Chapter 22: Balance: ฿321
Maybe he should be the one to say something.
Arthit could spend the rest of his high school life waiting for Kongpob to tell him, but at this rate, he’d rather just rip the bandaid off now than have to continue suffering through this seemingly endless pining. If this were a story, he imagines that readers would be pulling their hair out from the agonisingly slow burn by now. It’s definitely more than just a silly crush at this point, although he can’t pinpoint when exactly his deep admiration had morphed into such intense attraction that he can barely concentrate on anything else.
He could probably bear with eating lunch alone for just one more year. After all, he’d been doing it for so long before he and Kongpob had even started talking.
Of course, that would suck, and he’d probably have to go back to working his original hours at the cart, what with the prospect of no longer having his tutoring jobs.
But he doesn’t want that—the part where Kongpob no longer talks to him, not the part about losing the tutoring money.
He sends himself into a frenzy on Tuesday evening, pacing around his room while trying to think of all the reasons Kongpob could possibly be holding back. Hadn’t something almost happened on Saturday? If Shin hadn’t called, would Kongpob have elaborated on what he’d meant by I just know that I want you in my life after we graduate? And then the way he’d sulked all of Monday, but then smiled again by the time he left the cart? Arthit doesn’t know what to make of Kongpob’s polarising behaviour anymore.
He needs new perspective.
Arthit☀️: do u think i should tell him
Prae🍐: tell who what
Arthit☀️: tell kong that i like him
Arthit☀️: but what if he doesn’t like me back
He’s waiting for her reply, when he hears the front door being jiggled open, and Prae kicks her shoes aside before casually strolling into his room and promptly pulling the chair out from under his desk. She throws a leg over the seat so her chest is facing the chair back, then looks at him pointedly. He’s not even fazed at how she makes herself so at home in his apartment anymore.
“Are you blind? Do you need your head checked?” She tilts her head, moving her index finger in circles to outline his head. “All that logical thinking you do with your math nerd stuff and you still can’t come to the obvious conclusion that the boy likes you?”
“This has nothing to do with Maths, Prae!” he rolls his eyes.
“What are you still waiting for? I thought his mae practically claimed you as her son-in-law? You don’t even have to hide from her!”
“Okay, first of all, that is not what she told me. Secondly, I…” he pauses, trying to articulate what he’s thinking. “I don’t think it’s as simple as that.”
Prae sighs, resting her chin in her hand. “What is it that you’re afraid of? If it’s not about whether he feels the same or not, then is it because of…you know, everyone else? Because you know that even if you let Kong go, you can’t just deny yourself like this for the rest of your life.”
“I know,” he flops down to lie on his bed. “But Kong and I started talking under pretty weird circumstances, and…I guess I just knew what he was thinking. I thought that if he did like me, he would’ve said something by now.”
“I thought as much, too.” She scratches behind her ear. “Have you tried talking to someone else about it? I can only tell you so much; I barely know Kong.”
“One of his friends?” she shrugs. “Aren’t you chummy with M now?”
He ponders this for a moment. M is probably the most knowledgeable about how Kongpob feels or is thinking, and likely already knows what’s going on. The thought of starting that conversation, however, has him reeling with embarrassment.
“You could try calling him,” Prae interrupts his thoughts. “I’ll be right here if you need help. I won’t say anything.”
“You mean now?” he turns his head to raise an eyebrow at her.
“Yes, now. When else?”
“I mean…” he trails off, searching for an excuse, but coming up empty. “I…alright, hang on.”
He pushes himself up and sits cross-legged on the bed, then pulls his phone out of his pocket. His fingers tremble a little as he finds M’s name under the ten or so contacts he has saved in his phone. The four rings of the dial tone feel like forever.
“Hello?” comes a familiar voice, andArthit puts the phone on speaker so Prae can listen, too.
“H-Hi. It’s Arthit,” he says slowly. “From school.”
Prae smacks her hand to her face in exasperation.
“Yeah, I know who you are, Arthit,” he chuckles. “What’s up?”
“I…um…” he looks over to Prae desperately, eyes wide with panic. Ask him about Kong! she mouths exaggeratedly. “I wanted to…ask you about something.”
“Is this about homework? I’m not sure you’re calling the right person.”
“No, no. Not about homework. It’s…” he exhales heavily from his nose. “I just wanted some…advice? Is that okay?”
There’s a moment of quiet before M speaks again.
“Yeah, of course that’s okay. What about?”
“Well,” he eyes Prae’s anticipative face. “It’s about…a friend?”
“Do I know this friend?”
“Maybe? It doesn’t matter.”
“Okay. So what is it about this, uh, friend?”
Arthit watches as Prae buries her face into her knees now, gripping at the roots of her hair in an agonisingly silent groan.
“….My…friend….wants to tell someone about something,” he says quietly, his fingers gripping the corner of his pillow. “They have a…a c-crush on this person.”
“Right,” M says slowly. “Okay…and what’s the issue here?”
“Well, uh…my friend thinks, maybe…this person likes them too, but…that person hasn’t said anything.” Arthit nods through each phrase. He realises he’s being completely ridiculous, and M probably already knows who he’s really talking about, but this is about as much as he can muster up the courage to say for now without spontaneously combusting. “And my friend is just wondering why that could be.”
