Pat doesn’t sleep that night. He doesn’t know how anyone could be expected to get even a minute’s rest in these circumstances, but that awareness doesn’t prevent the bags under his eyes or his urge to skip classes entirely for the day. The latter isn’t as strange of an occurrence, to be fair, but it’s stronger a desire this morning than ever.
At around 5:30 Pat’s sleep deprived mind had even suggested that, if he isn’t going to sleep anyway, he may as well get up to wait outside Pran’s door to be there the second opened it. Pat then considered Pran’s reaction to what he would view as an ambush and swiftly brushed off the idea.
Even so, all he could wonder while stock-still in bed was whether Pran were in any state similar to Pran, or if he were worse. He didn’t want Pran to be hurting; just the thought made Pran’s stomach ache. But as true as that may be, Pat knew that there was nothing to be done about it until daylight.
However, daylight arrived and he blinked dry eyes as his first alarm went off. It normally takes at least three slams of the Snooze for Pat to be roused, but today he just switches off the buzzer, far too piercing in what has been hours of weary silence, and gets up. He even picks up the blankets that he’d kicked to the floor in his restlessness and does a haphazard make of his bed, simply because he can’t help picturing Pran’s scrunched nose if he were to see Pat leave it all strewn about.
On his way out the door, he passes the brown bag he’d left there the night prior, a repayment Pran likely won’t accept anytime soon, and sighs. He checks his phone as it beeps to find a message from his sister.
You’re probably not up yet, but how’d it go with your confession?? You told her, right????
Pat frowns at the screen. Unsure what to say, he turns it off instead.
Pat finds Pran at their bus-stop. It feels like no time has passed since the night they’d laid beside one another on the pavement here, close but not close enough for Pat in a way he hadn’t ever examined. Pran’s smile, always pulled from him unwillingly but so sweet, is as clear as day in Pat’s memory. Pran is here again, his hands shoved into his pockets as he stares up at the structure that they’d all put their every effort into crafting. He should be smiling, but his face is blank.
“Pran.” Pat can see how Pran’s back tenses at the sound, and his heart squeezes that bit more. Pran doesn’t say a word, just goes to walk right around Pat. Pat reaches for his arm on reflex, turning Pran to look at Pat even slightly. “Pran,” Pat says again, his voice taking on an involuntary hint of desperation.
Pran takes his arm back, not roughly. He just seems tired, and it’s almost worse than if he were shouting in Pat’s face to fuck off.
“Can we talk?”
“Don’t see why,” Pran replies.
“I texted you an hour ago to meet by the coffee shop, and you didn’t answer.”
“So why are you here?”
“Cuz Korn posted about the bus-stop and where else would its creator be on its opening day?”
“I didn’t reply to your message because I don’t want to talk to you; I didn’t go to the shop because I don’t want to see you. Leave me alone, Pat.”
Pran walks away, hands still stuck deep in his pockets, and Pat is at a loss once again.
“Hey, Pat,” Ink swings into the seat across from Pat, smile bright. He wants to be as cheery as she always seems to be, like she has no worries in the world. “How was your big celebration?”
“We lost,” he reminds her, not bitterly.
“So? You can still celebrate how amazing you guys were regardless.” She tilts her head. “Did you not end up going out then?”
Pat shrugs. “We did. I only hung around for a couple hours before I left though.”
“Okaaay.” She examines him again and says, not a question, “Something happened.”
Ink gives him a look. “What qualifies as ‘something’ to you?”
“A large-scale robbery,” Pat suggests. Ink flattens her lips into an unamused line. “Got into it with Pran,” Pat admits, laconic.
“Like, for real? Not to put on the act?”
“Yeah, no, it was… it was for real. It was… pretty bad. I didn’t think so; I thought…” Pat shakes his head, tapping his pen against his notebook. “I don’t know.”
Ink nods slowly. “So, have you talked to him?”
“I tried to earlier. He blew me off.”
“Pat, what did you do?”
“I told you, I don’t think I did anything! Not until after — ” Pat stops as Ink prompts him to continue. “It doesn’t matter what, just — I don’t get why he’s pissed, or whatever it is, and if he won’t talk to me I can’t figure it out and apologise.”
“Does what happened have anything to do with whatever you couldn’t tell me yesterday, at the festival?”
