Chapter 18: Balance: ฿465
Arthit is more than glad to see the week coming to a close. While weekends are usually the busiest days of the week for him at the cart, it’s at least fairly repetitive, and he doesn’t really have to employ any in-depth critical thinking to grill some skewers.
Even so, as he’s slumped over his desk in the early morning, just a little past 7:15, he wonders if his mother would be okay with him taking Saturday off for the third weekend in a row. Kongpob hasn’t explicitly asked him to come and watch the final game, and it would be silly to presume that that’s what he would want, but should he really have to ask in the first place?
He begins to mindlessly sketch out random shapes on the back page of his notebook as he daydreams, not particularly drawing anything, but just letting his pencil faintly trace over the paper repeatedly. Eventually, he tires of the motion, and treats himself to some milk candy that he’d bought on the way home the night before. The sweet rush of sugar does wake him up, if only just a little.
Then, he fishes his eraser out of his pencil case. Or, Kongpob’s eraser, the faded ink on the side now reading only Ko.
Of course he’s heard of the silly superstition. He’d been hearing it spread around among his classmates since they were in elementary school, and the girls would often write the names of their crushes on their erasers, hoping for something to happen after they’d finished using them, only to lose the damn thing or scrawl in a different name several weeks later.
He can’t recall why he’d written Kongpob’s name in the first place, given that he’d only slowly come to realise his own feelings in the last week or so. Perhaps a part of his younger self had been longing for his friendship for so long that any remnant of the boy that came his way felt like something he had to treasure, a pinprick of hope that they could be friends. But now that they are friends, the increasingly small piece of rubber now holds a different meaning. He’s not sure if he really wants to use it up just yet.
As he puts the eraser down, softly smiling to himself, a shadow casts over his left side just outside the window, and someone leans over the windowsill.
“Hi, Arthit,” comes the friendly voice, alerting Arthit to its attention.
It’s Tew. He slides the window open a little further and props his briefcase up on the sill as he leans forward, peering straight down at Arthit’s desk.
“Oh, hi, Tew,” Arthit nods, briefly smiling back.
“Are you always here this early?”
“Yeah, I live nearby. And it’s quiet this time of morning.”
“Right, I almost forgot. So what are you up to?”
Arthit shifts his gaze a moment, unsure of what exactly to say as he takes in the sight of his desk. Tew had been coming over to their classroom almost every recess in the last week, often engaging him in friendly conversation, so it’s not like he has trouble talking to him anymore. However, he doesn’t know how he feels about someone else knowing about his crush just yet, much less the slightly embarrassing way he’d been keeping the blasted eraser in his pencil case for months.
“Uh…just chilling out, I guess. Not entirely awake yet.”
Tew’s warm, friendly smile remains as he continues observing Arthit through the open window.
“Um…you’re here early, too,” Arthit finally says, an attempt to break the momentary silence.
“Yeah, I’m doing the flag raising this morning, so I have to get here a little earlier.”
“I see,” he nods. He’d wondered where he’d seen Tew before he knew he was on the basketball team. “Is that your assigned duty?”
“Yeah, well, it beats doing shoe duty, which is what I had last year,” the boy scrunches his nose up, remembering how he’d had to stand next to the numbered cabinet of shoes by the door at the end of each lesson before being able to leave the classroom himself. “Oh, by the way, are you coming to our game tomorrow?”
Arthit twiddles his pencil between his fingers, pondering the question before shrugging.
“I’m not sure. But maybe. I haven’t decided, but Kongpob did mention it.”
“Well…uh,” Tew fiddles with the handle of his briefcase nervously. “It’d be nice if you came. I mean…like…I’d really like it if…you came to watch.”
He seems to stumble over his words, eyeing Arthit expectantly as he chews on his bottom lip. Arthit squints a moment in question, trying to parse what Tew might be implying, but decides that it’s a simple invitation. Eventually, he moves his head side to side vaguely in a noncommittal response.
“Um…I’ll see. I might not be able to get out of working this weekend.”
“Right! Of course…uh, you can text me,” he flashes a toothy grin.
Arthit just nods gently. Tew, as well as M, had exchanged LINE IDs with him earlier that week, but he hasn’t really put either one to use for the time being. It’s not like he can just strike up a conversation with them the way he can with Kongpob, even if both of them are easy-going and fairly amicable. After all, the extent of what he knows about Tew is that he likes maths and video games.
