The thing that always confused people was that Tine was actually extremely intelligent.
No, seriously. Top grades without ever trying, got into the pre-law program easily, etc. and so on. He was good at schoolwork, good at picking up skills that he wanted to acquire, good at sports when he bothered (which was rarely).
But when it came to anything to do with human behavior, Tine might as well be the bottom of the class. In fact, bottom of the class would be an improvement, as his ex-girlfriends and Sarawat would be happy to tell you. At length. In detail. With diagrams and arrows.
Unfortunately, his closest friends weren’t much better, so they were no help. And Tine didn’t act like someone with zero ability to handle people, which is why it took so long for people to get it.
Tine was handsome and charming in his own way, but…
Sarawat sat on the bench, staring at Tine’s retreating back. Man slumped down next to him, looking halfway between laughter and sympathy, while Boss sat on his other side, leaning his head back and staring up at the sky.
“What’s going on?” Sarawat asked eventually.
Man just shook his head.
“I literally told him I’m flirting with him for real.”
“I don’t know, dude.”
“I’m pretty sure I could stand in front of the entire law faculty and declare my love and he’d just be irritated at the disruption to his class.”
Man and Boss were clearly trying not to laugh at him. “Sure seems that way,” Man said.
“You two are useless,” Sarawat said, putting his face in his hands. “Is he just too nice to turn me down? Is he making fun of me?”
“Wat…” Man said.
“Hmm?” He looked up.
“Have you considered the possibility that he’s just as dumb as he’s acting?”
“Have you seen his grades?” Sarawat rolled his eyes. “He spent an extra half hour studying last week because he got 98 on an exam.”
“Really?” Boss stared. “But he’s doing music club and cheerleading too. How does he do that?”
“Because he’s really fucking smart.” Sarawat couldn’t help a little smirk of pride.
“That doesn’t mean he’s good with people,” Man said. “Look at how he dealt with Green.”
Sarawat paused to consider it. It was true that Tine chose what had to be the most ridiculous possible plan, which showed almost no comprehension of how people and emotions worked. “True. That’s true. But…what do I do? How do I do it?”
Boss shrugged. “I guess you just have to be so clear that even he can’t misunderstand.”
“And keep repeating until he gets it,” Man added.
“Great.” Sarawat sighed.
It took a week to get the right circumstances, including Sarawat pleading his case to Tine’s three best friends, who all seemed dubious.
But it didn’t matter, because they agreed to convince Tine to join Sarawat in a pavilion on the edge of campus. Alone. With phones turned off. And Man and Boss standing guard to keep anyone from disturbing them.
Sarawat was taking no chances. If he could transport them to a deserted island, he’d do it in a heartbeat.
The other thing that confused people about Tine was his apparent arrogance. ‘Apparent?” most people would ask in disbelief.
And…okay, fair. Tine absolutely seemed arrogant with the Mr. Chic thing. But it turned out that was just a thin mask over his real personality.
“What’s going on?” Tine shifted uneasily in front of Sarawat.
“Sit,” Sarawat said, reaching out for Tine’s hand and dragging him toward the bench lining one side of the pavilion.
Tine’s forehead creased in an unreasonably attractive way as he obediently sat. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No,” Sarawat said, sitting down next to him, still holding his hand. “No, not wrong. I just need to talk to you.”
Tine looked at him, still frowning.
“Okay.” He rubbed his free hand on his pants. “Okay.” This had all seemed easier when Tine wasn’t sitting there looking puzzled and being gorgeous.
Tine sighed quietly. “I understand.”
“It’s okay. Green isn’t…I mean, it’s not a problem. You don’t have to hang out with me now.”
“What?” Sarawat stared at him. “Why would you—that’s exactly the opposite.”
Tine tried to free his hand. “What do you mean?”
“Listen!” Sarawat gripped Tine’s hand with both of his own. “I have never been fake dating you. It’s always been real to me. I’ve been trying to tell you but you don’t listen.”
Tine froze, only his blinks showing he wasn’t a statue.
“I wanted to date you. I still want to date you. I never ever want to let you go.” Sarawat spoke slowly and clearly, not wanting to be misunderstood again.
“I like you,” Sarawat said carefully. “That’s not a joke or code for something else. I. Like. You. You understand that now, right?”
“And…you like me?”
Tine paused, then nodded. “Yes.”
Sarawat wanted to clutch his head and scream, but he restrained himself. “Then why did you let your friends set you up with a girl?”
Tine ducked his head. “I don’t know how to say no,” he said eventually. “And you’ll stop liking me soon anyway.”
It was said so matter-of-factly that Sarawat almost missed it in his furiously churning thoughts. Leaning forward, he put a hand under Tine’s chin and lifted his head. “Why would you think that?”
“Everyone I date does.” There was a bit of hurt in his tone, but it seemed like this was something Tine had accepted as an immutable fact. “They get mad when I don’t understand what they want or what they’re trying to say.”
Sarawat closed his eyes for a moment to regroup. “If I was going to leave you for being clueless about what I’m trying to say, I’d have done that a long time ago.”
Tine pulled back.
“Wait.” Sarawat tugged on his hand. “Can I explain? So you’ll understand.”
“I mean that I get that you’re bad at this and it’s okay. I like you anyway.”
“Why?” Tine’s face creased in confusion.
“Because that’s just part of who you are.” Sarawat shrugged. “Like I suck at small talk and Man’s too cowardly to just go up and talk to that kid he’s got a crush on.”
That got an almost smile from Tine. “You…don’t mind?”
“I like you, nuisance. I’m willing to put in the effort to explain things and understand you. I don’t think those others you dated ever did that.”
“No.” Tine was just stunned now, blinking.
“But that means you gotta trust me and listen to me. Really listen and not assume I’m joking or whatever.” Sarawat stepped closer.
Tine was very smart, except when it came to people. But it turned out that he only needed one person to understand him and Sarawat was always willing to explain things. Especially if it involved a hands-on demonstration of how much he loved Tine.
Actually, it turned out they both enjoyed those, so it worked out nicely in the end.