Kian snored. A truth Tan learned the first night he moved into the spare bedroom across the hall from him. The same night his parents unceremoniously threw him out of his childhood home and into the streets.
His father wasn’t supposed to be home until after seven that night. But, surprise.
Tan lay on his back, staring up at the low roof of his bunk while he listened to the rattle of Kian snoring below him. His inability to sleep was in no way connected to the sounds of a rock caught in the blade of a mower and stuttering snorts. He’d learned to sleep through it after a week. Now, it was almost soothing.
A month after Tan’s sixteenth birthday, Kian and Tan had skipped their weekly GSA meeting. They had tumbled into Tan’s empty house and out of the rain, clothes soaked, hair drooping, and left a trail of puddles across the polished hardwood floor. Their cold hands had greedily pawed at wet clothes to brush against warm skin as they collapsed onto the couch in the sitting room in a tangle of gangly limbs.
That’s how Tan’s father found them an hour later.
Tan’s father had been complaining about a toothache for weeks, and the dentist had called him at work when an earlier slot opened after a sudden cancellation that day. The unforeseen development never had the opportunity to make it to the all-knowing family calendar pinned to the wall of the kitchen by the water cooler. Kian had been driven out of the house by Tan’s father leaving Tan to face his parents’ wrath alone. Wrath being the name Tan had given the switch that sat on the mantle of the fireplace in the sitting room. The same sitting room he’d been caught sucking face with one of his best friends.
Tan threw an arm over his eyes and sighed into the dark. He preferred to stow the memory of harsh words, and chanted prayers in the back of his mind, but the slam of the front door behind him as he fled with only a small pack stuffed with the few possessions he could not bear to leave still echoed.
Clicking on the reading lamp built into the wall of the bus, Tan swung his legs over the edge of the upper bunk and dropped lightly to the floor in a cat-like crouch. Kian had bullied him into taking the top bunk due to Tan’s proclivity to sleepwalk, and it was such a pain. Most nights he couldn’t be bothered to climb the ladder.
Tan froze, waiting for the slightest hint of movement, but all was still. He rotated on the balls of his feet and folded his legs under him so he could sit on the carpeted floor between the four bunks. He wore one of Kian’s old t-shirts that he had liberated during the winter and was much too large for his slim frame. His Snorlax pyjama bottoms were an inside joke bought for him at Christmas by Kian’s older sister Hana.
Kian lay on his back. One arm dangled over the edge of the lower bunk, and knuckles brushed the carpet with every inhale of pinched air. His white tank top had ridden up to expose the taut, tan belly that made Tan bite his lower lip. The thin fleece blanket was bunched at the foot of the bed.
Sighing through his nose, Tan tugged the hem of the tank down and tucked the dangling arm safely into the bunk before he heaved Kian onto his left side. The deafening snores ceased.
Tan huffed and propped his head up on a closed fist while he watched Kian sleep. They weren’t dating. Their relationship, if it even qualified under the appellation of relationship outside of the confines of friendship, had emerged from the convenience of proximity.
“Just tell him.” Chord’s tired voice cut through the silence like a katana in the dark.
Hand clutching the material of his shirt over his heart, Tan jerked around. Chord had peeked over the edge of the other upper bunk and was peering down at him. Tan glanced at the lower bunk that belonged to their manager, but the privacy curtain remained closed.
“Don’t worry about him.” Chord yawned and rubbed the sleep from his eyes with the back of his hand. He rested his chin on the crook of his arm. “Earplugs, remember?” he muttered with a lazy, dismissive flick of his wrist.
Tan pulled himself to his feet just as the bus hit a pothole in the road, and he stumbled, but caught himself on one of the rungs of the ladder. Again, Tan had failed to predict Chord. He had no contingency plan for a deep, probing psychological discussion with Chord at five in the morning. He reached up and clicked off the reading lamp.
“I’m not stupid, Tan. And neither is… well, he knows something is wrong. Stop avoiding us,” Chord said. He sounded a little more awake now.
Tan paused at the door to the main room, one hand on the silver latch that opened the door. “You’re not one to talk,” he said. “I’m going to make some tea. I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
“It’s not just sex,” Chord said softly in the dark.
Tan closed the door behind him.