“Sort of. Yeah.”
“Did last night make it worse?”
Ink raps her nails against the case of her phone, then pauses. “I might have something.”
Pat perks up. “Huh? What is it?”
“Don’t get excited yet,” Ink says, opening her messages. “He can say no.”
“No to what?” Pran asks as he tries to look at her screen.
“Plans for this weekend.”
It’s a testament to his respect for Ink that finds Pran nearly two hours away from home. His options had been to either drive himself down in a car he doesn’t have, or get a ride with a few of the others in the group. Ink was kind enough to make a couple switches so that Pran could be with her and feel a little less awkward about his last-minute addition to the project.
Once they’ve arrived, Ink claps her hands and calls for everyone to get things started on set while they wait for the rest of their team. With that she turns to Pran, who is just trying to remain out of the way.
“Thank you for agreeing to this,” Ink says sincerely.
“Yeah, no problem. I’m glad to help.”
Ink smiles but the expression freezes slightly on her face when she catches sight of something behind Pran. He glances behind himself to see Pat arriving with the others in Ink’s project group.
Pran tries not to let what he feels show, but he must not do too well because Ink says, “I’m sorry, about all this.”
“I already said, it’s okay.”
“I mean, about you and Pat.” Pran’s eyes widen a little and Ink is quick to go on. “I don’t know what happened, exactly. I just… Pat wanted to talk to you, and we needed a replacement for Lay.” Pran looks down. “But, Pran, I won’t let him near you this weekend if you say the word. Promise. It’s the least I can do for meddling this much.”
“No, it’s… I can handle it.”
Ink doesn’t appear convinced, but is forced to wrap it up when an assistant comes requesting her help. “Okay, just let me know if you need a lifeline, okay?” she tells Pran.
“Sure,” he says as she bustles off. Before Pran can make himself scarce, Pat drops in front of him, hands in the back pockets of his jeans. “Are you that desperate that you have to trap me here just to talk?” Pran demands. It’s mostly against his will, the blame falling on Pat’s infuriating behaviour.
“If you would’ve talked to me at home, I wouldn’t have had to trap you here,” Pat rejoins, that cursed smirk in place. “But now I have the whole weekend.”
“I’m sure you think this is hilarious, but it isn’t,” Pran says, taking slight pleasure in how Pat seems to falter at Pran’s bluntness. “I had to cancel my plans to visit my parents because I thought a friend needed me, when really it was just you being selfish because you didn’t get your way, the same as always.”
Pat is clearly at a loss for words, but Pran doesn’t bother to wait for him to find them. For the third time, he walks off and Pat thinks for a moment that it may be time to reevaluate his tactics.
Pran is just exiting the bathroom, pajamas on, when Pat walks through the door. Affronted by his sudden appearance, Pran gapes at him.
“What the hell is this?”
Pat shifts on his feet with a vague gesture to the spare bed, where Pran’s roommate had left his things. Pran’s stomach flips as he realises that the roommate is, in fact, Pat.
“You’re kidding me,” Pran says flatly. “I assume this was at your request, right?” Pat’s guilty expression tells Pran all he needs to know. Pat shakes his head and goes for the door. Without looking back, he says, “If you want to keep your arms attached to your body, I wouldn’t follow me out.”
Pran storms out to the water, having nowhere else to go. He takes a seat on a nearby bench and takes a moment to breathe and just feel the cool air on his face. He leans back against the bench, tousling his hair in frustration. Pat isn’t short on audacity, that’s for damn sure.
He hears a movement from the right and is about to tell Pat to fuck right off, but opens his eyes to Ink stood there.
“He must’ve asked Gawin to switch rooms,” Pran confirms.
Ink winces as she takes a seat next to Pran. “He’s stubborn, I’ll give him that.”
“A donkey’s ass is more accurate.”
Pran shakes his head, eyes on the sky. “He’s always been like that. He doesn’t ever think; he just runs ahead, and I’m the one who has to deal with the mess he leaves behind. I have no idea what he thought he’d accomplish by dragging me here.”
