, but Win decides against saying so.
Pharm beams at Win and tells them to sit wherever; they pick a table in the corner by one of the windows, somewhat shielded from view by a row of massive potted plants with thick, dark green leaves bursting from the stems.
Conversation is stilted.
Win’s hard at work studying Team. The flicker of his eyes to his own motionless hands resting on the menu; the reluctant twitch of his lips when Win says something dry; the sparkle when Pharm brings their food.
By the time Team stands to leave to meet his coach across the city, Win can’t remember anything they talked about.
Dean sits down in the chair Team’s vacated. He’s got the wary expression on, a recent addition that Win is starting to hate.
“How’d it go?” Dean asks.
That’s also new; Dean’s never needed to ask about Win’s romantic interests. Win would tell him, in detail, at length, cheerfully, until Dean put a hand over his mouth or physically tried to escape. Now he’s got the face of an animal lover sitting in the waiting room of a vet’s office waiting for word on the wounded puppy he picked up off the street.
“Fine,” Win says.
Two days later, Team invites him to a movie.
Win almost agrees until he realizes the the movie Team wants to see is horror.
After ten minutes of agonizing, Win makes up an excuse.
Team says it’s fine. [ Maybe another time. ]
Win sends back a thumbs-up stamp.
The day after that, to assuage his guilt for brushing Team off, Win sends Team a video of a cat trapping a dog under a basket.
He also sends it to Dean, who sends back a video of Pharm laughing at it.
Team replies with an animated laughing cactus stamp. They exchange a few more messages over the next hour, and then it peters off naturally.
Win imagines a few different ways he could continue the conversation, but ultimately he decides against it.
On a free day, Win goes with View to a street festival in the neighborhood near Win’s university. Taking bites from a pork skewer, Win listens to View’s breathless explanation of the series he’s obsessed with, simultaneously fond and confused. Sometimes, he interjects to ask a question, but View’s long-winded answers only lead to more ambiguity.
It’s probably his mind wandering that causes Win to notice Sun and Mork waiting in line at a booth farther down the street.
They’re standing well within each other’s space, Mork’s eyes fixed on Sun’s as they talk. Their body language seems relaxed, both holding iced coffees and smiling with well-worn familiarity.
The moment before View drags Win’s attention back, Mork smirks and subtly pulls on the hem of Sun’s shirt, and Sun grins and darts in to kiss his cheek.
Later, Win opens his Instagram and, for the first time in months, does a search for Sandee’s account. She still follows him, and he still follows her, but they haven’t interacted at all since the night he left her apartment, newly single.
She’s uploaded dozens of new photos since, and the most recent of them puts to rest his worries about how she’s doing.
In the photo, she’s lying on a knitted hammock by the beach with her eyes closed, the sun fanned over her face and bare shoulders. A familiar woman in a lavender bikini rests her cheek on Sandee’s chest, her hair loose and her drool soaked up by Sandee’s orange shirt. There’s a small rectangle of shadow on the woman’s bare back, suggesting a selfie. Sandee’s caption says: I’m not deleting it.
The first comment is from Kitty: Delete it!!!!!!
The following comment from Pete: Did you have to wring your shirt out after?
The third from June: Ewwww.
Win smiles into his arm, a spike lodging between his ribs.
He opens his LINE chat with Sandee and rereads the most recent messages from the night they broke up. Most were sent before he arrived at her apartment; only one was sent afterward, from Sandee:
[ Get home safe. ]
He holds his thumbs over the screen, but nothing comes to mind.
Ultimately he closes out of the app without sending anything.
She’s happy; that’s all he wanted to know.
Four days later, Pharm asks Win for his opinion on new menu designs. It’s the first time he’s ever consulted Win on anything to do with his restaurant. Raising an eyebrow, Win writes back,
[ Is this subterfuge, Pharm? ]
Pharm’s response is immediate.
[ Of course not! 5555 You just have good taste. ]
Playing along, Win tells him the font of the third is his favorite, but the color scheme of the second is the most eye-catching. He only has to wait a few seconds before Pharm replies:
[ Thanks! By the way, Team was here earlier. He was hoping to see you. ]
Win says, “There it is,” and snorts.
He calls Dean. “Your husband is sneaky,” he says once the call connects.
“Hello, P’Win,” Pharm says, sounding amused.
Win nearly jumps off his bed in shock.
It’s his own fault for underestimating the depth of Pharm’s stealth and underhandedness.
