Chapter 15: Balance: ฿580
Kongpob wakes up with a…problem.
It’s seven in the morning when he rolls over, blindly reaching and slapping any surface he can reach before he finally hits the alarm clock, which ceases its infuriatingly loud beeping.
He rubs at his eyes, slowly allowing for the sunlight to seep in, although he’s still squinting. As he cranes his neck to stretch out any kinks, he winces at the cracking noises. At this point, he still doesn’t notice anything.
It’s only as he’s pulling his legs off the side of the bed and throws the blanket off himself that he looks down, and his eyes widen in horror.
Despite being completely alone in his room, he clasps both hands in front of his crotch in embarrassment, before slowly removing them, gently lifting the waistband of his boxers to confirm that yes, he does indeed have a boner.
That’s never happened before, he immediately thinks.
He’s always just considered himself a late bloomer in that department, hearing rather crude comments in the changing rooms about morning wood and some sharing racy photos of scantily clad women on their phones. He usually turns away in disgust, but even M has quietly mentioned to him about the first time it had happened to him almost two years ago.
The first few times he’d heard his classmates laughing about it, he’d stood naked in the bathroom mirror at home, staring at his own crotch for a good ten minutes.
He’d even touched himself on a couple of occasions, trying to picture what others told him were supposed to be ‘hot’ about women, just to see what kind of reaction he’d get. Sure, it would feel nice, but it would soon get quite boring, and he’d give up, opting instead to focus on shaving the ten or so hairs that had begun to sprout on his chin.
A few times, he’d even tried to picture what the women in his life told him that they found attractive about men. He doesn’t have a problem with the prospect of being attracted to boys, but he’s acutely aware of polarised attitudes towards the matter in society. Regardless, his mental exploration leads to nothing.
No matter how many pictures of large breasts, moistened vaginas, oversized penises or broad, muscled torsos he’d search up the private mode of his phone browser, he’d feel next to nothing.
So why, at sixteen, is it only happening to him now?
What had changed?
His phone pings with a new message, the notification banner simply reading
Arthit☀️: mae says i can come over
Right. Of course.
For the past week or so, he’d begun having dreams, both day and night, in which he saw himself kissing his friend. Alone in bed at night, he’d even wedged his thumb against his index finger, kissing the soft flesh that would form between them and imagining Arthit’s plump, pink lips against his own. A rush of warmth would pass through his entire body, his chest tightening with excitement merely at the thought.
He can’t picture what it would be like to do it for real, nor is he ready to accept what it means that he really, really wants to.
For now, he groans into his hands, slipping into a cold shower (because he’s heard that it helps) and aiming the spray only at his crotch in an attempt to make his problem go away in time for him to get ready and leave for practice.
When he does finally emerge from the bathroom, he picks his phone up to reply to Arthit’s message.
Kong☕: Great! I’ll text you when we’re done with practice.
“Okay, boys, take ten minutes,” Coach Pak calls out after pumping his manual whistle a few times.
The six of them jog tiresomely to their respective spots on the bleachers, reaching into their bags for icy cold bottles of water and wiping sweat off their faces.
M flops down next to Kongpob on the bleacher step, chugging down about half his water before taking in his friend’s somewhat distracted state, if his anxious fidgeting is any indication.
“You okay?” he says, nudging Kongpob in the arm. He pulls out an energy bar from his bag, munching hungrily as he rests his feet on the step below. Kongpob turns to look at him, then pivots his entire body to face him, one leg now resting on the step.
“M, what happened between you and May?”
“Whoa, what? Where is this coming from?”
Kongpob recalls the day his friend had returned from their summer holiday, boasting about dating a girl he’d met at the library, how she was incredibly pretty, kind and polite, and smart to boot. Then, gradually, he’d talked about her less and less until one day, when Kong had asked about her, M simply said that they’d broken up, and left it at that.
“I…I’m just curious.”
M eyes him sideways, trying to gauge what his friend is getting at, but nods slowly.
“Uh, well. I guess it was mostly my fault. She’s really pretty, and sometimes I would catch other guys looking at her, and well, I guess I got kind of insecure. So I’d ask her to stop dressing a certain way, or I’d try to feed her more food so that she’d become less attractive in others’ eyes. But I realise now how she was really offended by that. I was basically narrowing her worth down to her looks.”
Kongpob nods after a moment, trying to absorb what M is telling him.
“So…you don’t — sorry, didn’t — just like her for her looks.”