A couple seconds pass listening to the crickets, then Ink says, “I know it’s not my business, what happened…”
“See, Pat said the same thing, and now we’re here,” Ink says, making Pran look away. “Pran… Pat confessed to me yesterday, when the votes were being counted.” Pran’s eyes dart back to Ink at that, taken aback, and she nods slowly. “Yeah. You know from a while ago I don’t like him that way, that hasn’t changed. I said as much, and Pat didn’t seem super upset.
“I didn’t want to pry so I just let it go, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the way he’d been staring at you that entire day — and even before that, if we’re being honest.”
Pran returns to the room where Pat is already in bed. He’d left the lamp on, illuminating Pat’s sleeping features with dim light, and if Pran were a romantic he’d say Pat left the lamp on for Pran. But what’s more likely is Pat passed out before turning it off and knew Pran would do it himself. Either way, Pran, of course, will do as expected. He does pause, though, with his finger on the off switch, attention having fallen to Pat’s face.
If it were you, would you like me? Pat had asked, eyes earnest. Pran hadn’t needed a mirror to know his own face must have been pale as snow, what with his heart all but gone frozen in his chest.
Pran shakes his head and turns off the light.
After a few minutes have passed, Pat opens his eyes to look at Pran. It’s dark and his eyes haven’t adjusted, but as it normally is with Pran it’s enough just to know that he’s close by. He had suggested being friends in a split second having convinced himself that would be enough, but one look from Pran had crumbled Pat’s resolve. And the way he’d looked after their kiss, like it was the end of everything, in such juxtaposition to Pat’s complete elation.
Maybe tonight and despite everything, with only a night-table between them instead of two rooms, Pat will be able to sleep.
By some miracle, he does. Pat wakes up to an empty room and resigns himself to a day alone. He cleans up and walks back into the bedroom with a hand-towel, where he discovers Pran at the desk.
“Songwriting.” Pat nods slowly, sitting atop his bed to dry his hair. Neither says anything for a beat, then Pran goes on, hesitant, “Ink mentioned a walking path on the drive down. Thought I’d check it out.”
“If you don’t have anything better to do, you could come along.”
Pat nearly jumps to his feet at the words, but he focuses his energy into a ginormous smile and fist pump instead. He can’t answer right away, which prompts Pran to glance at him. Pat looks down to hide his embarrassing smile lest Pran rescind the invitation.
“Works for me,” Pat manages to say.
“Those notes you’re taking, is it for the song you’d planned for the Festival?”
Pran shrugs. “I’m sort of at a wall with it. But writing is 99 percent throwing shit at that wall and hoping something sticks, so it’s nothing new.” He side-eyes Pat. “You’re lucky you’ve never been the designated songwriter.”
“Hey, being the co-writer isn’t all that much easier, especially when you’re involved.”
Pran shakes his head at the teasing and walks on ahead. He pauses in his steps when he notices the truck up ahead hasn’t moved in the time they’ve been walking closer.
“I think they’re in trouble,” Pat says, already on his way. “Hello! Sir!”
“Pat, don’t just — ” Pran hisses. “You don’t know them!”
Pat lifts his eyebrows at Pran over his shoulder. “You haven’t ever been the type to abandon someone in need of help, friend or not.”
Pran makes a face, aware that he’s been outwitted by the engineer, and huffs as Pat grins and makes for the truck. Pran follows after, without much choice.
“Sir, is something wrong?” Pat asks.
“Well, the engine gave out about ten minutes ago,” the man says. “My boy’s not big enough to push it from behind, and without my cell…”
“Me and my friend here’d be happy to push the truck for you,” Pat says.
“Between the two of us, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Pran assures him. “You can get back in to work the engine, just let us know when you’re good to go.”
“This is a huge help, thank you both.” The boys nod and the man returns to the driver’s seat. Pran strips off his overshirt, dropping it and his bag onto the grass beside the road. When he stands upright, he sees Pat grinning stupidly.
“Hey, kid, maybe you should help me instead of him,” Pat teases, making the boy laugh as Pran delivers a solid thwack to Pat’s shoulder. He winces, though he makes a silly face at the boy all the same, eliciting more laughter.
“All set?” the man calls back to them.
“Sure thing!” Pran answers.
The engine sputters to life for a second, loses it, and this goes on for a minute while the boys go on heaving with all their might, the man’s son cheering in the truck bed as they do.
“Maybe this would be easier without him sitting inside,” Pran says between his teeth.