“Hi, Pharm,” Win says. He jabbed his own stomach with his elbow when he jumped, so he rubs the sore spot with a grimace.
Pharm gracefully moves onto his real goal. “P’Win, can I ask you something?”
Win turns his focus onto the ceiling, tracking the sparkling movement of watery light reflected from the crystal-embedded cologne bottle on his dresser. He says, “Sure,” and drops onto his back. He turns on speakerphone and places his phone next to his head. It’ll do more damage to evade the subject.
“Are you ready to see anyone seriously?”
He glances at the phone, then smiles wryly. “Do I seem not ready?” he asks. It comes out more sarcastic than he meant it to, so he says, “Sorry, Pharm,” and sighs. “I don’t know.”
Pharm says, “I’m sorry if I pressured you with Team,” with what sounds like genuine remorse. “He’s been single for about the same amount of time as you have, but I know everyone moves on at a different pace. I can tell him—”
“No,” Win says.
To his surprise, somewhere inside his mind, somewhere he was overlooking, curiosity has taken hold, and while he still sees Team on the other side of a barrier of caution tape, the idea of walking away from him is unimaginable. They’ve only met twice, and neither meeting was especially memorable, and yet—
“I like him,” Win says, slowly. “I just have to pace myself.”
Pharm says, “Okay,” and then, “Let me know if you need me to talk to him about slowing things down.”
Warmth touches Win’s heart, a natural grin curving his lips for the first time in recent memory. “Sure thing, matchmaker,” he says fondly.
Pharm laughs and doesn’t deny it.
Two days later, Win asks Team to have lunch near his office.
Win sits in his quiet apartment for hours afterward thinking of all the ways it could go wrong. As he’s falling asleep, he decides it’s still worth trying his luck. It could go terribly, but if Dean were in his place, he would tell Dean to be brave.
He’s never been good at staying on this side of the bridge anyway.
Win rarely wears a jacket to or from work, preferring to leave a few of them hanging in his office closet to slip on for meetings or important video calls. He considers wearing one of them to lunch until he realizes he’s thinking of a suit jacket as a shield. He can’t suppress the roiling in his blood as he crosses the lobby, every nerve primed for pain. Despite his determination, he can’t deny that he’s afraid.
Love isn’t guaranteed for everyone, it seems, and Win has finally realized that one can only gamble with one’s heart as long as there are pieces of it left to put on the table.
Once he’s on the street, he rolls the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows and checks his phone. Team’s found the restaurant already and proves it by sending a photo of an empty chair opposite him.
Win quirks a smile.
It’s a new Japanese place, but Win’s already been there often enough that the staff all recognize him. They have set lunch menus with some local twists on Japanese dishes, the interior decorated to resemble the neon splash of Takeshita-dori. Brightly patterned cloth separates the kitchen from the seating area, black-and-white photos of Tokyo line the walls, and dozens of tiny model train cars hold court from the windowsills.
Team has one of them in his hand as Win sits down, turning the little Kodama shinkansen car over to inspect the wheels.
He looks up at Win with a cheeky grin. “This place is great,” he says.
Team’s transparent delight pulls an amused exhale from Win. “Happy to see you kept yourself entertained,” he says, nodding at the train.
Team says, “I wanted the fastest one, but it’s over there,” and points to the windowsill two tables over. Sure enough, the ledge features a Nozomi shinkansen car. The old men in suits eating beside it don’t even seem to have noticed it, eating their meals quickly and in silence.
Win starts to stand, and Team’s playful expression drops into fear.
“What are you doing?” Team hisses.
Win says, “I’ll ask them if they mind us borrowing the train,” with an innocent lift of his eyebrows.
Team opens his mouth, realizes he’s being messed with, and mimes throwing the Kodama car at Win with a playful glare.
Like that, a door is opened.
Win asks more questions this time. He obligingly leans across the table to watch the video of Team’s latest competition and makes noises of genuine admiration for his form. Naturally, he’s seen a few on his own, but of course Team knows his best performances to show off for others. He also offers information about himself without Team asking.
“You swim?” Team asks, beaming.
It’s a little too enthusiastic compared to his tone so far, so Win eyes him with playful suspicion.
“You already knew.”
Sheepish, Team says, “Well….”
Win tilts his head, waiting.
Team shoves rice in his mouth, chews a few times, his gaze trained the passersby outside.
Win folds his hands under his chin, waiting.
