Chapter 11: Balance: ฿708
When Kongpob gets to the library the following morning, he finds that he’s the only one there. Not even the light hanging above their usual spot is turned on.
He’d sort of expected it, but he’s still disappointed that Arthit hasn’t turned up.
After the previous day’s mess, he’d spent another night lying awake, somehow willing for his friend to text or call him back. At one point, he’d even gone down to the kitchen and made himself a rather tasty bowl of cereal, although the crunchy sweetness hadn’t done much to alleviate his troubles.
He looks down at the food he’d brought, and sighs. Already, the carton of pink milk and can of coffee he’d bought at a nearby convenience store are dripping with condensation in the carrier bag. At least the homemade congee is in a thermos, and he could let M eat it instead.
Still holding out hope that Arthit might turn up, he sets his bag and other things down on their usual table, and moves to the wall controls to turn the overhead light on. He may as well get a head start, pulling out his books and homework to work on a few practice questions on pieces of grid paper.
Unsurprisingly, since he’d started these sessions with Arthit, and probably because he’d sometimes pester him on other mornings and text him random questions some weekends, he finds that the actual logic behind the problems he’s doing to be far more approachable than they had before.
Sometimes, he’d replay Arthit’s voice messages explaining what he’d done wrong, just to hear his voice. Perhaps somewhere along the line, the math had actually sunk in.
He works through about fifteen questions easily, checking the answers at the back of the practice book and finding that, indeed, he’d done most of them correctly.
It’s almost 7:30, and the tip of his pencil snaps off, when he hears soft footsteps behind him. He stands immediately after turning around to find none other than Arthit, who’s looking at him with an unreadable expression.
Kongpob finds himself, for once, struggling for words. He’d never really been in arguments with friends before, at least not to this extent, and it’s an uneasy feeling for him.
“You came,” he finally says, gently wiping the sweat from his palms on his shorts.
Arthit simply nods, and glances vaguely at the table, where Kongpob has spread out his books.
“I…wasn’t sure you would.”
Arthit looks at his feet. He hadn’t been sure he would, either.
After another moment of short, quiet breaths, he finally brings his gaze back up to look at Kongpob, who’s still just looking at him, waiting.
“I, uh…I’m…sorry,” Arthit starts, the words coming out in broken chunks. “About yesterday.”
“I’m sorry, too,” Kongpob finally says, exhaling. “I shouldn’t have brought up—”
“No, listen,” he interjects, waving him off. He sucks in a deep breath, and clears his throat. “You were….you were right. I….don’t really have friends. Aside from Prae, that is, and she’s practically my sister.” He scratches his ear as he rambles over his words. “Anyway, I…shouldn’t have tried to question your friendship. I’ve just…never really had anyone look out for me. At school, I mean.”
Kongpob nods gently, and takes a brief step closer.
“I need to apologise, too. We haven’t really been friends for long, and I know that I’ve kind of been very invasive into things that you weren’t ready for,” he says, hands fumbling awkwardly in front of him. “I just really hate bullies, and it upset me to know that you got harassed because of me.”
“They didn’t do it because of you,” Arthit raises an eyebrow. “I was already an easy target because I was the fat kid.”
“Still,” Kongpob says. “I’m sorry. I wish I’d actually read your card back then, and we could’ve actually been friends.”
Arthit says nothing in response, and eyes the table again. Kongpob follows his gaze and he smiles, grabbing the plastic off of the table, pulling out the carton of pink milk.
“I got you this,” he says, handing it to Arthit, who stares at it briefly, before smiling awkwardly and taking it. His face flushes a faint pink, and Kongpob watches him pretend to read the nutritional information on the side with faux fascination. “So…are we okay?”
The question brings Arthit to look up again, large, doe eyes shifting between the table and Kongpob. Then, he lets out a small chuckle, rolling his eyes.
“Are you going to stop pestering me if I say no?”
Kongpob breaks into a wide grin, and Arthit wears a small smirk of his own.
“Yes!” Kongpob moves to sit down again as Arthit walks around the other side of the table. “There’s this one part that I just don’t understand at all, P’Arthit.”
“You’re seriously going to keep calling me that?”
“I always respect my elders, P’.”
Kongpob shoves his previous papers into his bag, and works on a question that he’d already done before Arthit had arrived. He writes in the wrong number in one of the steps, feeling his chest warm with fondness as his friend begins explaining a concept that he already understands perfectly well.
“The kid is less than a year old, and yet she’s got a death grip. I swear, she practically sprained my finger last week, and my sister just laughed at me,” Kongpob talks about his niece between bites of food.
It looks simple enough, tender pieces of roast goose with several stalks of Chinese kale and some rice. However, his mother had gone above and beyond, busying herself in the kitchen all day trying to roast the bird and checking on it with paranoid diligence, stirring at the accompanying plum sauce in between her inspections.
“You have a sister?”
“Two of them. They’re both quite a bit older than me, though. My parents weren’t really expecting me to come crashing into their lives.”
That makes three of us, Arthit thinks.
“Anyway, she’s my eldest sister’s kid,” Kongpob says. “I don’t get to see her often, especially now that she has a baby.”
Arthit nods, chewing slowly.
“What about your other sister? She still lives with you guys?”
Kongpob grows quiet, swallowing what’s already in his mouth. He shakes his head, now distracted by the thought of his aforementioned sister, who he hasn’t seen in at least two years. He hadn’t gone to visit her, and she hadn’t called.
“No,” he says in a low voice. “She, uh…she doesn’t.”