“Or maybe you need to take up weights, Khun Pran,” Pat counters, smirking.
With a last shove, the truck goes off at a steady pace down the path, and the group bursts into cheers.
“We did it!” Pat exclaims, beaming. He and Pran high-five each other, Pran’s hands flying up to Pat’s shoulders in excitement. Holding Pran close by his elbows, Pat nearly pulls him into a hug, if only to see if he would be allowed, but Pran hurriedly steps back from Pat to brush invisible dust from his clothes.
Not too far off and to everyone’s dismay, the engine begins to cough before going dead.
“So much for that,” Pran mumbles.
Pat runs up for the truck, Pran on his heels, and says, “We walked from a resort not 10 minutes behind us. I can run back and call a tow out for you guys.”
“You’ve done a lot as it is,” the man says.
“Not much,” Pran says, “considering with our help you’re back where you started, give or take a few wah.”
“It’s no big deal,” Pat adds.
The man considers, craning his neck as though he’d be able to see the resort if he squinted enough. He sighs. “Alright, it makes more sense that I go to give them our information myself.”
“Pha, are you sure you can go that fast?” the boy asks. “We’ll never get to Auntie’s.”
“Oi, Tom! Have some faith in your old dad,” the man says, leaning into the truck to ruffle his son’s hair. “I’ll be back in a flash. Don’t scare these boys off. You two, go on and sit on the bed if you’d like; it’s cleaner than the ground, promise.”
Pran retrieves his belongings off the grass and pulls his shirt back on as the boy pushes down the back of the truck. Ever the gentleman, Pat puts out a hand for Pran to climb in. Pran adjusts the lapels of his shirt with a fair bit of attitude but does climb in beside Tom. Pat goes around to lean near the driver’s side, and Tom asks why he’d rather stand than sit.
Pat flexes an arm and pats the bicep there. “With muscle like this, the truck would collapse under my weight.”
Tom laughs, while Pran shakes his head. “What’re you doing out here anyway?” Tom asks them.
“I thought a morning walk would be nice,” Pran says, “but that mass of muscle over there crashed it. I was about to make a run for it when we saw you and your dad needed help.”
“What a hero,” Pat says, hand to his chest. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that bit about ditching me.”
“What did he do to make you want to run away?” Tom asks Pran.
Pat catches Pran’s hesitation and says, “You know, actually, I want to leave him , but I feel sorry for him. He doesn’t have many friends, aside from me.” Pran scoffs at Pat’s obvious exaggeration, but Pat is already moving onto the next thing. “What about you? Big plans with your Auntie today, huh?”
“Me, Auntie Tiva, and P’Ploy are going to the market to find a toy!”
“It must be fun to have a cousin you can play with too,” Pran observes, and Tom’s eyebrows furrow. “P’Ploy? Isn’t she your cousin?”
“No! Her and Auntie Tiva are married.”
Caught out by the boy’s easy explanation, Pran for some reason can’t come up with a response. His gaze lands on Pat in a silent request for help, and Pat jumps in without any trouble.
“Tom, what d’you think you’ll find at the market?” he asks, making his eyes wide and interested. “I always try to find those lanterns…”
It isn’t long after that Pran and Pat wave off the tow-truck, Tom and his father inside. They look at each other, unsure what to do now, and Pat claps his hands together as they start the walk back for the resort.
“I could go for a huge lunch right now, after all that grueling work.”
Pran rolls his eyes. “If you consider pushing a truck for less than a minute and babysitting ‘grueling,’ I don’t think you’re as incredible of an athlete as you claim to be to random kids.”
Pat grins, but doesn’t interrupt Pran’s quiet for the remainder of the walk. He peels off for the beach once they get there, pleased when he hears Pran ask where he’s going.
“If I can’t have the lunch I want, I might as well have a swim,” Pat calls, saluting on his way.
He doesn’t go in the water, however, just sits down to let it distract him. He’d mostly needed a moment to breathe away from his feelings, being as centered as they are with Pran.
This is proven null when the architect himself says, “I thought you wanted to swim,” as he walks toward Pat.
“I didn’t have the energy.” He looks up at Pran, blinking sweetly. “You could always buy me lunch to fix that.”