Kongpob. Where is he, anyway?
“I’ll…see you later in assembly, then.” Tew pulls his briefcase off the windowsill and waves to him before heading down the corridor towards his own classroom.
Arthit goes back to his menial task of doodling nameless shapes for a while longer, until he finally notices Kongpob toeing his shoes off outside the classroom door. He looks up, ready to nod hi to him, when he notices something is off about his friend.
He’s lacking his usual bright smile, and the dark circles under his puffy eyes suggest that he’s barely slept. In fact, he looks, dare Arthit say, slightly angry. He had assumed that Kongpob had simply gone to bed early, when he’d tried to call him around 9 the night before so they could do their homework together, and Kongpob hadn’t picked up or read his texts.
The usually cheery boy slumps over on his desk, his head falling straight onto his forearms. What’s with him? Arthit thinks, and after looking around the classroom a moment, deciding that nobody is paying attention, quietly makes his way over to the desk in front of Kongpob, sitting backwards in the chair.
“Hey,” he says softly. Kongpob jolts out of his sleep and looks up blearily at a slightly startled Arthit, before smiling upon realising who’s in front of him.
“Oh, hey,” he replies, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. “Everything okay?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Arthit chuckles softly. “You look like a zombie.”
“A cute zombie?” he smirks a little, to which Arthit rolls his eyes. Even in his sleep-deprived state, Kongpob is still an outrageous flirt. Not that he’s flirting; it’s just how he is, Arthit reminds himself.
“Really though…I thought you went to bed early when you didn’t answer my call yesterday.”
“Oh, sugar…I’m sorry.” He shakes his head to further wake himself up. “I probably did, but I got up again in the night to do homework.”
Arthit nods, pursing his lip to the side.
“It’s fine…but, uh…are you going to be okay for the game tomorrow? How are you going to get through practice tonight?”
“Ugh, don’t even remind me,” Kongpob groans into his hands. “I already know I’m going to end up in hospital or something.”
“Maybe take it easy for today?”
“Coach Pak would never let me slack off the day before a major game. I’d have to have a broken limb or dead in a ditch to do that.”
“Well don’t jinx it.”
“Are you coming to the game, by the way? I didn’t want to ask because I wasn’t sure if it was okay with your mother.” he sniffs, rubbing a finger under his nose to soothe the itch.
“Yeah…I’ll have to ask again. It’ll be the third week in a row I’ve not worked a full Saturday.”
“Oh,” Kongpob sits up suddenly, brows furrowed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to cause you any trouble.”
“No, it’s fine,” Arthit attempts a smile. “I like spending time with you…guys,” he tacks on the word at the last second, shifting his shy gaze towards the window. “Mae says I need to get a life anyway. But…I’ll still have to ask. I just kind of feel bad, you know? Because it’s technically our household income, and it’s not fair that I’m neglecting to help keep the lights on to go and socialise,” he sighs. “Maybe tutoring M and Tew will mean I don’t have to work as much anymore. I still need to calculate an estimate of how many hours I can get away with….Kongpob?”
He smiles softly, looking down at his friend, who’s got his head on his arms, having fallen asleep again. Maybe because he looks so peaceful, with his mouth hanging slightly open where his cheek meets his forearm, or maybe it’s because Arthit feels a sense of endearment towards the sleeping boy in his restful state, but he slowly reaches out a hand to brush a strand of hair off Kongpob’s forehead.
Then, he makes his way back to his own desk, watching fondly from his corner desk by the corridor window.
M practically bolts to the bathroom as soon as their teacher leaves the classroom, his shoelaces still loose as he sighs with relief upon finally closing the stall of the cubicle door. He’s so relieved in fact, that when he emerges from the stall, he almost falls backwards when he comes face to face with none other than his own best friend.
“…..Hi?” he says hesitantly, before sidestepping the stern-looking boy to move towards the sinks.
“Got a minute?”
“What’s this about? I’m…slightly…scared,” he raises an eyebrow as he meets Kongpob’s thoroughly unimpressed gaze in the large mirror while he washes his hands. He doesn’t look angry, exactly (he never does), but he’s not smiling either, which is bad enough of a sign coming from Kongpob.
“You knew, didn’t you?” he finally says after a pregnant silence, exhaling heavily through his nose.
“What did I know?” M shakes his hands of excess water before drying them on the back of his shorts, leaving a few darkened blotches where the fabric gets dampened.