Finally, Team caves and says, “I saw you at meets in university,” with a furtive glimpse at Win’s reaction.
A reaction that is, simply put, shock.
“You would have been my junior,” Win said to him at the wedding.
And the little shit replied, “That’s what I was thinking, too.”
Team sips his melon soda, his face tinged red.
“Did we meet before the wedding?” Win asks, eyes narrowed.
Team says, “Er,” and laughs. “Kind of.” He sets his chopsticks down flat on the rim of the rice bowl and clears his throat. “Your older brother and I met online when I was in university. We played this game a lot, and he mentioned his blond younger brother sometimes. And then I’d see you at meets, and…well, you kind of…y’know.”
“Stood out,” Win supplies, holding a neutral expression through willpower alone.
This is adorable.
“Yeah, that,” Team says, checking Win’s face again. “Then, uh, well. I figured out who you were, so I asked Hia Wan about you because you just seemed really, um. Nice. Cool. Then Pharm started dating P’Dean, and he invited me to hang out with all of you, but, um.”
Win’s mind, even obliterated as it is, demands he ask, “What? Why didn’t you?”
Team rubs his chin with the back of his hand. Probably a nervous tic. “Your brother said you’d just started seeing someone, and I…kind of had a crush on you, so I didn’t want to…uh. Be…around.” He doesn’t look at Win after that one, instead once more clearing his throat and reaching for his water. “You congratulated me at a few meets before you graduated, but we never really talked.”
Coincidentally, Win finds he can’t speak now around the injustice of it all; he could have dated this gorgeous man across from him as early as university? If Win had been single, maybe. If Win had paid more attention to the other competitors, maybe. If Team had gotten that full scholarship to attend Win’s university—absolutely. None of it fell into place as it could have, and it feels jarringly unfair.
As deep into his memory as he searches, Win can’t locate any memories of Team from before Pete and Kao’s wedding at all.
When Team peeks at him again, Win manages a soft, “I’m not seeing anyone now.”
Team’s smile brightens the room. “Finally.”
Win’s surprised laugh startles the diners next to them.
When Win gets back to his office, he sends four messages in rapid succession.
[ Why didn’t you tell me about Team? ] with a sad emoji.
[ Why didn’t you tell me about Team? ] with a crying emoji.
[ Why didn’t you tell me about Team? ] with an angry emoji.
[ What are you doing tomorrow night? ] with a rose emoji.
The next day, as soon as Win finishes work, he changes clothes in his office and then weaves his motorcycle through traffic to get to Lumpini Park at the time he and Team agreed on. He’s late, but so is Team, and the setting sun is only just starting to turn the sky shades of pink as they start their walk.
His brief interrogations about Team have gotten him varied responses. Wan called him to laugh for ten consecutive seconds before hanging up, and Win has chosen to ignore Dean’s tart answer (“How was I supposed to know you’d want to know him?”), but Pharm’s was characteristically sweet.
“I did tell you about Team! But if you mean why I didn’t tell you sooner, he can tell you more than I can. I’ve wanted to introduce you two for a long time, but neither of you was single at the same time until now. I hope you’re both getting along the way I hoped you would.”
Win thinks they are.
In the band shell, a free orchestral concert is winding down, their music slow and optimistic like sun-warmed honey. A sizable audience has gathered around to listen, stretched out on blankets, towels, or spots of manicured grass. Win and Team sit against the trunk of a broad palm tree, far enough away from the musicians that they can talk without needing to raise their voices.
“I should warn you,” Win says. “Dean calls me a serial monogamist.” It’s easier to say while looking up at the orange sorbet swirls in the sky, and he smiles when Team laughs.
“I know,” Team says.
Win glances at him, one eyebrow raised.
With an almost defiant smile, Team says, “Every year or so, I asked your brother about you, and you were always seeing someone.” He folds his arms around his knees and notches his chin on top. “Then when you were single, I was seeing someone. Always missed the gap in between.”
Win imagines Team complaining about it to Pharm, and he masks a smile through willpower alone.
“You managed it this time,” Win points out.
Team smiles into his knees. “True.” Without turning his head, he side-eyes Win. “Is this a date, then?”
Criminally cute, this man.
Win says, “I was thinking of it as one,” and bumps Team’s shoulder with his own. “Should I stop?”
“No,” Team says, resolute.
Win forgets to look away, and when Team finally meets his eyes directly, Win’s frenetic mind has finally settled. For a moment, he thinks, Oh, and then Team says, “Do you want to walk some more?”