“Of course not. I told you, right? We met and started talking because we were looking at the same books in the library. I was really impressed by how much she knew about the author and stories. She’s also funny, and smart, but not in the way you would expect. And then I just slowly started finding her physically attractive, too. Like, I would imagine kissing her, and her face would just constantly be on my mind, and—”
He blurts all of this out in a hurry, the words slurring together in a mess of verbal diarrhoea, but M hears every word. He almost chokes on air, his eyes wide in a shocked stupor at what he’s just heard. Kongpob is just looking at him now, hand clasped over his own mouth, in disbelief that he’s just said told someone about having an erection. Out loud.
“I…..um…..okay?” M manages, still bewildered and shifting his gaze from side to side.
Kongpob shakes his head rapidly, then runs a hand through his damp hair.
“Sorry, just…it’s never happened before,” he explains, although somewhat quieter this time, suddenly aware that they might be overheard by their other teammates. “I just woke up this morning, and it was just…there.”
M is just repeatedly nodding now, unsure of what to say.
“Uh…um…did you have any…interesting dreams prior to this?”
“What do you mean?” Kongpob furrows his brows in question.
“Like…a sexual dream,” he mutters quietly, the slight embarrassment of the fact that they’re discussing wet dreams on school grounds not lost on him.
Kongpob seems to ponder this for a moment, trying to recall any flashing images from his deep sleep.
“Does…just kissing count?”
“Maybe? I guess…who were you kissing? In the dream, I mean.”
A shortened breath reaches Kongpob’s throat, and he briefly ponders if he’s really about to tell M this. They’re best friends, yes, but this is the first time he’s been on the sharing end of this conversation rather than a receptacle to M’s excited rambling about his library crush.
But he doesn’t know how much longer he can keep everything that’s been building inside of him for a few weeks now.
“Arthit,” he says, barely a whisper. His entire body grows warm, and he’s certainly not sweating from the intensive training.
“Huh? Sorry, I didn’t hear you,” M narrows his eyes for a moment, leaning in closer to hear him over the sound of their teammates laughing about something or other.
“I-I said…in my dream I was kissing….Arthit.”
Somehow, saying it aloud makes it feel all too real, and with the realisation, he buries his face in his towel.
“Oh, god, M! I like Arthit!” he groans softly, his voice muffled by the material in his lap as he wrings his hands through his hair.
He feels a hand reach out to pat his back gently, a weak attempt at easing his anguish.
Kongpob snaps his head up at this, eyes glassy as he stares waveringly at his friend’s grimacing face.
“What do you mean, ‘you know’?”
M sighs heavily, unscrewing the cap of his water bottle.
“I mean, well, okay, I didn’t know know, not until you just said so, but I certainly suspected. You haven’t really stopped talking about him or paying attention to everything to do with him since you two became friends.”
Had he really been that obvious? True, he’d been dividing more of his time with M and his other friends between his time with Arthit, but isn’t that only natural when your friends run in different circles? Surely, his inexplicable attraction hadn’t been noticed by anyone else.
“If it makes you feel any better, I’ve only noticed because you keep asking me about him. Also, you keep rushing off every day after school, presumably to go see him. And…you seem really happy every time you talk about him.”
Kongpob blushes, unaware that he’d somehow allowed his crush to manifest itself noticeable at all. Then, something occurs to him.
“M, he’s coming over with us this afternoon,” he says all of a sudden, panicking as he digs around in his bag for his phone. “I should tell him it’s cancelled.”
“Whoa, whoa, what are you doing? Stop. Stop.”
M snatches the phone out of his hand, holding it above his head, pointing at his friend with his other hand. “Dude, what is the problem here? You like him, he’s coming to hang out with us, you’re going to get to spend more time with him. Why are you cancelling?”
“I….I can’t like him, M,” he shakes his head quickly. “I can’t.”
“Why the hell not?”
“He’s…so out of my league, M.”
“What does that even mean?”
“He’s like, insanely smart, really hard-working, and he has all these ambitions, and he’s talented, and I just know he’s going to be some genius inventor one day, and he’s funny, M. He just makes people laugh, and you don’t even see it coming, and oh god, he’s got the best smile, and—”
“Okay, that’s nice and all, but none of these things tell me why you think he’s out of your league.”
Kongpob exhales heavily and begins to wring the towel in his hands until his knuckles turn white.
“He’s all of those things, and I’m just…Kerkkrai Sutthiluck’s son. I’m going to study something I don’t care much about, and everything about my future has already been paved out in front of me, and I’m not even good enough at any of my hobbies to seriously pursue something else. He’s someone of substance, and I’m just…an empty shell, M.”
