Chapter 6: Cappuccino

There’s a unique feeling of catharsis that is reserved for the specific moment that you enter into a space that you once frequented each day, but after some time, has become foreign to the senses. 

Anson can only compare it to the feeling he’d gotten from running into his favourite primary school teacher on the way to work one day. They’d both stood planted at a distance, in awe of how the years had matured and aged them to the emergence of a strong jaw and silvering hair. And yet, she’d recognised him in an instant, as though he were still only as tall as her waist, wearing the same carefully ironed grey shorts pulled up high on his waist and the plastic but practical Baby G watch hanging too loosely on his tiny wrist. 

But unlike the warm, familiar smile his teacher had greeted him with, Edan’s stately shell of a home is still with a cold beyond the weather’s control. The man’s shoes—the same pair of faded sneakers he’d worn every day since the day they’d met—have been kicked to one side in the hallway, and what looks like the trails of a flu-ridden child scatter the living room sofa and coffee table with crumpled tissues and the baby-blue fleece blanket they would drape over their legs on nights in. The room is dimly lit by the television that still displays the spell-binding DVD logo bouncing ceaselessly from one edge of the screen to another; pink, yellow, blue, orange, white. 

Only the kitchen appears completely untouched.

It remains so unmoved, in fact, that Anson can glimpse the coffee mug he’d used the morning they’d left together for work, still unwashed in its corner by the sink. His lip is almost chewed raw as he walks past, shivering at the sight of the two tall fridges filled with…well, come to think of it, he’d only ever found drinks and vegetables in there. 

And the name tags. 

How strange it would be if, in one’s lifetime, they penned in their will for their remains to be put in the hands—or stomach—of a cannibal. Anson himself had always imagined that when the time came, he would give himself over to scientific research; to the nurturing of future doctors’ minds. Not, certainly, to become the key ingredients to someone’s sinister smorgasbord. 

You are the sweetest man I know, he hears his own naïve words echo from months before. Just how many of Edan’s supposed charms and wits had he so sorely misinterpreted? But, he supposes, he wouldn’t have stepped foot back within these walls if he didn’t still believe in his own claim. 

He’d expected to hold more trepidation upon entering the bedroom, or at least to be holding his breath with caution. After all, with the knowledge that he has now, one would shudder to imagine the possibilities of what an anthropophagite being might do in the face of hunger. And yet, Anson had conjured up no wild, savage visions of his boyfriend whipping out an axe or ripping out chunks of his flesh with his bare teeth. Not only does the entire matter seem far too cinematic to be within the realm of reality, but more importantly, Anson has trouble associating Edan with any form of violence, especially when the man cowers behind a cushion even at scenes that are coloured a cooler hue or where the music thrums a touch too suspenseful. 

Sure enough, as he stands in the open doorway of the bedroom, he feels only pity. The bedside lamp remains lit on his side of the bed, as though he’d merely gone to the bathroom in the wee hours of the night, yet to return. His faded black jeans are still draped over the back of the chair by the dressing table. 

I’ll do a load this evening. Do you have any other darks to wash?

He’d not, of course, done any laundry. But what strikes his attention more than this particular fact, is that when he finally brings himself to look back at the bed, is that his pillow is gone from its usual spot. Instead, it’s tightly clutched within the grasp of longing arms.

Anson sucks in a breath.

The man looks near skeletal, the bones of his elbows and wrists practically jutting out of his paler skin. Once a shining knight in the eyes of all who looked upon him, the admirable doctor lies weak, curled up in a fetal position and tangled into a pile of blankets that bury his frail body under their weight. No, Anson thinks as a sharp pang emerges in his chest. This is not at all a man who could ever deliberately hurt anyone. 

He shucks off his white coat, laying it carefully beside him as he slowly sinks his weight into the side of the mattress. There’s something child-like in Edan’s expression, his brows creased with tension and his breaths short with disquiet, as though dreaming vividly of a wild chase. Above his nose forms a line that Anson is tempted to gently smooth out with his thumb. 

He doesn’t get the chance, though, as Edan shifts in his sleep with a quiet groan, slowly rolling over onto back and bumping gently against Anson’s hip. The soft collision startles him, though, and with a sharp inhale, his eyes, puffy and swollen, blink rapidly as he takes in his surroundings. 


It takes a few moments, but when he finally realises that he’s not, in fact, hallucinating Anson’s presence, Edan sits up quickly, then scrambles to pull the covers up to his chin. If possible, he appears even smaller, eyes wide and trembling slightly in the dim glow of the bedside lamp. He averts Anson’s gaze, as though afraid that he might crumble into mush under it in the agonisingly long seconds that pass between them. 


It’s Anson who finally breaks the silence, chewing at his own lip with apprehension. 


There must be a joke in there somewhere. 

A doctor and a cannibal walk into a bar. They fall in love and one day the bartender says

No, that’s not it. 

Knock knock! 

Who’s there? 


Doctor who? 


For a man who usually always knows the right things to say or the best joke to melt away the atmospheric tension, Edan now struggles to form any unique, coherent words that could possibly begin to convey his mind’s unrest.

“How…how are you?” 

Anson says after another stretched-out silence, fingers toying with the quilt beneath him as though with a mind of their own. Indeed, he’d made the bold decision to even enter the house upon Denis’s persuasion, and yet now that he’s here, he has no agenda to serve as his lifebuoy. 

