Ker digs his fingernails deep into his wrist, deep enough to cause tiny droplets of blood to seep out. He bites down hard on his lower lip as he walks along the winding red-dirt road towards the marketplace - the most dreadful part of everyday.
The sun is hot in the clear-blue sky. The air is twice as warm, with a slight breeze which blows through Ker's long, matted hair. He wraps his arms tight around himself, bracing himself for the oncoming of loud voices, music, and bodies pushing up against one another.
He steps into the marketplace, taking in a short deep breath. He looks around, watching as people go about their business. He flinches each time a child squeals loudly with laughter, and as voices float past his ears.
All he needs to do is get Lee's things and go. Lee wants his daily alcohol and pack of cigarettes. He also said he needs some honey candy and some sticky rice balls to snack on. Ker's stomach growls loudly upon thinking of food. He hasn't eaten yet today, and yesterday he went to bed hungry. He doesn't know if he'll find food today. He can only hope so.
Ker glances up, startled to find that he is standing at the stall selling alcohol. There is an old man there who runs the stall, called Mr. Thao. He's always grumpy and likes to take his anger out on Ker, whom is always timid.
"You again?" Mr. Thao spits out, glaring hard up at Ker. "You'd better not hold up my business like you did yesterday! Just get what you need and leave!"
"Yes, sir," Ker says in a soft whisper. His eyes scan over the full table. Which ones are Lee's favorite? Kerwonders to himself, feeling Mr. Thao's glaring eyes on him. He just told me! Why can't I remember?
"Hurry it up!" Mr. Thao snarls. Ker glances behind him to see a small line waiting. He swallows hard, feeling his hand begin to tremble as sweat sticks uncomfortably to his skin. "You're holding up the line, like always!"
"S - Sorry," Ker squeaks out. "I'm - I'm sorry..."
"Stop your pathetic stuttering, too! You're a grown man, not a pathetic child!" Mr. Thao continues, sounding a lot like Lee.
"Is there a problem here?"
Ker flinches at the new voice. It speaks his language, but with a slight American accent. Ker doesn't dare look up, as he feels a presence beside him.
"Yes, there's a problem, white-skin!" Mr. Thao yells, slamming his fist onto the table. Ker can only whimper softly and hope he can make a quick escape soon. "This crybaby is holding up my business! Make him go away, white-skin!"
"Hey, easy," the American-accented voice responds softly. "No need to yell. How about I buy what he needs and then we'll both leave. How does that sound?"
"Just make it quick!" Mr. Thao orders harshly.
Ker can feel eyes suddenly on him. "What were you planning on buying, hm?" the man asks softly. "I'll buy it for you. Just tell me and then we'll get out of Mr. Thao's sight, okay?"
Ker finally looks up, only to gasp as his eyes connect with the brightest, bluest eyes he has ever seen. They shine beautifully in the sunlight, twinkling like stars one clear night. Ker is so overwhelmed with emotion at seeing this man's eyes, he stumbles backwards, nearly falling onto his bottom, only to be saved by this man with beautiful eyes.
"Easy, easy," the man says in a warm laughing voice. Ker steadies himself, too embarrassed to look this man in the eyes, even though he desperately wants to see those jewels again. "We don't want you getting hurt, do we? Now, come on and tell me what you wanted to buy so we can leave."
"Th - This one," Ker stutters out, finally remembering which alcohol Lee wants with great relief flooding over him. Now he doesn't have to go home empty handed.
"Alright," the American replies, before handing Mr. Thao a twenty money bill and telling him to keep the change. Then he takes the alcohol bottle and guides Ker carefully to a spot in the shade that isn't as loud or crowded as other parts of the marketplace are.
"Ars you okay?" the American questions softly. Ker looks up, blinking and looking startled by the question. "When I first came over, you looked like you were about to cry. Are you okay now?"
"Y - Yes," Ker squeaks out quietly.
The man smiles. "That's good to hear. Now, c'mon, let's get something to eat and look around for a bit."
"I - I can't," Ker stutters out. "I - I have to get other stuff and go h - home..."
"Are you sure?" the American says, sounding surprisingly disappointed. Why, though? If only he knew who Ker was, he wouldn't even want to look at him.
Ker nods, feeling guilty at turning him down, though they are strangers. The man seems kind enough. Kinder than Lee by a long shot. He seems to care for Ker, even though they don't even know each others names.
"I guess I'll let you go, then," the red-haired man says. "See you around?"
Ker can only nod as the redhead walks away, disappearing into the crowd of people.
"And where the hell have you been, huh, Xiong?!"
Ker flinches at Lee's loud, angry voice. "I'm I'm sorry, s - sir," he chokes out, only to stumble backwards as Lee slaps him hard.
"Worthless little shit!" Lee hollers, towering over Ker. Ker's body begins to tremble, and he finds himself thinking of that American redhead. His beautiful jewel eyes, his calming presence and his soothing voice.
God, why is he like this? Is he already falling for a stranger just because he was kind to him? How pathetic! No one falls for a stranger, especially only after just meeting one. He is a real freak!
"I'm - I'm sorry, sir," Ker says desperately, earning another slap. "Really, I - I am! Here, I got your stuff!"
Lee suddenly stops. He stares at Ker, then at the bag he holds. Instantly, he swipes the bag out from Ker's hands. "Just get outta my sight!"
And, with that, Lee is lost in his alcohol and Ker is once again kicked out.
"I'm telling you, Matthew! That man was absolutely beautiful! I think we're meant to be soulmates! Have you heard of love at first sight?"
"Travis, you've gotta be kidding me!" Matthew says backs. "You're saying you ran into some filthy refugee and you saved him from a grumpy stall owner? You don't even know his name! Plus, there's no such thing as soulmates! You're living in a delusional fantasy!"
"I'll find out his name when we see each other again. Then we'll get to know each other. God, I'm desperate to feel his hand in mine!"
Matthew can only scoff and continue reading his book. He watches as Travis begins to get ready for bed. "One day, that man will sleep beside me. God, I can't wait to wrap my arms around him."
And, with that last thought, Travis settles into his bed, his thoughts on nothing but that beautiful refugee man.
Ker lays down on the cold, hard bamboo floors, staring up at the thatched roof above. Lee sleeps snoring loudly on the other side of the hut.
As Ker thinks of this day's events, tears begin to slide down his cheeks. He thinks of that red-haired man with his gorgeous blue eyes, twinkling like stars. Why does he have to feel this way? Why must, when he first meets someone kind to him, fall instantly in love? Or is it not really love but a stupidly pathetic crush that will soon go away?
Ker doesn't know. He knows he is married to Lee, and even though Lee hates him, Ker must still be faithful. They even had done the blood-letting ceremony, something only bondmates do. Ker does not want to be trapped with abusive Lee forever. He wants to find someone who loves him, who cares for him, who wouldn't even think of hurting him.
But, would he ever find that person? Is his true soulmate that red-haired man? Ker doesn't know, and thinking about it too long causes his head to hurt.
So, in order to stop thinking of it, Ker rolls over and closes his eyes.
Dear gods, he prays silently, if that man is really my soulmate, give me reasons to believe it to be true...
And, with that last prayer, Ker falls into a deep yet troubled sleep.