So they do.
It’s dark when the park closes, but Win has been busy scheming. They’re immersed in a game of trading likes and dislikes, Team’s eyes lively and bright with interest, so Win decides to start leading Team on foot to his family’s hotel. On the way, he asks, “Can I buy you a drink?” and Team says, “Sure,” with the worst-disguised grin the world has ever seen.
As they walk through the lobby together, Win wonders if Team is taking notice of the staff taking notice of Win. Team never said if Wan told him what their family does—but knowing Wan, probably not. In the elevator, Team makes a show of counting the floor numbers in silence, and Win elbows him for his nonsense. Rebellious, Team continues mouthing the words through laughter while Win snorts and pretends he’s too mature for this.
When the doors open on the thirtieth floor to a trio of elderly guests in traditional formalwear, Win’s got his hand over Team’s mouth and Team is laughing and trying to bite him.
With slightly more decorum, Win and Team separate and hastily exit the elevator, offering quiet apologies as they pass. Team whispers, “Why’d we come here anyway?” as he peeks over his shoulder. The lounge floor is surrounded by an infinity pool outside the building, and Win assumes that’s what Team is so enamored by.
He makes a mental note to bring him to the rooftop pool for their second date; it closes at ten, but Win himself has taken advantage of his position in order to swim up there as late as three in the morning.
“They know me here,” Win offers by way of explanation.
They’re seated by a staff person who addresses Win formally and familiarly.
Team eyes him suspiciously from the lounge door all the way to the table they’re shown to by one of the windows. The staff person courteously pulls open an expensive folding screen to shield them from view, and Win answers Team’s baffled frown with a serene smile.
“Problem?” he asks.
Team says, “How rich are you?” he asks, unabashedly blunt.
Win belts out a surprised laugh, then grins at him with unfettered fondness. “I don’t think that’s first date talk,” he teases.
“Third date,” Team says.
Deeply entertained, Win wonders aloud, “How did we go from ‘is this a date?’ to ’third date’ in the span of a few hours?”
Team raises his eyebrows in challenge. “You’re trying to change the subject,” he says.
“I’m trying to figure out your personal numbering system.”
“Aren’t you going to answer my question, hia? I know you and P’Dean met at a family business thing, and his family owns a ship.”
“Yacht,” Win corrects.
“How do you know how we met, anyway?”
Team says, “I asked,” while forcing an innocent expression. When Win just stares at him, unfooled, Team grimaces in annoyance. “Listen,” he says, “I thought you were going to ghost me after you said no to the movie, and I wasn’t going to give up my first shot with you. So I asked P’Dean to tell me more about you.”
Team’s earnest annoyance catches Win off-guard and shoves him onto his back foot. “I wasn’t going to ghost you,” he says.
Team clearly doesn’t believe him.
Win’s not sure he believes himself.
“If you’d picked a different movie, I would’ve gone,” Win says, an ornery note in his voice that takes him by surprise.
Team blinks. “What?”
To distract him, Win discreetly catches the eye of a server standing just to the side of the folding screen. A few minutes later, the server has taken their drink orders, made friendly conversation with Win, and headed back to the bar.
Team smirks across the table at him and says, “Nice try,” and Win thinks, Damn it.
He tries to maintain ignorance.
Then Team says, “Are you afraid of horror, hia?”
“Isn’t that the point of the whole genre?” Win retorts. “To be afraid?”
“Why didn’t you suggest another movie, then?”
“Because,” Win says, and then he wisely shuts up. I was trying to avoid dealing with this is too close to I was ghosting you for Win’s comfort.
It seems, however, that Team has a knack for reading people. “Uh huh,” he says, knowingly.
Win doesn’t know if he should apologize. He doesn’t know Team; he didn’t owe him a date. But if he’s going to manage transparency with Team moving forward—
“Most of my money comes from working for my family,” Win says.
Team assesses him with amusement. “Okay.”
“They own a hotel chain.”
Team balks. “What?”
“Mm.” Win gestures around them with a placid kind of air. “This one.”
Somehow, perfectly on cue, the server returns with their drinks, so Team has to wait in incredulous silence, staring at Win, until he walks away. It’s in that same silence that Win realizes he’s out of his depth. He’s never revealed this much so quickly with his exes, and certainly never to anyone he’s hooked up with. He’s never taken anyone to a hotel owned by his family before—not even the women he’s dated.
He’s left behind the road society paved for him, but he’s not sure when, and he has no idea where he is now.