“I… I’m fine.” 


“You haven’t been at work all week,” Anson says, more as a matter of fact than as a counterpoint to Edan’s superficial claim. “Um…J-Jer said he misses you.” 

He can feel the man’s gaze on him now, searching, searching. Then, he nods.


“And…I miss you, too.” 

For the first time in almost ten days, they look at each other. Properly, because there is undoubtedly far more to Anson’s uncharacteristic confession than simply the words themselves. But the moment washes over when Anson’s own vision blurs with tears welling up in his eyes, one of them spilling hotly down his cheek. As though by reflex, a cold hand reaches up to wipe it away, and Anson shrinks away slightly in surprise at the sudden touch. 

“Sorry,” Edan mumbles as he pulls his hand back. He gulps, then tucks his bony arm back under the blanket like a snake recoiling into its charmer’s basket. “I… didn’t know how to face you. Or even explain. After…what happened, I mean.”

Right. Most people ultimately discover somewhere along the line that their partner has a secret Keung To shrine in their closet with a statue moulded of candy wrappers, or god forbid, that they pour the milk before the cereal. And Anson, as luck would have it… he’s not certain he would get the same sort of sympathetic reaction from Joyce upon sharing his boyfriend’s particular quirk.

“I…well, Denis kind of gave me the gist of it.”

“Are you…you must think I’m completely barbaric.”

Edan meekly pulls the covers back up to his shoulders, lowering his head, but still watching for every minuscule change in Anson’s expression. A confirmation, an elaboration, an explanation…? Yet, he simply shakes his head.

“No,” Anson finally says after a pause. “But there’s a lot I don’t understand, you know? It’s not exactly something I ever imagined in my entire life that I would encounter. I at least know how to feel if you’re like, cheating, or ignoring me, or whatever. This is… I’m still…even now, I don’t even know if being here is a good idea.”

“I didn’t want to scare you. But I…I can’t control it. I’ve tried, but—”

“Is that why you’ve been starving yourself?”

Edan tenses under the blanket, suddenly hyperaware of his gaunt frame, now worryingly like the stark images of malnourished patients that one could find among the pages of his med school textbooks. The last time he’d grown this thin was at twelve years old, deliberately eating around the slivers of meat in his lunch box and dumping them in the bathroom trash can until his mother had cried at his bedside, begging him to make peace with his fate.

He can’t bear it, having the first person he’s loved in so many years see him in this state. But he doesn’t get much chance to hide, as Anson tugs the covers away from his body. Edan suddenly feels naked, and certainly not in the way he wants to be when it comes to being in Anson’s presence. 


It’s about all that Anson manages to sputter out before any remaining words he might have had are muffled by a deep sniffle and a choked sob. 

“No, no! Don’t cry, I’m fine—”

Edan’s concerned hand is promptly pushed away, and one muted, mostly painless smack after the other lands on his thigh in quick succession, which has him blinking rapidly and dodging the half-hearted attacks with confusion and alarm.

“You!” Smack. “Look like!” Smack. “A broomstick!” Smack. “You call this fine?! You’re not eating!” 

Anson concludes his frankly adorable exertion of discontent with another few loud, exasperated sobs as if relieving himself of an emotional fever he’d been fostering for some time and filling his lungs with much-needed air. 

“I’m sorry,” Edan says slowly, hesitantly. He can only watch, for what good would it do for him to try and offer comfort when he’s the very source of agony in the first place? “I’m so sorry,” he says again, because there’s nothing else that makes sense. Feeling helpless, he shifts forward in his seat, reaching to his right for a tissue before slowly, carefully wiping Anson’s wet cheeks, then holds the crumpled paper under his nose for him to blow into. 

“Thanks,” Anson mumbles, gradually regaining his composure and steady breathing. He sniffs as Edan discards of the used tissue, his own nose red with both his crying and with mild embarrassment. He’d never broken down this way in front of anyone other than his own mother. 

Edan sighs, then rubs his own eyes of any built-up crust from tears that had never quite made it out of the corners of his eyes, simply welling and idling as some sort of cruel mockery of his loneliness with which he’d had no one to share.

“You…you must have a lot of questions.”

“I don’t know what to believe from you anymore.”

“Yeah, of course. I wouldn’t expect you to trust me anymore, either.”

Even so, he holds a bony hand out, a pleading invitation to listen, at least for the last time. Anson stares at it for several long moments. He’d come all this way, and surely, after all this time, there must still be something left to love of the man he’d looked upon with rose-tinted glasses, now barren and stripped to the bone.

Gingerly, he places his own comparatively warm hand in Edan’s. There it is, the mnemonic trace of fluttering in his stomach akin to once more holding his childhood pillow. 

“You have no reason to trust me, I know,” Edan says gently, tangling their fingers together like they’d done hundreds of times. “But if you’ll let me, I’d like to tell you everything. And if you still can’t stomach the thought, then…then you can report me. I won’t resist. What do you say?”

Frankly, the thought of reporting him had never even crossed Anson’s disturbed mind, despite the obviously illegal nature of Edan’s actions. Could there possibly be any justification for them? Could he still bring himself put aside all sensibilities to love a…cannibal?

His answer almost escapes the tip of his tongue when their watery exchange of glances is abruptly disturbed by the sudden ringing of the doorbell.

Twice in succession, followed by a brief pause before the third.

Chapter 7: Sachertorte

“Wow, you look like shit!”

Denis balks at the sight of his malnourished friend when the door pulls all the way open.


Edan gives a short laugh and steps to one side to let the tall, gangly man in. Despite their long history, he’d admittedly not met with Denis in some months, his macabre need for the man’s unique connections diminishing with his restricted dietary consumption.

“When was the last time you ate?” Denis looks him up and down, then nods to Anson, who waves briefly from the living room. He leans forward a little, then sniffs. “Or showered?”

“I, uh…what can I do for you, man?” Edan calls out, voice still hoarse from sleep, as Denis pokes his head into the fridge, helping himself to a can of something fizzy, as well as picking out an onion from the back of the crisper and tossing it in his hand several times.

“Just wanted to check in on you,” he emerges from behind the fridge door, pushing it shut with his foot. “But you weren’t answering the door or your phone, so I figured your boyfriend had keys on him. Y’all good now?”

He slurps loudly from his can as he glances back and forth between Anson, whose nose is still pink from crying, and Edan, who tucks his hands under an old sweatshirt he’d thrown on top of his T-shirt, though he’s still in his grey sleep shorts, his thin legs forming goosebumps with the gust of cold that had washed in the front door. When neither of them responds, Denis sucks at his teeth and nods.

“How about you kids go talk it out, and I’ll make us lunch?” he vaguely nods towards the living room, then raises an eyebrow at Edan. “The usual?”

He doesn’t respond right away, instead glancing over to Anson as if to seek consent to the tune of Please, sir, may I have some more? only to be met with a questioning expression.

“Well…you should eat, right?” Anson says after a moment, smiling weakly. “You need to.”

Edan had long surpassed the point of being just hungry, his insides queasy and weak enough that he mostly feels both delirious and on the verge of unconsciousness in equal parts. He’d been rationing his consumption into smaller and smaller portions, eating only just enough to sustain his life by a thread and with little regard for his vitality. It had drawn in a number of curious stares from his co-workers, asking if he would consider undergoing a series of tests, if only to rule out any major, possibly terminal illnesses. One would think that as a doctor, his dietary health would be high among his priorities, even if a regular sleep cycle were beyond his control. Still, Edan had long known that his affliction was not a physical one, but rather one in which his mind and heart were at war.

Not waiting for further affirmation, Denis makes his familiar way around the kitchen, pulling out various pots and pans off their hooks and a number of aromatic vegetables from the fridge. Then, twirling a key ring with a single key around his finger, he whistles his way to the garage, returning with a freezer bag of—

Anson looks away sharply, suddenly making the palpable connection with the eerie set of garage freezers by which he’d been intrigued enough in the early days to ask about.

They’re picky eaters and would stock up on the stuff they actually ate because it wasn’t really easy to find.

Indeed, he supposes, it would not be terribly easy to find this particular ingredient in most supermarkets.

“Aren’t you going to sit?”

Edan’s voice trails closer now, and it takes Anson a moment to snap out of his daze, nodding quickly as he perches himself carefully on the sofa, as though it were the first time in a stranger’s home. In an attempt to ease his restless state, he busies his mind with scanning his eyes over the coffee table…then squints.

13 Beloved, his personal Blu-Ray copy that he’d brought over some weeks ago in an attempt to get his squeamish boyfriend to watch one of his favourite horror films with him. Naturally, the fretful mess of a man had outright refused, claiming that Thai horror films were infamously among the most terrifying of the entire genre. It would seem darkly comical now, that Anson, who loves watching some bloody gore, would have any repulsion towards an actual man-eating…man…in the flesh. Then again, he’d always revelled in the fact that such occurrences were purely fictional, and he would never have to encounter those gruesome and terrifying events outside of a screen.

Until he had, of course.

“You watched this?”

He picks up the plastic DVD case, flipping it over to read the description and credits as though he’d not seen the film at least once every year since he’d first stumbled upon it; as though he might discover something new about what he thought he’d known like the back of his hand.

“I did…kind of.” Edan scratches his ear, leaning over the gap between the sofa and the coffee table to grab the remote controller, putting an end to the colourful, never-ending screensaver. “I got about half an hour in, and then got too scared…so I just read the entire synopsis online. I even found a research paper on it by some film student in Australia.”

This gets him a short chuckle from Anson, who finally seems to relax into the sofa just a little, pulling his socked feet up onto the seat.

“What…did you think of it?”

Edan hums in contemplation, then pulls the fleece blanket tighter around his freezing legs.

“I think…it really highlighted the fact that…people do stupid, crazy, shit not because they’re bad or greedy. But sometimes, when life deals you a set of cards that you can’t do anything to change, taking shortcuts or cheating your way out of that state seems like your only hope. That’s not true, of course, because all it ends up in is hurting others…like I’ve hurt you.”

Perhaps Anson had mostly been anticipating some variation of I’m never watching another horror film ever again that he’d heard dozens of times before. Then again, the last week and a half had shown him that expectations are, by nature, designed to be missed. He returns Edan’s sincere gaze with a watery stare, unsure of how to respond.

“My offer still stands,” Edan continues, wringing the soft material of the blanket in his bony hands in anticipation. Several moments pass before Anson sighs noisily and places the DVD case back on the coffee table.