“Oh,” is all Arthit says, sensing that there’s more, but deciding against opening yet another can of worms, especially when they’d just made up that morning. Trying to change the subject, he goes for what he soon realises is probably more awkward, although more for himself than for Kongpob. “By the way, your friend came to the stall yesterday.”
Kongpob blinks out of his preoccupied daze.
“Uh…M?” he builds up a bite onto his spoon, already regretting bringing it up. “He…seems nice.”
“He is,” Kongpob smiles, briefly. “He’s a little awkward sometimes, but he’s a good guy. What did he want?”
Arthit shrugs, spearing his fork into a piece of chicken.
“He…he just talked for a bit. He bought some food, then left.”
“Oh. Wait, what did he say?”
“He wasn’t rude to me, if that’s what you’re asking.” He can already feel his eyes roll in embarrassment as he stumbles over his next words. “He just…might have mentioned that…you were upset. And that you’re not a total asshole.”
He groans internally when he sees the smug grin forming on his friend’s face.
“Looks like I’ll have to thank M later.”
Arthit flusters a little, and narrows his eyes, feeling very watched.
“Eat your food,” he grumbles half-heartedly, shoving in a mouthful of his own.
M is watching the game of football on the multi-purpose court when he feels a pair of arms grab his shoulders from behind, wrapping around them tightly.
“You’re my best friend in the world and I love you!” he says, jokingly nuzzling his face into M’s back.
“Any particular reason you suddenly need to express your undying love for me?”
Kongpob laughs, letting go of his friend and rests an arm over his shoulders. He heaves a contented sigh, unable to wipe the smile off of his face.
“I’m in a good mood, that’s all.”
M shakes his head, shrugging the heavy arm off of him.
“I take it that you and Arthit made up?”
“Yeah, we did,” he says, and his shy smile upon hearing Arthit’s name doesn’t go unnoticed. “Hey, you know what? I’m going to ask Mae to make an extra lunch portion for you tomorrow.”
“Wait, really?” M’s face brightens. “Man, maybe I should interfere with your problems more often if I get free food out of it.”
Kongpob just laughs, and they stand at the side of the court, clapping as the winning side scores a goal.
“Hi!” Kongpob waves briefly at Arthit before jogging straight past the cart.
“I—wha—where are you going?”
But Kongpob’s already out of earshot from him, stopping at his mother’s drink stall. He watches with curiosity as the boy effortlessly charms his way around his mother, chatting with her like they’re old friends as she pours him a cup of iced coffee, the dark liquid swirling and marbling as it mixes with cold milk.
Then he pales as he watches Kongpob try to pay for it, digging out a ฿5 coin before looking confused at something his mother says, then handing her a ฿20 note instead. He gives her a wai, smiling politely, before he makes his way back to Arthit, brows furrowed.
“You said the coffee was only ฿5,” he says, straight to the point.
Arthit picks up the pail of marinade to stir it vigorously.
“I…” he trails off, struggling to hide his furious blush. “You’re already paying me to tutor you, so I didn’t want to charge you more for petty stuff like that.” Kongpob is still smiling knowingly, an eyebrow raised. “Anyway, you were supposed to have it for free, so if anything, you overpaid.”
Kongpob chuckles, grinning at the stammering mess in front of him. There’s just something about the way Arthit’s pale skin turns a delightful pink that envelops his chest with a fond, inexplicable warmth.
Oon, he’d recalled the boy’s mother calling him. Truly, a fitting name.
“Tell you what,” he says, pausing to sip at his coffee. “Deduct the difference from my tab and we’ll call it even.”
Arthit sighs, glaring at him like a disgruntled puppy, but relents.
“Fine. Are you going to eat anything?”
“I’ll take three of the pork, aaaand,” his eyes skim over the grill. “Five of the chicken.”
“I thought you liked the pork better,” Arthit comments, but places the skewers on the grill from the large tub of pre-marinated pieces, the bamboo skewers wedged between his knuckles so he can do it all in one go.
“I do, but P’Shin really likes the chicken.”
He nods, subtly watching Kongpob’s shapely, rosy lips purse around the straw as he sips his coffee, and nervously darts his tongue out to lick at his own lips.
“Oh, by the way, P’Arthit,” Kongpob says, causing Arthit’s eyes to widen at the realisation of what he’d been doing. “I don’t think I can stop by tomorrow or Friday.”
“Uh…okay,” he says, only half listening, stirring the marinade with disproportionate concentration. He tries not to sound too disappointed or curious as he asks, “How come?”
“Practice is going to run late so I probably have to go straight home after,” Kongpob says slowly, biting his lip. “There’s a game this weekend. I was wondering…if maybe you want to come watch? It’s just at school, so…”
It’s really not a big deal, and yet Kongpob finds the thumping in his chest resonating in his ears as he asks this, nervously anticipating Arthit’s answer. The boy looks a little bewildered, blinking a few times before pulling Kongpob’s order off the grill, and into a bag.
“I..um. I can’t,” he says, and Kongpob feels his stomach drop just a little. “I have to run the stall.”
Kongpob pastes a smile on, nodding as he takes the bag.
“Right. Of course. No worries. It’s all good,” he says, not quite believing his own words. “I’ll…let you know how it goes.”
Arthit nods slowly, biting his lip.
“Well…see you, then.”
Kongpob slowly backs up a few steps before turning to walk back up the street.
Arthit pulls out the notepad, wondering briefly if he might ask his mother for Saturday off.
27/08/2014 – ฿60