“The fortune teller, M. He said that you were withholding information. He also said that I might not like what I wanted to know.”
“You seriously believe in that stuff? What is this about? I’m going to need you to spell it out for me. What are you—”
“The birthday card, M!”
“Kong, I told you about that ages ago.”
“I don’t mean the card!”
“Okay, now you’re making no sense any—”
“My mother, M,” Kongpob finally says loudly, exasperated as he throws his hands up. “You didn’t tell me my mother was the one who had Arthit moved to the other class.”
M sucks in a breath, his face falling as he shifts his gaze to the floor. It had been inevitable that Kongpob would eventually find out, but he hadn’t imagined that he’d be confronted about it after taking a dump in the school bathroom.
“Kong, listen. I…uh…”
“Why, M? Just answer me that. You knew even before Arthit and I ever became friends. You knew when we were in middle school.”
“I already told you too much when you basically forced me to tell you about the birthday card.”
“I was worried about Arthit! Why would you keep that information from me? Why—”
“Because it wasn’t my information to tell!” M finally snaps, now feeling cornered by the seemingly endless accusations. “Yeesh, Kong, you know, just because we’re friends, it doesn’t mean that you have the right to know every damn thing!” he narrows his eyes in disbelief. “I didn’t tell you because I was trying to prevent you from overreacting and doing something stupid like, oh, I don’t know, bringing it up to Arthit!”
Kongpob looks taken aback, watching his friend with wide, but tired eyes.
“You ever think that maybe Arthit wants to tell you this stuff in his own time, but you keep sticking your nose into it first? And what happens every time? You start trying to guilt yourself and apologise to him when he doesn’t think you even knew in the first place, and then you end up scaring him off.”
M is holding his arms stiffly at his sides now, visibly annoyed, but he softens a little when Kongpob looks somewhat hurt by his outburst.
“Look, I know you always mean well,” he sighs. “But just because you want to help, it doesn’t mean that you always go about it in the best way.” He snorts, recalling something. “Do you remember that time when we were in a café, and there was that blind lady sitting near us, and a guy took her wallet from her purse? You immediately accused him of stealing from a disabled person and then tried to call the police, and then it turned out he was her husband who was a few baht short of paying for their order?”
Kong huffs in sheepish acknowledgement, now shifting his gaze to the side.
“I just…I really like him, M,” he mumbles, a little sadly.
“Yeah, I know,” M heaves a sigh, rolling his eyes now. “But you still need to respect people’s boundaries sometimes. Not everyone is as…uh, understanding…of your intentions as Arthit. I didn’t tell you about your mother moving him because one, I knew it would upset you,” he gestures at Kongob’s current state. “And two, because…I didn’t want it to discourage you from trying to start something with Arthit. You obviously like him a lot and I’d be a shitty friend not to have your back on that front.”
Kongpob nods quietly.
“I’m sorry, M,” he murmurs. “I shouldn’t have accused you of keeping secrets.”
“All’s forgiven, dumbass,” he says, but there’s no malice to his tone. “So what are you going to do now?”
“I don’t know,” Kongpob runs a hand over his tired face. “I just never pegged my mother to be a homophobe. She was saying all these nice things about Arthit, and then she said ‘I didn’t know how you felt about the idea of a boy liking you’,” he spits each word out as though it leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.
“Wow,” M grimaces.
“Yeah,” he mashes his lips together, trying to process what it all means. His breaths become heavier, his throat forming a painful lump. “M, I just like him. Is that so wrong? Just because…because he’s a boy? I just want to live like any other kid. You know, have a crush, maybe a relationship, do fun stuff, study what I like. Is that so much to ask for from my own mother?” he says this with a slight crack in his voice, shedding fresh tears he’d been trying to hold back all night.
“Dude, come here,” M swings an arm around the back of his friend’s neck and pulls him into a hug. He doesn’t know what else to say to comfort him, so he just lets him cry into his shoulder, awkwardly patting his back until the sniffling resides. “Sorry I don’t know how to help you with your gay rich boy crisis. I can’t relate.”
Kongpob pulls away huffily, smacking M in the shoulder at his friendly jab.
“Oooooh, scary words coming from you,” M holds his hands up in mock surrender, mouth in a wide grin. “Come on, wash your face. Class is about to start.” He claps a hand to Kongpob’s back.