“Okay,” he says, nodding mostly to himself. “I’m ready.”

I was eleven years old when I first found out what my parents had been feeding me. They were young and career-driven and hadn’t the foggiest clue about childcare beyond the medical stuff. I was kind of an accident that they’d decided to run with. Growing up, they never let me share my lunch with anyone, claiming that it was extremely unhygienic and that I should be grateful for the food that I was given.

They never let me into the kitchen unless they were there with me, and they bred it into me that I was a very smart boy, and so I would one day become a doctor, just like them. I was put into all sorts of after-school academic classes and was so busy learning things beyond my age group that I knew more numbers of pi than the names of people at school. They would warn me to be cautious of making friends with anyone, because you never know who might try to harm you. I kept my head down and maintained the shallowest of acquaintances with my peers, always nodding politely and engaging in conversation without ever sharing anything about myself. I never questioned any of my parents’ quips because the way they explained everything to me made complete sense to me as a child.

It didn’t occur to me just how lonely I was until in Primary 5. This girl in my class expressed an unusual interest in me, mostly because she’d somehow caught wind of how my parents were somewhat well-off and wanted to know if I would bring an extravagant gift to her birthday party. I knew of this because she wasn’t particularly quiet about her gossiping habits, and so I could hear her high-pitched cackle in the corridor outside the boys’ bathroom, where she eventually cornered me with her equally obnoxious friends. She offered me a piece of her snack, which I politely refused, and in turn, she asked to have some of mine. Again, I declined, citing that it wouldn’t be hygienic because…well, that’s what my parents had taught me.

“Why, did you not wash your hands just now?”

I don’t think she really intended to ridicule me, but that was what came out of her mouth, and that’s what her friends latched onto as part of some sick joke about me being a dirty kid that they would then continue all throughout the rest of our primary school days. Nobody wanted to sit with or talk to me after that. Except for Denis.

Everyone knew him as the weird tall kid, and I was his dirty puppy that trailed in his path for protection. He has the most absurd ways of going about things, and I sometimes wonder how he didn’t get into trouble more with our teachers back then. Anyway, we were in Form 1 and I was enrolled in just as many after-school activities as I had been before. Denis and I were on the way to the bus stop after basketball when I got a call from the tutorial centre I was headed to, saying that the teacher had taken sick leave and that class would be rescheduled for another day.

To me, it sounded like Christmas. It was rare for me to have any time to do anything fun, so even a few hours of nothing felt like it held endless possibilities. I immediately asked Denis if he wanted to come over and hang out, something that we’d never really done before. Any time he’d come over before was to study for tests and to do homework together.

It was weird, arriving home before the sun had gone down. I had assumed that my parents were working that afternoon, and that my sister was at my grandmother’s. But when I came home, I saw the garage door open, and our car parked inside it. The door of the trunk was lifted, and so were the freezer doors. Curiosity got the best of me, I guess.

When Denis and I looked into the open freezer, we saw…a hand. Like, just an entire human hand that had been cut off from the wrist down and stuffed into a freezer bag and the blood frozen into grains. Sorry, I don’t mean to gross you out—

It’s…we’re A&E doctors. I’ve heard and seen worse.


But I mean, as a kid, it wasn’t something I’d anticipated for. Just…a bunch of body parts lying jumbled together in a box, like in a mannequin warehouse or the remains of an angry child’s Barbie dolls. I didn’t know how to react. We kind of just stood there staring into the freezer until Mum came back through the garage door, saying, “Maybe we should make filet mignon? I feel like the lower back portions never freeze as well as the—”

She panicked. They must have thought that I wouldn’t be home for another few hours. I may have been just a kid, but I did manage to make the connection between everything, and when I did, I ran. I didn’t scream or say anything. I simply ran and ran and ran all the way down multiple streets with no real destination, until I was so tired that my legs just gave out beneath me. I’d ended up outside the mall near my grandmother’s place, where I just sat on the pavement and cried.

And then someone sat next to me, and I realised that Denis had run after me. He didn’t say anything or try much to comfort me. He just sat there with me until I was done crying and patted me on the back when I eventually threw up into a trash can. For me, it was enough. We sat there until it began to grow dark, and I went to go and pick up my sister. She slept in my arms the entire way, and I said nothing to my parents when I got home. I just carried her up to our room and hoped that she never had to find out what I had.

From that day on, I became hyper-aware of everything that I was given to eat. I would eat only the rice and vegetables in my lunchbox, and threw whatever meat there was away. I couldn’t bear the thought that I was eating another human being, nor the possibility that my parents might be murderers. For once, I was glad to be so busy that I was rarely home, because a part of me didn’t want to know. And Denis never said anything to anyone, either.

I wasn’t a chubby kid by any means, but after about a month or two, my parents had begun to notice that I had lost an extortionate amount of weight, and not simply because of puberty stretching me out with height. My class teacher called them because he was concerned about my depleting energy levels and mentioned that my basketball coach could see that I was getting worryingly thin. They realised then that I hadn’t been eating what I needed.

I locked my bedroom door that night, listening to my mother weeping and begging for me to eat before I withered away into nothing. It was past three in the morning when I finally opened the door to find her collapsed against the wall in the corridor outside my room. She just looked so…tired. For so long, she’d dreaded the day that I would inevitably find out this horrible secret, and I don’t think she was prepared for it to be an accident. When I shook her awake, she cried and held me until she’d run out of tears.