“Are they close?”
He pauses to consider this. Yes, he supposes that he could call Kongpob a close friend.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Well, maybe that person treasures their friendship and doesn’t want to ruin it. Or they’re worried.”
“Worried? About what?”
“That your friend doesn’t feel the same way.”
“But I do!” Arthit blurts out, before slapping a hand over his mouth in realisation. “I-I mean….I—”
As he stutters through his slip-up, he grabs the pillow next to him and buries his face into it with a silent scream. Prae has slid off of the chair, lying face down on the floor in a fit of silent laughter now. Her shoulders shake as she grips her sides at his predicament.
“Hey, relax. It’s fine, I won’t say anything,” M reassures him, chuckling slightly.Arthit, however, can feel that his face has gone extremely hot, and his ears probably an alarming red. He breathes through his embarrassment. “But…seriously. If you really like this person that much, you don’t have to wait for them to speak first.”
Arthit falls back onto his pillow, rolling over to one side with the phone still held in front of him.
“So…what do I do?” he finally says after a few moments.
“Maybe you need to make things clearer for them,” M says. Prae flings her arms out, and mouths Thank you! in agreement. “What is it that you’re worried about?”
Arthit contemplates his question for a moment, pressing his tongue inside his cheek in thought.
“I don’t know how. I’ve never done this before.”
“It’s probably going to be awkward no matter what, trust me. The first time I asked someone out, she didn’t even hear me because I whispered it at the library. I ended up repeating myself so many times that I was just shouting and everyone stared at us.” Arthit snickers a little. He finds it hard to believe that someone as seemingly articulate as M would have trouble in that department. “Anyway, my point is, just be yourself, and be honest. It’ll be fine. And if it isn’t, you’ll get past it eventually.”
He nods, even though M clearly can’t see him.
“No worries. We’re friends, too. You can talk to me any time.”
“Yeah, same, I guess.”
“Well, it’s great that you say that, because I could really use some help with the physics homework. What the fuck is refraction?”
“It’s when you shine light on water and it appears underwater at a different—you know what? I’ll look at it tomorrow.” He quickly glances over at Prae, whose attention is dwindling.
“Alright. Bye, Arthit. Good luck.”
He hangs up, dropping the phone face down on the mattress before groaning into the pillow. As he does, he feels the mattress next to his legs dip down, and Prae pats his back gingerly.
“You did good, kid. Also, M would make a great counsellor one day.”
“I, on the other hand, need the floor to swallow me whole and never allow me to resurface.”
“Yeah, okay, you can disappear into oblivion another time. Right now, we need a game plan.”
Arthit finds himself exhibiting his personal range of nervous tics more prominently than usual. It’s a frankly a bizarre choreography of his knee bouncing up and down, twirling one particular tuft of hair between his fingers, and the other hand furiously clicking his pen with his thumb. It seems, though, that Kongpob’s concentration on the task in front of him obscures him from paying them any attention. That is, until he reaches out to grasp Arthit’s arm firmly, and swiftly plucks the offending pen out of Arthit’s hand.
“Stop,” he says, eyes widened with mild amusement. “It’s driving me mad and I can’t focus.”
“Sorry.” Arthit almost reaches for the pen again, but decides against it, instead sitting on his left hand. Kongpob waves a hand over Arthit’s head to flick at the protruding tuft of hair, grinning through a gentle laugh.
“What’s gotten into you, anyway? You’ve barely said a thing this morning.”
Arthit shakes his head, his knee still bouncing.
“I’m fine. Just…are you finished? I can check your answers.”
“Yeah, here,” Kongpob pushes his notebook over to Arthit, who pretends to examine the set of questions carefully, even making a show of running his finger over each row of simplification, and occasionally pausing to nod.
“It looks fine,” he concludes, pushing the paper back towards Kongpob.
“Really? I thought for sure that I’d done something weird on that last—”
“It’s fine,” he interjects, reaching out to turn over a new page, tapping it with his pen. “Let’s work on something else.”
“Something else? Isn’t this as far as we’ve gotten in class?”
“Well, it doesn’t hurt to do some recap of older stuff, does it?”
“Uh…yeah, I guess. What do you think I should cover again?”
“Maybe some…simplification on both sides of inequality symbols.”
“Oh,” Kongpob nods, as if the entire thing makes perfect sense. “Yeah, I had some trouble with that before. Did Teacher Danai say that would be on the quiz?”
“I don’t remember. Maybe? Anyway,” Arthit rambles, biting his lip as he writes down an equation he’d spent the better part of his evening thinking about. The pulsating of his heart feels incredibly loud to him, so much so that he thinks Kongpob might be able to hear it in the deafening quiet of the library, too. You need to make things clearer, M had told him. Well, this is about as clear as Arthit is currently ready for.
He stares at the problem momentarily, before nodding once and tentatively placing the book back in front of Kongpob. “Here, you need to solve for i.”
“Just the one question?”
“Well, we’ll see how you do with this one first, and then I’ll give you more.”
“Is this from the textbook?”
“Kongpob, just do the problem!” he runs a trembling hand over his face in frustration. