Chapter 13: Balance: ฿653
Arthit sluggishly makes his way up the steps of his building late on Saturday evening, having put in an extra hour at the cart after the game. He’s halfway up the last flight, reaching into his pocket for the apartment keys when he hears another set of footsteps behind him.
“You just finished, too?”
Prae shoves her now-frizzy hair into a messy bun, and parks herself onto a step, stretching her toes out in her flip flops.
“Yeah,” he sighs, plopping down on the step beside her. “I’m completely wiped.”
His body, indeed, is heavy with physical fatigue, but his mind is alert beyond belief, racing with endless spirals of thoughts surrounding the day’s events.
“So…that was fun today, right?” Prae picks at one of her fingers. “You had fun?”
“I…yeah, I guess.”
Fun? He doesn’t know if he can call the mental marathon following their day fun, but spending time with people he trusted and liked? With Kongpob? He supposes it had been sufficiently enjoyable.
“You think Kongpob had a good time?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugs, picking at a loose thread on his jeans. Her voice is clearly teasing, but he’s not got much energy at the moment to be embarrassed at the mention of Kongpob’s name.
“Wow,” Prae cocks an eyebrow at him. “You’re not even going to argue back?”
He exhales slowly, choosing not to respond. Instead, he’s now twirling the thread around his forefinger, so tightly that it’s zigzagged white where the thread digs into his flesh. Prae watches him for a moment, a burning question knitted in her brows.
“Do you like him or not?”
Like? What does that even mean, really?
Arthit doesn’t think he’s ever liked anyone before, what with how literally everyone his age with the exception of Prae (until recently) had essentially deemed him worthless for the better part of his entire life. He doesn’t think he’s even had a passing crush, let alone true, full-fledged, feelings, and he’s not about to jump to conclusions with the first classmate who’s actually nice to him.
“I…don’t know,” he answers, truthfully. “And it doesn’t matter, anyway.”
“Why? Because he’s a boy?”
“Prae, you know that’s the last thing that bothers me.”
It’s true. His most consistent friend sitting next to him had come out to him just two years ago, and he’d simply asked her, Does that mean I can finally tell Mae that I don’t have to marry you?, which they’d both laughed over. His mother, if the previous night’s rather embarrassing conversation were any indication, is not opposed to the idea, either.
No, the fact that Kongpob is a boy is the very least of his concerns.
“Then what is it?”
“You know exactly what, Prae,” he mumbles, glancing sideways at her inquisitive expression, her head tilted slightly. “His mom was the one who specifically requested that I move classes.”
Kongpob’s mother. Powerful wife of one of Bangkok’s richest businessmen. A major financial contributor to the school’s annual events.
Head of the PTA.
Prae sighs, pulling her legs up under her to sit Indian style.
“I’m guessing that’s why you freaked out when you saw her today?”
“It’s just better that she doesn’t remember me,” Arthit pulls his finger out of its thread-prison, watching as the blood rushes back through the previously cut off vessels. “And he doesn’t need to know, either. It would just…scare him off.”
“You don’t even know that it was him who asked her to do it,” Prae rolls her eyes. “From what I can tell, he has no idea what even happened. Didn’t you say that he only recently found out about your card?”
He nods, realising that he’s probably overthinking the entire matter, but nevertheless, he still has trouble believing that Kongpob’s friendship truly has no ulterior motive. He’d once yearned so desperately for his friendship before and the second he’d acted upon his deep admiration (infatuation?), it had backfired so badly that he’d begged his mother to switch schools at the time. Maybe it had been for the best that he’d moved classes.
Better safe than needlessly get hurt. Again.
“So it’s just his mother that’s possibly a bigot. It doesn’t mean you don’t still have a chance with Kong.”
“That’s just as bad, Prae,” he huffs in exasperation and buries his head in his hands. “Look, I’m not saying I like him, but hypothetically, how would that even go if his mother already hates me for even possibly being gay? Also, I’m also pretty sure he just thinks of me as a friend.”
Prae snorts at this, actual choked laughter escaping her.
“Okay, I’m willing to bet my father’s cart that Kongpob doesn’t just want to be friends,” she raises her eyebrows pointedly.
“Seriously, he’s just nice to everyone—”
“Yeah, yeah. I didn’t see him wave to anyone else at the game,” she smirks, dodging a half-hearted smack. “But…I see your point about his mother. That would suck to have to hide all the time.”
“So…you do like him, then,” she says, more of a statement than a question. “Otherwise you wouldn’t even be thinking about all of this.”
“I…I don’t know, okay?!” he stands up, eyebrows pinched and ears tinged red. “I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”
Prae shakes her head as he turns and jogs up the last of the steps, quickly opening up the apartment door before sliding down onto the floor behind it.
Perhaps, somehow, his childhood infatuation had developed into something more, or maybe this is just what having a close friend (who isn’t practically your sibling) is supposed to feel like. But he’s not going to dwell on it any more than he’s losing sleep over.
After all, as he’d so blatantly pointed out, it doesn’t matter anyway.