That night, my parents sat me down in the living room, right where you are now. They told me everything, or as much as an eleven-year-old could grasp anyhow. The long and short of it is that I come from a long line of people who have a genetic condition whereby they are unable to produce a certain protein, and so we need it from external sources through dietary consumption. In other words, drinking other people’s blood or eating their flesh. I have to eat at least one small portion every day, otherwise, my body can’t absorb calories from anything else.

As for where they were getting the bodies…from my grandparents’ generation onwards, they’d begun to reject the notion of digging up graves, like our ancestors had done for hundreds of years. Necro-cannibals, they’re called. They only eat those who are already dead. It’s why my parents became doctors, so they could…claim the unclaimed.

It took me some time, but I came to realise that none of us ever asked to be afflicted with this condition. All they wanted was to survive.

There were times when I wondered if I should’ve just let myself die off so as to cease the genetic chain of guilt that would inevitably plague any future generations. Not that anyone was begging to date, let alone make babies with, the kid who supposedly doesn’t wash his hands after using the bathroom.


No, it’s fine. Really. And I guess, fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it—I discovered that I’m not particularly interested in the baby-bearing sex. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t still have this whole other problem to worry about…the reason my parents were so against me dating or socialising too closely in general.

That wasn’t something I particularly worried about until I entered university. It was a fresh start, in some ways. Denis and I both miraculously made it into medical school. I don’t think he actually wanted a career in medicine, but he once told me that he doesn’t care what he does so long as he’s needed. And with his family already working as undertakers, he has connections with one of the local crematoriums. That’s usually what happens with the unclaimed after they’ve undergone all the inspection and paperwork.

So…someone else knows, too?

Just one, kind of. I don’t know his real name. Denis just calls him Fatboy. Whenever an unclaimed gets sent to him, he handles the, uh…disassembly of the various parts. Like a butcher, if you will. And then he sends them to me in air-tight freezer bags with labels disguised as cuts of beef on their way to a delicatessen.

Wait, I thought that they usually cremate the body as a whole rather than chop them into parts? Or at least that’s what I see in films—correct me if I’m wrong—when they push the entire body into the cremator? Or is it more space-efficient to cut the body up? Like, you can watch the the flesh burn first and then the bone kind of becomes ashy and—sorry…go on.

You seem…weirdly excited.

No, I’m just curious. What they show in films isn’t always accurate, I guess. Anyhow…continue.

Um…yeah. So that’s how I’ve been acquiring my…supply. It’s not easy, and sometimes it doesn’t work because ultimately, it’s…well, illegal. It means that I have to ration out what I have very slowly. I only eat one small portion a day unless I’m particularly tired.

Anyway…where was I going with this?

Denis and I got a fresh start in university. I even had a boyfriend for a month or so, but it was difficult trying to hide it from my parents, and he eventually got fed up with me, saying he didn’t want to date someone who wasn’t ready to come out to their family. That’s what I’d told him was the issue anyway.

It scared me for a long time, and I would become apprehensive of approaching anyone romantically, because I knew it would only end up in heartbreak or chaos, not just for me, but for my family as well. Then, after I graduated, my parents retired, and it was just my sister and me. They moved to Stockholm after reading several studies on how it would soon grow to be a city with one of the highest percentages of childless adults. Several years later, my sister got an offer at a university in London, where my aunt and her family live.

And then it was just me. I felt like I was in primary school again, left to my own devices and feeling out of place…but for the first time, I realised that without my parents around, I had the opportunity to reinvent myself in the ways I could control. I watched movies and listened to music, and on my days off, I would lay around at home doing absolutely nothing. It was great, but a part of me still hoped for something more.

Then I met you.

I’ve had many crushes in the past that I let slip by, but you…I was willing to risk everything just for a chance. And I’m sorry that I’ve dragged you into this mess, and you have every right to find me disgusting or barbarian, but I promise you that I tried to keep you out of it. I hate so much that I’m like this, you know? I thought I could try giving it all up once again, and try and find other ways to work around the problem, if it meant that I could keep you around.

“Well, you’re an idiot!” Denis emerges from the kitchen with a steaming bowl of what appears to be congee. “Food’s ready,” he says, placing the bowl carefully on the dining table then taking a seat at one of the chairs. “Extra ginger, as always.”

“Thanks, man,” Edan turns one corner of his mouth up slightly. “Really appreciate you doing this.”

“Fuck, don’t get all sappy on me now,” Denis mutters, pulling out his phone and scrolling mindlessly.

His throat parched now from talking, Edan coughs dryly into his sleeve, hanging on his arm like laundry on a wire. At some point, Anson had shifted closer to him, their knees and legs pressed up against each other so that Edan can feel the warmth against his skin through the blanket.

“So…yeah,” he finally manages, cold sweat forming on his palms both from relief and with hesitancy over what he knew would inevitably come next. “If you want to report me now, I understand. I’m fully prepared to face that, and I won’t judge you for it.”

Anson sighs deeply, sitting up straight as he wipes away any remaining wetness in his eyes. In his mind’s eye, he had made his decision long ago, even before entering the house, even if he hadn’t been aware of it. I must be insane, he thinks. But at least I have you to go round the bend with.