Team proceeds to interrogate him about his family, and Win answers easily enough. He’s got nothing to hide—it’s all information Team could get online with the right key words into any search engine. It’s a little unnerving for Win to realize that he likes Team the way he liked Sandee on their first date: effortlessly and playfully.
Team is clever and cute like Sandee is, with the same bite and sarcasm that keeps Win guessing. Team is also gorgeous, but in a very, very different way from Sandee.
He’s unapologetically blunt about it, for one thing. His eyes drift again and again over Win’s face, pausing often on his mouth, and every time, the slow drag of his gaze back up to Win’s is unmistakably heated.
There’s an unspoken understanding between queer men, Win’s found. They identify each other and what they’re looking for with longer-than-usual eye contact, accidentally-on-purpose touches, and other subtleties men aren’t socially conditioned to exchange with each other, so they stand out just enough to be noticed by someone actively looking for them.
Since this is his first-or-third date with Team, he doesn’t need any of those indications. Team has been broadcasting his interest with confidence bordering on impatience from the start, and it’s all Win can do to keep his own interest contained until he knows how to handle whatever’s developing between them.
Because Win’s never slept with a woman this fast before; he’s always assumed they’ll mistrust his intentions if he did, and he’s always wanted them to believe how nuanced a relationship he wants. He was so careful; he tried to be considerate.
He’s never done that with men.
But maybe he should have?
Maybe that’s what he's been doing wrong.
Or maybe he’s just not meant to find someone.
Team says, “Hia Win,” in a soft, familiar voice. Like he’s said it a thousand times, like he’s just happy to say it aloud.
Win meets his eyes.
“I’m just thinking about the time,” Team says. His phone screen is lit up; it’s nearly eleven.
That answers that, then. Win nods and catches the eye of the server, who nods and leaves to add the charges to his account. A trickle of relief spreads inside his ribcage.
Then Team asks, “Do you wanna come over and watch something?” and it’s clear by the steady eye contact what he means.
Win can’t think of a way to say no that won’t come across as a rejection after all of this without explaining his entire thought process and thereby giving away his fracturing mental state. What he wants to do is project a self-assured image to Team and then work quickly on making it a reality for him; no one will take him as he is, after all. He has to sell his future self, not who he is now.
So he says yes, and as Win follows Team’s car on his motorcycle, he thinks carefully about every hookup he can remember. He treated every one so casually, like he was refueling on the run or dashing down a quick drink to ward off stress. He can’t treat Team like that. But he also can’t approach this the way he did with his girlfriends, either. He doesn’t know Team well enough yet to give him romance and tenderness.
What’s the middle ground?
Team’s apartment building is on the dingy side, and the road around it has enough potholes that Win needs to focus or risk getting thrown from his bike. He passes Team’s parked car and finds a spot farther up the block that looks safe enough to leave his baby alone for a while.
When he walks back, Team’s waiting for him by the front, focused on his phone screen.
“Sorry,” Team says with a wry smile. “Not a great area.”
Win shakes his head; he knows what a professional swimming career pays. From what Win’s heard and read, Team’s been successful, but if he’s smart, he’s saving the majority of his winnings.
Team’s apartment is on the eleventh floor, a one-bedroom in name that’s actually a studio with a partial wall separating the “bedroom” from the rest of the layout. His kitchen area is a narrow counter and sink built into the wall, his living room has a couch and a TV, and his bedroom is just a bed and a freestanding rack of clothes by the window. It’s sparse but tidy and smells pleasantly of plugin air freshener.
Team has him against the wall before the door’s closed behind them.
Win breathes in with a sharp gasp right before Team’s mouth slides over his, urgent and demanding. Team’s hands press over Win’s stomach and move lower, relentless.
It screams hookup.
And by sunrise, he’ll be alone again.
Win shoves Team back by the shoulders, his breath trembling.
Team stares back at him, baffled.
“I’m sorry,” Win says. He sounds shaky, nervous, and that’s it. His facade is shattered. “I-I’m really sorry.”
But Team’s face reflects some of that nervousness. He says, “No, no,” and sucks in a deep breath. He puts both hands through his hair, studying Win where he’s still flat against the wall. He says, “Maybe we should…talk.”
He says it like he doesn’t know if it’s what Win wants, so Win nods.
They agree in silence to sit on the couch. Team hasn’t turned on the lights, but there’s more than enough light pollution pouring in through the window that Team’s face is clearly painted in shades of blue and gray.