Sunday passes with excruciating lethargy, at least for Arthit.
Kongpob spends most of his remaining weekend day catching up on homework he hadn’t managed to finish on Friday. He holes himself up in his room, completely focused. His phone is turned off and kept at the other side of the room, and he asks Shin for the fourth large cup of coffee before his mother specifically comes up to his room to cut off the habit before he spends the night sleepless.
And she’s right; when he does finally finish the last of his assignments, he has trouble falling asleep despite his mental exhaustion. Instead, he lies awake, restlessly trying to dismiss thoughts about Arthit’s adorably shy smile, and what it would feel like to kiss it. What it would feel like if their breaths were to mingle for just a few seconds. Eventually, the caffeine finally wears off at almost 3AM, and his dreams mimic his last waking thoughts.
Arthit spends his namesake sleeping in until noon, then working for a few hours at the cart before pacing around his room pretending to read one of his five comic books and periodically eyeing his phone, anticipating the frequent influx of messages that he’d grown accustomed to receiving throughout the day on any other weekend.
Not that he expects Kongpob to text him, but since his conversation with Prae last night, he’d (obviously) gone down a slippery spiral of contemplating the possibility of having feelings for Kongpob, and he can’t help but worry that his friend has magically somehow caught wind of his purely hypothetical feelings and decided that he doesn’t want to talk to him anymore.
So when Monday morning rolls around, both boys are exhausted to the point where neither of them realise that they’ve slept through their alarms.
Kongpob, of course, is the first to peek an eye open at 7:06 AM, almost falling out of bed when he realises he’s late for his tutoring session with Arthit. Immediately, he bolts across the room, still looking a right mess from sleep.
Kong☕: oh goh im so sorryyyy 😩😩😩
Kong☕: i spnt all day doing hw yesteday and i overslept
Kong☕: be there asap
He doesn’t even bother correcting his typos or using proper punctuation, texting hurriedly with one hand as his other is busy brushing his teeth while he sits on the toilet, trying to multitask to cut down time. As he spits out his toothpaste, his phone buzzes.
Arthit☀️: well i guess don’t worry about it
Arthit☀️: i overslept too🤦🏻♂️
Arthit☀️: guess we can reschedule?
Arthit☀️: or nvm, we can just cancel
Kong☕: No! It’s fine, we can reschedule!
Kong☕: How does tomorrow sound?
Arthit☀️: i’ll set an extra alarm 😑
“Lunch?” M claps his hand onto Kongpob’s shoulder as he steps out into the corridor. He looks expectantly at Arthit, too, who hesitantly points at himself. “Yes, you too, Arthit.”
Kongpob wavers his glance between his two friends. Sure, they’d eaten together on Saturday, but that had been outside of school.
“I, uh…maybe, I’ll join you after-”
“Yeah, okay,” Arthit says suddenly, and Kongpob twirls to look at him, genuinely surprised.
Arthit shrugs, his face still expressionless. He points at thumb towards the staircase.
“We could all eat on the roof.”
Kongpob hesitates at the idea of welcoming a third party into their place (could he really call it theirs?) but he doesn’t want to be rude to his own best friend, and if Arthit is okay with it, then he has no reason to be.
“Yes, okay. Sure,” he nods, turning to M.
“On the roof?” is all M says as they make their way up the stairs. “What’s up there?”
His jaw drops as he takes in the space, stopping at every plant and sniffing various flowers and fruit, and eventually jumping in excitement upon seeing the basketball hoop.
“This is so cool! How come I’ve never known about this place?”
“I only knew about it because of the student council,” Kongpob chuckles, seating himself at the bench across from Arthit. He smiles upon unscrewing the lid of his thermos, inhaling the fragrant waft of lemongrass, coconut, and lime from the fish soup.
M doesn’t respond, busy dribbling a stray basketball and attempting several shots at the hoop without accidentally throwing the ball off of the roof. Arthit smirks at this, snapping open the lid of his lunchbox. He peers over at Kongpob, who’s sipping at a spoonful of a creamy white liquid.
“Tom kha pla,” Kongpob fills his spoon up again, holding it out to him. “Want some?”
Arthit regards the spoon held in front of his face, and the cogs in his dead turn with difficulty, trying to work out if Kongpob is seriously trying to feed him, or if he’s supposed to take the spoon.
“Uh…that’s okay,” he says, gently pushing his hand away so the liquid doesn’t drip.
“Just try some. It’s really good, I promise,” Kongpob moves the spoon towards him again.
M is still distracted, pumping himself up every time he makes a basket. Arthit briefly glances at him from the corner of his eye, then back at Kongpob, who’s waiting expectantly.
It really shouldn’t be as big a deal as he’s making it to be.
It’s just a spoon.
He leans forwards, quietly slurping up the broth. It’s got a wonderful, nutty flavour, with just a hint of a kick – not spicy, but more like the warmth of fresh ginger.
“It’s really good,” he nods, looking down when Kongpob smiles at him. “Your mother makes you lunch?”