“I’m not going to report you, and I’m not going to tell anyone, either.”

There’s a flicker in Edan’s gaze as his mouth falls open slightly, processing his words for a few moments before he finds a moment of supposed clarity and nods.

“Thank you,” he whispers, a sincere smile reaching his tired eyes. “That’s really all I can ask from you.”

“Don’t you want to know why?”

He merely blinks in response, his smile fading into a faltering grimace. Pity? Self-protection? Several potential justifications spring to mind, none of them particularly comforting. Then, before he’s realised, there are warm, soft hands on his face, Anson’s thumb rubbing gently at his cheek.

“I love you,” he says, just loud enough so that the two of them can hear. “That’s what I meant to tell you before…well, you know. I once thought you were too good to be true, you know? I began to doubt because I figured there had to be something wrong that would send me packing, and yet… I’m here. It feels like everything I know about the world has changed because of you, and I’m sure there’s plenty that I’ve still yet to learn, but one thing I know for certain is that you would never willingly hurt anyone. Especially not me.”

For what feels like the thousandth time that week, Edan cries. This time, though, his tears spill hot and easy onto the blanket, blurring his vision and leaving droplets where his lashes brush against his glasses. He cries for a young Edan, a lost child who had lived in fear under the unremarkable care of equally lost parents, running from his own happiness and stumbling along an increasingly narrow path he’d paved for himself…to finally arrive home. Home, where Anson is, not the skeleton of a mansion that he’d penned as his address for almost thirty years.

Their noses bump together clumsily, reaching for…


The two startle from their mutual enchantment, ears reddening and clearing their throats from the interruption. Denis scowls as he looks up from his phone, then, realising what he’d done, bows slightly in apology.

“Sorry,” he says sheepishly. “Just lost a round.”

On Fear

Edan is no stranger to fear.

He’d been a mere three years old when he’d made first contact with the earliest root of his distress. His mother had lifted him to sit at the picnic table, terracotta paint chipping with age and with the scorching sun that so often spans over country parks.

Would you like a marshmallow?

As children do when presented with sweets, he’d nodded with wonder-like enthusiasm. The pillowy cloud of sugar is springy between his near-full set of teeth, squishy and slightly sticky in his tiny fingers. The confectioner’s sugar dusts his grin a snowy white, much to his mother’s disdain.

Look at you! You’ve got it all over your face. Hold still, I’m going to wipe your mouth.

The rest of the treat is gone with several more bites, and as the grown-ups bustle around him to dispose of paper cups and barbecue nets into large black bags, he’s left to entertain himself with not much more than the knot in his shoelace.

When the fuzzy yellow creature lands on his knee, he stares. No larger than his fingertip, he becomes entranced with the microscopic movement of tiny feelers and the gentle flutter of translucent wings. An aunt had once remarked how he had beady eyes like that of a bumblebee, to which he’d giggled in delight. 

Hello, friend.

As if it understands, its hairs stand on end, eyes shifting to meet his in greeting. He smiles, reaching with his forefinger to pet his new friend by its golden fur, as he often does with the neighbour’s labrador puppy. 

The pain is sharp, and where there’d previously been syrupy sweetness, there now emits a wail so loud that it sends birds scattering from the nearby trees, alerting the grownups to his cry of alarm.

What’s wrong? What happened?!

Whatever coherency that may have otherwise been formed from his words are garbled and drowned in his cries, then soothed by his mother’s shushing as she carefully removes the shell of the needle that the perpetrator had left behind.

It’s okay, baby. You’re okay. Let me see.

On his skin, it appears as a tiny red pinprick like the target of a laser pointer, highlighted only by the mild swelling of the surrounding skin. How could something so small, one that creates the sweetness on his morning toast, cause such overwhelming pain? 

The entire ride back to the city is endured with an icy soda can held to his knee, the wound swelling to match his earlier snack but the pain somewhat subsiding to a dull ache.

It’s on this day that Edan learns to be cautious.

On his tenth birthday, his classmates gather at the gates of an amusement park that he’d been to several times before, although he’d never been tall enough to attempt any rides beyond those for which his baby sister could reach the height requirements.

Without his family in tow and the egging on of his fellow fools, he stands in front of the gaping mouth of the swinging pendulum ride he’d only experienced from the sidelines and on the TV in commercials. A group of sprightly young adolescents with exhilarated grins whooshing past the screen come to mind, and Edan is utterly bewitched.

What a rush, it would seem, to have the wind whipping through his hair and to see the vast ocean and emerald hills from a view otherwise only witnessed by birds! 

Whoever pukes is buying everyone ice cream!

He announces this with a loud bravado that he isn’t sure his friends are entirely convinced by, and makes quick strides towards the growing line. 

As his feet dangle off the side of the seat and the bar pulls down over his head to secure him in place, his heartbeat accelerates beyond the resounding tuba bass line from the carousel some distance away. The ground disappears from beneath him and with the blink of an eye, his entire being is whipped in an entirely different direction, 













nor shelter

only nausea and 

disarrangement of 

sight and sound.

His screams fall deaf on his own ears and with his eyes screwed shut, it doesn’t even occur to him that the swinging has ceased until one of his friends shakes his shoulders, patting his wet face as the bar releases over him.

He falls forward, crouching and rolling onto his side to make home on the solid ground. When he eventually finds his footing and, his first instinct has him staggering directly towards a nearby trash can.

A concerned hand soothes over his back as he heaves repeatedly over the open receptacle.

Ten times, one for every year.

The following week, his teacher poses the class a question: If you were as free as a bird, where would you fly to?

Birds are not free, he writes. They are snatched to wherever the wind takes them. 

At the budding age of fourteen, he falls again, this time head over heels for the girl his class teacher has indignantly assigned to be his deskmate that month. 

She laughs at his jokes, so openly that her nose crinkles with unabashed glee. She teases him for his chicken scratch handwriting, and lends him her nice gel pens that she keeps in twenty-four colours. She makes mindless chatter with him with fingers tugging at the long straps of her pastel-pink backpack and flips her hair over her shoulder as she complains about the late bus. She grasps at his arm as she feign tripping over her feet in the corridor, then laughs at her own supposedly clumsiness. She pushes the sleeves of his sweater up her slender wrists to pour cola into a plastic cup, one of many scattered across the desks, shoved together for the Christmas party.

She’s beautiful, he thinks, and he’d like to pen her smile into his days.

And when the entire student body gathers in the hall for that year’s selection of festive performances, he clears his throat into the microphone at the piano, finding her eyes in the crowd before pressing into a melody he’d practised a hundred times over.

This is for you.

Their peers are lively with teasing hollers and cheers after his very public display, but Edan finds her expression vacant disconcerted as he steps down from the stage. 

When the bell rings, he clutches at her sleeve at the school gate, for once quiet with hesitation.

He’d kept the festive card in his backpack all morning, eager to find the perfect time to pass on his sentiments. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d developed a fondness for the opposite sex, nor is he unfamiliar with boastfully changing his relationship status for others to gush over, but certainly the first time he decides he’ll act on his affections.

It’s a long minute that he spends waiting. Every scan of her eyes across his haphazard penmanship fills him with unprecedented restlessness, his heart lifting with the upward turn of her lips, then plummeting with every crease of her brow.

Her response comes in the form of the thick paper being pressed back into his own hands along with his loaned sweater. 

You’re nice, she says with a smirk. But I think you’ve misunderstood.

And with that, he watches her back fade down the street and into what he presumes will be a carefree holiday season for her. 

When he reaches home and drops his backpack wearily onto the living room floor, his phone buzzes urgently in his pocket.

Have you seen her post yet?!

dude…what happened

wtf man pick up your phone

Are you coming home for dinner?

are u ok :(((

Not having spoken to anyone else since leaving the school, it takes a few moments to process before he finally opens his news feed, where her profile picture now mocks his confession.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt. Seriously? Do you have no shame?

On the first day back, he begs his class teacher to move his seat, and doesn’t speak a single word to his new deskmate. 

I’ve had a premonition, his father bursts into his room one evening. You’re not going to Korea this summer.

Pulling his headphones down onto his shoulders, he listens to his old man’s frankly absurd, foreboding tale of a supposed plane crash that awaits him if he dares go on the exchange trip he’d signed up for with his classmates. 

Dad, that’s nonsense. I’m not going to die in a plane crash.

If you go, I’m not paying a cent for your living expenses.

There’s warning in his tone, and Edan’s penchant for mischief dies on his lips. In his years of poking the bear of his parents’ strict regimen for his academic pursuits, he’s found that it’s easier to comply than to bicker, and if there’s anything he despises more than going against his own desires, it’s disappointing those around him. 

Okay. I won’t go.

Instead, he finds himself among ninety-nine other young men in a packed auditorium, the number 63 printed on a tag pinned to his sweater, familiar lyrics running amuck through his head and a practised dance twitching in his fingers.

Out of habit, he bounces his knee repeatedly in a fidget of nerves, accidentally bumping into the contestant next to him. He apologises, then smiles.

He’s seen him before. 

The last time Edan had encountered him, the boy had been dressed a baggy white shirt and cream basketball shorts to match, hair bleached a brassy platinum and eyebrows tinged a bold, dark brown. 

He’d recognise the handsome dancer anywhere, having been captivated into watching him for almost a full half hour through the slotted window of the practice room door upon visiting a friend’s hall to borrow lecture notes. 

You’re from City, right? I’ve seen you dance before. You’re brilliant!

Even through the thickly applied layer of makeup, the boy can’t mask his blush that forms with the pleased grin on his face.

N-not anymore. But thanks. 

I’m Edan. 

He extends a hand out, which the other boy shakes with amusement.


I think you’ll smash your performance, Anson.

Not that Edan had ever had trouble making friends, but especially in recent years, he’s lingered on the side of vigilance in making the first move. And yet, with no apparent reason, he finds himself spilling over his precursory boundaries in a rush that’s fuelled by either the high tension of the room or a need to disperse his mind’s disquiet.

I hope to see you around, Edan.

They’re placed into opposing teams, although one would never know from the way they fall so easily into extensive conversation on lunch breaks and fall asleep on each other’s shoulders on the train after long days spent in rehearsals. 

The summer blurs past with the scorching heat, and with every passing week, the once-full auditorium is trimmed down by the dozens. He almost feels like an imposter, having made it through every round by a crosshair. Until, that is, he finds himself in the elimination zone, heart in his throat as once again, he makes it through by whatever saving grace the heavens had blessed him with.