Pat shrugs, looking again at the water. He feels a bump to his arm and looks over to see that Pran has offered him a bottle of Oishi tea, Pat’s favourite flavour.
“That’ll do!” He takes a long sip, genuinely thirsty after the hour and a half they’d spent on the path. He gets to his feet and stretches his arms to the sky.
“What’s happening right now?”
“I have all the energy I need, thanks to you,” Pat says happily.
“After a single sip?” Pran asks, incredulous. Pat nods, enthusiastic, and offers Pran his hands. Pran’s stare goes between Pat’s face and his wiggling fingers. “I don’t want to swim,” he says.
“You can just put your feet in.”
“Pran. It’s no fun to just sit here.”
Pran huffs out a breath, but accepts Pat’s hands to be tugged up. To nobody’s surprise except Pran’s, Pat doesn’t wait to lock Pran in his arms and heaves him toward the water.
“Ai’Pat! Pat, I don’t want to go in! Ai’Pat — ” Pran isn’t sure whether to shove Pat away or hold on for dear life as a wave washes into their waists, unbalancing Pran on his legs. “Pat, I’m not kidding!”
Being the villain that he is, Pat cackles and runs off down the sand to let Pran fend for himself. He splashes behind as Pran gives chase, shouting as they go. Pran isn’t sure when his curses turn into laughter, but it’s around the time he launches from the water onto the dryland, arms outstretched to put Pat in a chokehold. He’d expected that with the momentum and general instability of sand that Pat would go down without resistance, but it turns out that he kind of is as much the mass of muscle he claimed to be. He catches Pran easily to his chest, Pran’s arms harmlessly draped over Pat’s shoulders to get a steadying grip on his back.
It’s by sheer luck, probably — nothing to do with Pat’s aforementioned muscles —that they don’t crumple to the ground on impact. They just stand there, eyes wide on each other in their proximity.
“Pran,” Pat dares to speak, and Pran immediately disentangles himself to put some distance between them. He drops onto the sand, knees pulled up, and habitually ruffles his wet hair. Pat sits to his left, but doesn’t talk.
“I… What are we doing, Pat?” Pran asks, eventually, a rhetorical statement. “I’m just — I’m not… I don’t know. I’m not sure about any of this.”
“I like you,” Pat says, firm. “That’s one thing you don’t have to be unsure of right there.” Pran looks over at Pat, whose smile is subtle but sincere, and he has to look away.
“Two days ago you liked Ink,” Pran points out.
“Yeah, I did. Or I thought I did. I like to be with her, she’s funny and cool to be around.” Pat lifts his shoulders, looking out at the water. “But I don’t know. In a weird way, when she rejected me, I felt more relieved than hurt. Like, I would’ve been more panicked if she’d actually said she likes me back. She’s more like a sister than I’d realised. I act with her how I act with Pha, in a lot of ways. I just tried to make it more than it is, I guess.” Pat looks at Pran, his smile crinkling his eyes softly. “You’re different.”
“What, not sisters then?” Pran asks, sarcasm coming through as his usual defense.
Pat doesn’t flinch, remaining serious as he says, “You’re you,” and Pran shuts his mouth. “I didn’t ever know what to make of that feeling until Pha started going off about what it means to like someone, to really like them. All the stuff she’d said to look for with Ink… I’d already had it all with you.” Pat smirks a little. “Turns out not wanting you to share a room with another guy or finding excuses to see you every day was a little more than ‘just friend’ behaviour. My bad.”
Overwhelmed, Pran tries to collect his thoughts. It’s a tall order, but he does manage to string together a few words. “Okay,” he starts. “But what does that all mean?”
“It means being together,” Pat says, like it’s obvious. “I like you, and you like — ”
“Pat, our feelings aren’t enough when even stronger feelings of hate have existed between our parents for two decades,” Pran says. “And now with our friends, opposing faculties who can hardly stand to be in the same room without starting a fight?” Pran shakes his head. “How the hell can we be together when everyone we’d care to tell would be against us?”
“Why does it have to be about anyone else?”
Pran looks at him. “Pat…”
“Pran, I’m not kidding,” Pat insists. He takes a breath. “I’ve been trying to get it, and I think I know why you walked away that night.” Pran waits. “You’re telling yourself there’s too much in our way to bother trying. Right?”
Pran can’t answer, recalling the night before.