“She likes trying out different recipes,” he smiles, his cheeks warming under tanned skin as he discreetly nips at the spoon that had just been at Arthit’s mouth. “M is always trying to get her to adopt him.”
“Do you ever cook?” Arthit says, mostly just trying to keep the conversation going.
“No,” Kongpob laughs a little. “Mae tries to teach me basic stuff sometimes, but I can’t even fry an egg without burning it.”
“You can’t fry an egg?”
“I’m hopeless, okay? Just not one of my skill sets. I’m guessing you’re an excellent cook, unless grilled meat is the only thing you can make.”
“I can cook,” Arthit nods, chewing on a cashew. “Por taught me a lot when I was a kid.”
“Marriage material, you are,” Kongpob jokes, but Arthit’s cheeks turn slightly pink. “Hey, if you don’t mind me asking…what exactly…” he trails off awkwardly.
“He passed away from a heart attack when I was in ninth grade. He…was also severely overweight and diabetic, which just made things even more complicated.”
Kongpob just nods, trying and failing to come up with words to say.
“It’s fine; you don’t have to say anything,” Arthit cuts into his broken chain of thoughts. “It was a while ago, and if anything, it gave me a kick up the ass to finally do something about my own…predicament.”
“I found you in the yearbook,” Kongpob suddenly recalls, trying to move from the subject. “You were so cuuuute,” he teases, reaching out to pinch Arthit’s right cheek, and promptly being swatted away with a disapproving tut.
“I’ll have you know that my mother says I’m still very cute, thank you very much,” Arthit says snarkily, jabbing his spoon in Kongpob’s direction. The tanner boy laughs, amused by his friend’s remark.
“Yeah, you are.”
And then it grows quiet, both of them dawning with the realisation of what Kongpob has just said.
Arthit cautiously brings a hand up to his ear, trying to cover the reddening tips.
It’s just a compliment. He’s just being nice. It’s what friends do.
Kongpob, on the other hand, is simply staring into his soup, chewing on his bottom lip at trying to think of something that might cancel out what he’s just admitted.
“Kong!” M calls out, relieving them both of their embarrassment. “I’m going down. It’s nice here, but too quiet. You two have fun!” he jogs over, picking up his backpack and nodding in Arthit’s direction before heading towards the door.
Arthit watches after him before setting his spoon down.
“Hey, uh, sorry about….you know, just inviting M here. I know this is kind of your secret spot.”
“Oh, it’s fine. It’s not really a secret, and it’s just M. I don’t think he’s going to go around advertising it to everyone.”
“I’m just…not ready yet.”
They exchange a small smile before returning to their food, finishing it in silence.
Prae🍐: lover boy is here to see arthit again
M🎯: is he there often?
Prae🍐: almost every day
Prae🍐: except weekends
Prae🍐: any news on your end?
M🎯: i had lunch with them today, sorta
M🎯: did you know that they eat together?
M🎯: ALONE? on the rooftop garden of the school????
Prae🍐: sounds a little romantic to me 🤭
M🎯: i swear they were flirting
M🎯: i think i heard kong called him cute
M🎯: I KNOW. I SHIP IT. I SUBMARINE IT.
M🎯: they basically forgot i was there
Prae🍐: way to go, kong!!
Prae🍐: and then??
M🎯: and then i think arthit didn’t know what to say so it was awkward
Prae🍐: of course he did
M🎯: so nothing from arthit then?
Prae🍐: well it’s only been two days
Prae🍐: i did talk to him the other night
Prae🍐: i straight up asked him if he liked kong
Prae🍐: he basically said he doesn’t know and it’d be a bad idea anyway
M🎯: what?!! why?
Prae🍐: idk how much you or kong know
Prae🍐: but arthit had to move classes in eighth grade
M🎯: …kong’s mae…of course
M🎯: is our ship sinking before it even gets to sail 🙁
Prae🍐: idk 🙁
Prae🍐: so it’s true then? she had him moved?
M🎯: kong doesn’t know about it though
M🎯: although it makes no sense why she would do that
M🎯: according to what my mae told me, she fought really hard at the time to have the bullies suspended
M🎯: but she and my mae were outvoted because those kids’ parents were on the pta too
Prae🍐: that’s weird
Prae🍐: did she know that the card was for kong?
M🎯: i don’t know, actually
Prae🍐: i wish we knew more
Prae🍐: sigh they’re being disgustingly cute
M🎯: what are they saying???
M🎯: maybe take pictures?? 🤪
Prae🍐: that’s really creepy, dude 🤨
Prae🍐: also i’m more than 10 metres away
Prae🍐: but they’re being all cute and smiley and blushing UGH
M🎯: gahhhh keep me posted
Prae🍐: ok i gtg kong is leaving the stall now
Arthit tries to suppress his growing blush as Kong turns back to smile at him while walking away.
When he’s finally far enough away, he pulls out the notepad from under the cart, something that doesn’t go unnoticed by Prae.
01/09/2014 – ฿33