You had all of us on the edge of our seats just now, Jer tells him as they pack up for the evening. I saw him crying in the green room earlier.

Edan’s shirt sleeve has bore witness to many a tear shed from Anson, but never over himself. The knowledge creates a sickening twist in the pit of his stomach and a bitter taste in his mouth that will persist for weeks before he forgives him. He decides that he’d rather be stung by a thousand bees than make him cry again.

Don’t be silly, he says when he finds the boy later, eyes still puffy from the night’s events. You won’t be on this journey without me.

They’re in the taxi home from a full day of shooting, and Edan’s eyes are sore from wearing contacts all day, but still, he dims the brightness on his screen to reconnect with the day’s bygones.

The cold of January has them bundled up in cosy layers, although Anson isn’t dressed too differently than usual. And in their state of post-adrenaline, he’s fallen asleep against Edan’s chest, caring little about his hair being mussed under his cap at the end of the day and more concerned with making home in his favourite napping spot. He smells like a warm, syrupy glaze, a scent that over time, has brought comfort to Edan’s days. 

He can certainly go without leaving a comment under the boy’s latest post, although out of habit and perhaps to leave a virtual memento, he still does, but not without scrolling through others first. After all, what use is making his mark if someone else has already beat him to the punch? 

There’s nothing out of the ordinary in his findings; the usual strings of hearts and smiley faces, mixed in with the occasional frisky remark that seems to come with the territory of being attractive in the public eye. 

Except one, and his freezing thumbs tense over the screen as he reads. How much bitterness does a person amass to dedicate time towards forming such absurd speculations about a complete stranger? How much could this faceless coward possibly even know? 

Surely not more than Edan himself, and with news surfacing with misinformed variations of matters Anson would rather put to rest, Edan braves confrontation in the name of loyalty. 

Just stop it man 😂 everyone can buy followers for him, wt u are doing now is meaningless

The not-so-funny thing about the Internet, though, is that everything is forever, and with the immediate thousands of likes from fans that build up in his favour, he suddenly recalls why he avoids conflict. He doesn’t dare move, lest he wake the boy on his shoulder from what might otherwise be peaceful rest.

Yes, you are right, everyone can buy followers and likes for him, why he don’t delete the fake followers after he knew? because nearly 1/4 of followers are fake? What he did is only blocked a few fans who found it and reminded him it will be discovered by others via dm, we are so disappointed what he did!

The response comes just as the taxi pulls up to their destination, and Edan shoves his phone into his jeans both to regulate his erratic, agitated breath and to gently tap his friend awake as he pays the driver with a crumpled bill from his coat pocket. Anson sniffs from the cold and rubs his eyes with the softness of a small child, then smirks at him briefly. 

I could’ve easily slept for several more hours like that.

You’d get a stiff neck sleeping upright. Call me when you’re home, okay?

He doesn’t, but not out of forgetfulness. Rather, in the relative silence of his childhood bedroom, Edan’s phone becomes a loudspeaker for their manager’s crazed lecture about watching his words on social media and doesn’t he know that he’s a public figure and that people will take things out of context? Doesn’t he know that he’s not a child anymore and he has the power to make or break both their careers?

Of course he does.

But when a knock comes on his dressing room door the next day, followed by an unprompted embrace and thank you whispered into his shoulder, Edan finds that once in a while, fear is but a molehill.

It’s practically a game to them now.

Ha! Wanna see us kiss?

Uh…not really.

They do it anyway, mostly for their own amusement than whatever sorry excuse they give the raised eyebrows around them. Just a short peck with a resounding smack that’s followed by a fit of giggles that Edan isn’t sure is entirely genuine anymore. 

I mean, we’ve practically made out before, and it really didn’t do anything for me, he fibs straight to the camera, although his gaze darts around the wall in front of him, plastered with a jumbled collage of polaroids, one of which bears a smile that has taken up residence in his mind without his notice.

The lie feels awkward in his mouth, and as they’re sat in a corner hunched over foam boxes and plastic spoons, Edan decides he doesn’t like lying.

Between the two of them, they share a fair number of apprehensions. There are soothing affirmations after unwanted kisses from a fish, bold defences made in the face of scathing accusations, and a wordless embrace after dark secrets are wept into a quiet room. In return, there’s a reassuring grip to his hand as he trembles under a balloon full of mealworms, a steadfast arm to clutch onto as they listen to a particularly chilling story, and subtle words of encouragement when the days stretch over fifty hours.

Edan is no stranger to his emotions.

He allows them to slide like water off a duck’s back, refusing to let them dwell beyond his threshold for panic response. But for the past three years, he’s developed an ineffable magnetism that both renders his senses haywire and simultaneously fills a gap that had escaped his notice.

Can we swap lunches? There’s spice in mine.

He nods smiles, happily trading over his plain but harmless option. 

There’d been a time when he’d actively avoided the sources of his fear Heartbreak, horror, disappointment, vertigo, and paranoia have yet to dig him a grave thus far. Bravery, he’s learned, comes in doing the things you fear the most, and being comforted in the fact that he’s not alone. 

Edan has one fear that he’s had yet to overcome, but as Anson fills his cheeks with plain rice and a quiet grin, he thinks today’s the day he’ll brave the consequences.



I need to tell you something.