“I’ve done enough meddling for a lifetime, and probably the next too,” Ink says, “but is there any reason why you’re so against talking to Pat?”
Pran keeps his attention on the water, because it’s easier. “Our families have never gotten along, you know that. In a backwards way, that’s only ever brought me and Pat closer. But that’s all it is. Backwards. Whatever I want — whatever… whatever the hell is going on in that head of Pat’s… We know how things have always been, we know how it will end if we try. Isn’t it just… Isn’t it better not to start at all? No one gets hurt.”
“That might be true,” Ink agrees, nodding thoughtfully. “But, I mean, just from where I’m standing, everything that’s happening now — you both seem to be hurting anyway.” She lets this sit for a second, where Pran looks at his hands for lack of anything better. “Seems to me you’ve already started. Why not just see it through?”
Sitting here now, Pran’s thoughts are as tangled as they’d been then.
He looks so melancholic that Pat wants badly to take his hand, but he doesn’t want to risk stressing Pran out further, so he just stretches his arms behind himself to recline. “Look, I… I know it isn’t you to just — stop caring about other people, what they think,” Pat says. “But this is between me and you. Not our friends, definitely not our parents.”
Pran fiddles with his fingers. “I don’t know that I can be in a relationship my parents would actively fight me on, Pat,” he says quietly. “The whole world can be against it, but to not have even my parents on my side… And if it doesn’t work out — ” Pat makes a face, but Pran pushes on, “if it doesn’t work, Pat, we’ve gone and told them, for what? They’re furious and never trust us again, even after?”
Pat bites the inside of his cheek as he thinks. There’s a million things he wants to say to alleviate Pran’s fears but they’re mostly platitudes, so he settles with, “Should we give it a try for a while?”
“Let’s try going out. If it becomes something we want to tell people about, we can worry about it then.”
Pran looks very nearly swayed, but his face scrunches. “But we still don’t — ”
“Pran,” Pat interjects gently, “for right now, just for tonight, can you do me a favour?” Pran doesn’t give an immediate dissent, and Pat is encouraged. He can’t help smiling. “Go on a date with me.”
Startled, Pran flushes and looks away, lip bitten down.
The date, as it turns out, is a night at the outdoor market the boy Tom had told them about. The lights are beautiful and it’s full of people, lively and vibrant in every way, and even someone as stoic as Pran can’t disguise his enjoyment as they visit.
So Pat asks Pran if he’d like something from every booth they stop at, only for Pran to deny wanting anything, as is his character. He doesn’t want the fruit Pran pretends to juggle, a laugh earned from the vendor at Pat’s antics; he doesn’t want a stuffed animal or any of the flower bouquets. Pran observes it all with interest, but doesn’t ever light up the way Pat wants him to. It may be time for more drastic measures. Pat takes the opportunity to test the waters of what Pran likes — or more realistically won’t berate him for aside from a mild comment.
It’s as they’re walking that Pat carefully twines his fingers with Pran’s, half expecting him to leap across the pavement and swear. But although Pran does go still for a second, looking around like his parents are nearby, he settles down and keeps Pat’s hand tightly. This is much more like it.
It’s dark, though, and Pat can see Pran is slowing down a bit. He squeezes his hand. “Hey,” he says, “let’s head back.”
“We’ve seen it all, and they close soon, I think.” Pran is yawning before Pat has finished the sentence, and he laughs at the sight. “And you’re going to fall asleep standing soon.”
Pran rolls his eyes, but lets Pat tug him to go.
The cab drops them at the resort, safe and sound, but before they can reach their room Pat’s phone beeps.
“It’s Ink,” he reads. “Her sink’s acting up.”
“You’re in engineering, not plumbing,” Pran says dryly.
“I’ve fixed me and Pha’s sink at home countless times; her hair is always getting stuck down there.” Pran wrinkles his nose and Pat laughs. “I’ll be back.”
“Mm. See you.”
Pat waves and jogs off for Ink and Goy’s room. Pran showers, happy to be able to wash the saltwater off after feeling it all night, and performs his nightly skincare routine to round it out. He comes out of the bathroom certain that Pat would be back by now, but it’s been a little less than half an hour and the room is still empty. Pran frowns and checks his phone, even though he knows there’s nothing to see there.