“I think I misread some things,” Team says. He’s facing Win with his feet up on the cushions, his arms wound around his knees. He’s had such self-assurance all night, and Win decimated every bit of it in five seconds. “I didn’t mean to ambush you like that. I guess I thought we were on the same page.”
Win says, “Well, in all fairness, I…was trying to give that impression.”
“It worked,” Team says, dry.
Win lets out an amused exhale.
Well. Fuck it.
“Can I ask you something people aren’t supposed to ask on a date with someone?”
Team doesn’t laugh or smile. He just nods, far too trusting, far too fast.
For that reason alone, Win almost doesn’t ask. But his curiosity tips the scales, and he asks, “Why did your relationship with Mork end?”
It clearly isn’t something Team was expecting, but he doesn’t seem put off by it. He licks his lips, breathes in deep, and considers what he’s going to say for a long, long time. Finally, when it’s starting to seem like he doesn’t want to answer after all, Team says, “He’d always loved someone else, and he finally admitted it to himself.”
Win makes a soft noise in the back of his throat. He wants to settle his palm between Team’s shoulder blades and smooth over the slope of vertebrae, but he keeps his hands tensely folded on his lap.
Team quirks a smile. “I’m okay,” he says. “We’d only been dating for a year, and it was pretty casual. Neither of us was that upset about it, and we’re still friends.”
Win doesn’t know what to say to that. A year-long relationship is a long time for him. A month is long—more than enough time to know what he admires about the person, and even what he could grow to love one day. A year is double the time it usually takes Win to think, Maybe this time.
Team says, “I just hesitated because…none of my relationships have been serious,” with a wry smile. “And I don’t want you to think I’m not, uh, serious. Now. About you.”
Win memorizes the black symbols on Team’s athletic socks. He can’t bring himself to look up at Team’s face. The raw hope in his heart has reignited so quickly it feels more painful than exciting, and he doesn’t know what Team will see if he looks at him now.
“Can I try kissing you again?” Team asks. “Or are you good?”
Win nods without raising his head.
One day, a long time from now, Team will tell Win for the first time how afraid he was to kiss him that second time because of how broken and pale Win looked. How Team had had no idea what Win’s nod had meant. Only when Team slid his hand behind Win’s neck under his hair and got him to make eye contact did Team feel comfortable enough to close the gap and kiss Win more sweetly.
Win will tell him that ”broken” is a little dramatic.
Team will say no, it wasn’t, completely serious.
Then Win will kiss Team’s forehead and whisper, “Thank you for being so patient with me, baby.”
Because ultimately, there will be no single epiphany for Win about Team.
There’ll be no moment of clarity that outshines his fear.
Instead, there will be a long, lonely, uncertain walk across a foggy bridge with slippery, rotted planks underfoot. There’ll be no guarantee of a safe arrival to the other side and no promise that that side is worth getting to. He’ll just push himself to keep taking one grim step after another, and whenever the sun breaks through the clouds from time to time, it’ll bring with it flashes of certainty and courage.
Some days, Win’s learned anxiety will lay ruin to his hard-won peace of mind like a cursed cyclone. Team will unknowingly say or do something that mirrors an ex days before a breakup, and Win will distance himself, ducking a punch that no one threw. Team won’t notice until he does, and realizing how it’s hurting Team will make Win force himself to pay more attention to Team than his doubts.
Eventually, Win will wonder if he’s reached solid ground. If the bridge is behind him. He’ll drift into pessimistic thoughts out of habit rather than by following any evidence, and he’ll be able to let them go. He’ll travel overseas and have dinner with Team when he comes back, and he’ll make no connection to his breakup with Sandee at all.
He’ll think back to lying in bed with Team that first night and remember with wonder how tenuous his hope felt then compared to the all-consuming brilliance it will grow into.
Right now, though, at 3:44am on a Wednesday, sprawled fully clothed in Team’s bed, that hope feels immense. Bright enough to encourage Win to move from one plank to the next, both hands on the frayed rope, forging ahead into an opaque fog.
In sleep, Team, also fully clothed, nudges his head under Win’s chin. He exhales through his nose against Win’s chest, sounding content, and it feels like being needed. Appreciated. Wanted.
Win smiles, uncomplicated joy unfurling from a shell in his heart, and he shifts incrementally until the gap between them is seamless.
For a moment, he’s completely unafraid.
He finally knows what it feels like to fit.