Kong☕: I’m finally done with practice 😩😩😩
Kong☕: I’ll be there soon, in about 15 minutes!
Kong☕: I just need to help Coach clean up.
Kong☕: Can I get 4x🐄 and 2x🐖? ☺️
Arthit☀️: sure 🙂
Arthit smiles to himself as he pockets his phone again. He’s still got a little time, so he pulls out the hidden notepad and marks down the order first.
12/09/2014 – ฿42
He’s writing in the last number when his phone buzzes again, this time with a text from Prae.
Prae🍐: what are you always writing in that thing?
Prae🍐: i thought customers were supposed to be the ones who write their order
Arthit☀️: none of ur business
He looks over to his far right and pastes a sardonic smile on his face as she meets his gaze from her stall.
Prae🍐: waiting for kong?
Prae🍐: at this rate, i’m going to be playing bingo in a retirement home before you two tell each other about your feelings
Arthit☀️: yeah well save me a chair at the table
Arthit☀️: besides, who said that i like him???
Prae🍐: you’re seriously asking that?
She gives him a pointed look, to which he rolls his eyes.
Arthit☀️: fine…but i’m still not telling him
Prae🍐: omgggggg finally
Prae🍐: asldkgj just ask him to hang out!!!
Prae🍐: and then maybe pull him into a dark corner and kiss him!😏😏😏😏😏
Arthit☀️: well gee y didn’t i think of that
Arthit☀️: u make it sound so easy
Arthit☀️: y haven’t u made a move on maprang yet, hmmmmm???
Prae🍐: …turns out she has a crush on a boy at her school
Prae🍐: crushing on straight girls…what’s new 😑
Arthit☀️: sorry to hear that 😕
Arthit☀️: but it doesn’t mean she only likes boys
Arthit☀️: do u think i should i go to his game tmr?
Prae🍐: will that asshole be there? 🤬 i’m still plotting his murder
Arthit☀️: john? well he’s on the team, so yeah
Prae🍐: do you want me to come with in case he tries to bother you?
Arthit☀️: it’s fine. he hasn’t given me trouble all week at school
Prae🍐: so you’re going alone?
Arthit☀️: i don’t know if mae will be okay with it
Arthit☀️: it’s like the third time in a row now
Not getting a response for a while, he looks up, expecting to see Prae busy fulfilling an order, but almost drops his phone when he realises she’s talking to his mother, who appears to listen with intent before shaking her head and laughing. Then, she leans her head out from behind Prae and waves at him, giving him the OK sign, grinning widely. He nods back awkwardly before picking up his phone again.
Arthit☀️: i could have just asked her myself
Prae🍐: no, you would have guilt tripped yourself into not going, and then she would see you being all distracted and eventually wrangled the truth out of you 🙃
Arthit☀️: …shut up
Arthit☀️: i’ve got an order to fill
He shoots her a death glare before shoving his phone back in his pocket. Then, he sets about preparing Kongpob’s order, making sure to leave the beef longer on each side to get crispier grill marks, the way Kongpob likes it.
Almost twenty minutes pass, though, the skewers having long been done and ready in a take-away bag, when Arthit realises that Kongpob still hasn’t arrived.
Maybe cleaning up had taken longer than he’d expected, and he was on his way now. He places the bag near the grill to keep the food warm, and sets about taking more orders, grilling, flipping, and mixing sauce in the pail.
Another fifteen minutes pass, and still no Kongpob.
Arthit begins to become slightly anxious, fidgeting as he stares at their conversation, the last message he’d sent over half an hour ago. Deciding that he at least wants to know if he’s still coming, he finally gives into his resolve.
Arthit☀️: hey where r u?
Arthit☀️: food’s getting cold 🙄
He waits, watching as the “Read” sign appears next to both messages, although another few minutes pass without a response. He’s about to type out another message, when Kongpob himself calls him.
“Hey! I was beginning to think you’d died or something.”
“Uh…well, not quite,” Arthit hears him hiss after he says this, sending a pang of alarm through him.
“Is everything okay? You said you’d be here almost half an hour ago.”
“I know, I’m sorry. Hey, uh, I know it’s late, but I…I need a favour,” he says, groaning in pain again.
“Wait, what happened?! Where are you?”
“I’m outside the school…ow, fudge!”
“Kong? Are you okay?! What’s going on?!”
“Um…I…could you, uh, take me to the hospital?”