He turns on the TV to distract himself, succeeding in a little over five minutes of this before he has to admit that he’s actually worried. He knows if nothing else Ink doesn't like Pat, so there’s nothing going on there, but what if something happened on his way back somehow? He could have tripped or been bitten by some poisonous bug — Despite being aware that this is nonsensical thinking, Pran is out the door within the minute.
He is halfway to Ink’s room when his phone beeps, and he stops dead to check it. He lets out an embarrassingly big breath of relief at Pat’s name on the screen. Come to that boat from the shoot . Pran squints at the message, confused, but takes off in that direction nonetheless. It’s a miracle that he makes it there without toppling over in his sandals, but make it there he does.
“Ai’Pat!” he shouts, then realises what he’s actually looking at. Pat is crouched near the boat adjusting a light in the sand, and the boat itself is bedazzled with strings of lights. It’s a shining beacon on the otherwise dark shore where Pat has his arms outstretched.
“Well?” he says, smiling widely as Pran approaches.
“Pat, what is this?”
“What do you think? It’s our date!”
“The market was our date.”
Pat rolls his eyes. “You actually thought it would end there?”
“Uh, kind of.”
“Your fault for underestimating me.”
Pran can’t look away from the boat. He’s liked fairy-lights since he was a kid, has had them done up on the bushes outside his childhood window for that very reason; and now Pat’s done all this. There’s an assortment too, different sizes, and even a set of bulbs in the shape of stars.
“Are stars your thing now?” he asks.
“You mean, are they my obsession like you have your Smiley face obsession?” Pran rolls his eyes and Pat grins, shrugging. “We’ve met on the roof twice and looked at the stars. The first time I was oblivious, and the last time — well, I was pretty much oblivious then too.” Pran grins despite himself. “But the stars reminded me of you so I got them. They’re cool, huh?”
“It’s… really nice, Pat. How’d you pull it off?”
“I’m lucky to have Ink for a sister,” Pat says simply, and Pran smiles. “I have this too,” Pat adds. He reaches into the boat and holds up the new bottle of Rose condensed milk. “I told you, didn’t I?”
Pran shakes his head, but accepts the bottle. “You did,” he says. “Thanks.”
“Mm,” Pat smiles. “Is it good? Were you surprised?”
“Yes, Pat,” Pran answers dutifully. After a second, his smile loses its strength as he looks at his lap. “It’s amazing,” Pran admits. “But it doesn’t change the facts at home.”
“Trying to be together for an afternoon doesn’t change it, Pat. Our parents would sooner leave the country than coexist, and the only time the guys are distracted from trying to murder each other is when they’re too busy trying to one-up each other. I just… don’t know.”
Pran and Pat look at one another, quiet.
Thank you for your help. You’re a LIFESAVER!!!!!!!!!!!
Ink grins and sends Pat a dancing sticker. You’d better not mess it up for at least a month!
Ink looks up at Pran, already grinning. “Hey!” she greets him, motioning for Pran to take a seat at the table. “We barely got to talk on the ride back; how’d things end up? I certainly didn’t get any S.O.S. messages from you.”
Pran flushes a little at that and rolls his eyes. “I’m sure Pat has told you everything already.”
“For sure, but I’m also way more likely to get a realistic version of events from you.”
Pran can’t deny that and laughs. “Well, it was… good. We just spent time together.” It’s so embarrassing to discuss out loud that Pran almost can’t speak, but Ink is just smiling, as encouraging and kind as ever, and that eases a bit of Pran’s anxiety. “Yeah, we swam and went to the market by the resort. And the boat — well, you know about all that. Thanks, by the way.”
“Jeez, I’m feeling super loved today,” Ink says, flipping her hair back. “It’s all worth it to see love in full blossom.” Pran cringes, making Ink laugh. “That’s what we like to see.”
“How else should I react? Me, and the person I never thought was an option, for a million reasons. I woke up today pretty sure I somehow hallucinated the past three days.”
“Exactly my situation,” Ink agrees, “but more so because of burnout.” Pran laughs with her as she gets up from the table, bag over her shoulder.
“Why do you seem to know so much about this stuff?” Pran asks.
Ink tucks a piece of hair behind her hair, shrugging. “I may or may not have some experience in wanting someone who isn’t an option,” she says, without elaboration, but Pran doesn’t want to press about it so he just nods.
“Well, thanks again.”
“Please, just knowing you dummies have sorted it all out makes sticking my nose in totally worth it.”
“Hey, you said something vague too! Bye!”
“Screw you, architecture! I’m going to blow up your phone, count on that!”
It’s nothing new for Pran to be distracted when it comes to Pat, but at least in the past he’d had even a moderate ability to hide it.
In the present, though, he’s lost his touch. He’d spotted Pat waiting in the coffee line across the way, and if Pat winks at him with that obnoxiously handsome grin of his, what is Pran supposed to do except roll his eyes and smile back? Did he momentarily forget about his friends all seated at the same table, who were now staring at him like he had three heads? Sure. Does he now owe them the explanation he’d sort of wanted to avoid for as long as possible? Yeah. Considering he’s sort of surprised they’d gotten until noon without having to tell them anything at all, Pran really can’t be anything but grateful.
“Why the hell is Engineering making that dumbfuck face at you?” Louis questions, eyebrows raised.
“You were at each other’s throats on Friday,” Safe adds.
“He’s been a dick to you, and now the googly eyes,” Wai snips. “He’s asking for trouble.” But a glance at Pran shows not annoyance, but an expression akin to withholding. “Pran, what aren’t you telling us?”
“Is it about Pat?” Louis asks.
Wai stares at Pran. “Is there anything going on between you guys that we don’t know about?”
Pran meets their eyes, biting his lip.
“Trying to be together for an afternoon doesn’t change it, Pat. Our parents would sooner leave the country than coexist, and the only time the guys are distracted from trying to murder each other is when they’re too busy trying to one-up each other. I just… don’t know.”
They look at one another, both in their own thoughts, and then a slow smile appears on Pat’s face.
“Let’s compete then,” he says.
“The bus-stop got built because of your idea to pit us against each other,” Pat says, getting excited. “They like nothing more than a bet, so let’s give them one.”
“Pat, what are you saying?”
“We tell them we’re in a bet with each other, you and me: whoever falls for the other person first loses!” Pran is none too convinced and Pat makes a face. “Pran, this solves at least half of our problem. We hang out together, get them used to the idea of us as we go — they start tolerating each other, become friends — and then we tell them we’re together for real! It’s perfect.”
Pran still doesn’t seem certain, making Pat tilt his head with a raised eyebrow. “If you’re so against telling everyone about us,” he says, “do you have any other bright ideas?” Pran opens his mouth, sarcastic comment locked and loaded, but Pran immediately cuts him off, “And not dating at all isn’t an option.”
Pran shakes his head with a small smile. “Got it.”
“Look at that face,” Pat grins. “It’s okay, Pran, if you like me already, just say it. You know, it wouldn’t be a fair bet if it were for real; it’d take five minutes for me to win.”
“I don’t like you,” Pran says, but Pat can tell that he’s messing around too.
“You do,” Pat says, “and that’s why we have to do this. So what do you say, Khun Pran?” Pran meets Pat’s grin with a hidden smile of his own. “On three?” Pran rolls his eyes then, but nods anyway. “Nueng, saawng, saam — ”
“Whoever falls in love first loses. Deal.”
“You made a bet to what?” Safe echoes, mouth open and incredulous.
Having never needed an invitation, Pat deposits himself ungraciously in the free seat beside Pran, a wild grin on his face and an arm slung over Pran’s shoulders.
Pat smirks at how stunned they all are. “For Pran to fall in love with me,” he replies in a matter of fact way. He plants a sweet kiss to Pran’s cheek, just for good measure, and a laugh is punched out of Pran as he gives Pat’s chest a shove. At his friend’s astonishment, Pran visibly shrinks in on himself from mortification, but Pat is undeterred. “And I’m going to win.”
Pran grimaces at Wai’s bewildered annoyance, glancing at Pat just to look away. It helps to see Pat’s usual grin, even if it’s exaggerated in his commitment to the bit their lives have become, and seeing Pran his peripheral Pat turns to look at him too.
His smile goes softer at the edges, more genuine, and Pran’s heart performs an impressive gymnastics move in his chest. It really is a good thing this bet is just a cover, because Pran is very well on his way to losing.