“Kong,” M shakes his head and drapes an arm around his friend’s shoulder. “You are many things. Impulsive, kind of stubborn, a little too noble for your own good.”
“I’m just saying. You’re hardly perfect, but you’re definitely not an empty shell. Besides, maybe he likes you, too.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t like boys.”
“Last I checked, neither did you. As far as I recall, you didn’t like girls, either.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m pretty sure he has a thing with Prae.”
M actually laughs aloud, mock wiping a tear from his eye.
“Trust me, he does not have a thing with Prae.”
“How would you know?”
“Prae and I talk sometimes,” he shrugs. “Don’t read into it.” he adds, upon seeing his friend’s curious expression.
Kongpob sighs again, groaning into his towel as he wipes at some sweat behind his neck.
“Alright, boys, one last practice game and we’ll wrap it up for today!” Coach Pak calls, clapping to get their attention.
M stands up, handing him back his phone.
“Stop thinking so much about it. And don’t cancel on him,” he points, a hint of warning in his tone.
Kong☕: Hi! We’re just wrapping up here.
Kong☕: Some of the guys are going home to change first, so Shin is picking me, M and Tew up.
Kong☕: I’ll meet you at the cart in ten minutes? Or should we come straight to your building?
Arthit☀️: uh the cart’s fine
Arthit☀️: just let me get changed
Kong☕: Haha did you go back to sleep?
Arthit☀️: it’s a saturday and for once i don’t have to work
Arthit☀️: see u in ten
Arthit☀️: wait who’s tew
Kong☕: He’s on the team as well. You’ll like him. He’s nice.
Arthit☀️: u think everyone’s nice
Kong☕: That’s not true!
Arthit☀️: whatever, later
Arthit sets the phone down on his bedside table.
Contrary to what he’d told Kongpob, he’d been wide awake all morning, pacing back and forth in front of his narrow wardrobe. He’d been trying to decide if he should wear his one somewhat dressier blue button down with his nicer, newer jeans, or if he should just opt for what he always wears.
That is, one of the T-shirts he’d been given as hand-me-downs from the son of P’Boyd, who runs the pad thai stall behind Prae’s stall, and whose daughter Prae had been crushing on for the past year.
It’s not that he’s trying to impress Kongpob (because it’s not like it’s a date or anything), or anyone else for that matter, but he’s acutely aware of the fact that his friend lives in the nicer part of the district, and he doesn’t know if there’s some sort of unspoken dress code for entering that neck of the woods.
After fiddling with his hair in the mirror, tweaking bits of his bangs into something that doesn’t look like he just woke up, he finally settles on a mixture of the two outfits, opting for the button down paired with his familiar, knee-holed jeans, and his usual pair of sneakers. He doesn’t want to look like he thought that much about it.
Kongpob, M, and another kid he vaguely recognises are already at his cart when he arrives. Suddenly, he feels almost intrusive walking into the conversation that’s already taking place between Kongpob and his mother.
He nods awkwardly in acknowledgement when they notice him, wai-ing to the boy who must be Tew.
“Oon, you look nice!” his mother remarks, flipping a few skewers on the grill as she takes in his appearance with a knowing grin.
“What? I wear this all the time,” he shrugs, and turns to the others. “You guys are getting food?”
“Yeah, we’re starving after practice. We’re getting more food later, but we figured that while we’re here, we may as well.”
Kongpob is unusually quiet, kind of cowering behind M, but he’s still smiling briefly at Arthit, who gives a small smile back.
“Uh…who’s watching the drink stall then?” he asks his mother. He peers over at her usual spot.
“Maprang. I thought I’d let her and Prae hang out for today.”
Arthit smiles despite himself. Prae would be happy about that, and for a change, he’d be able to tease her about her crush.
Not that he has a crush on Kongpob. Or, whatever.
As the other boys pay for their food, he pays close attention to Kongpob’s order in particular, making a mental note.
“Bye, Mae,” he says nonchalantly, moving to follow the others.
“Oon, keep your phone on, okay?”
“Just in case. If you need to leave, just call me.”
Arthit looks at her a moment, before nodding slowly.
As he catches up to Kongpob, he gently pulls him back by the elbow, leaning in slightly to speak in a low voice.
“Hey, I’ll pay you back on Monday.”
Kongpob, while he’s nodding, has his gaze fixed on Arthit’s grasp on his elbow, soft fingers around his tan arm. He gulps slightly, and smiles, barely looking up.
They make the rest of their way to the car in not an uncomfortable silence.
06/09/2014 – ฿43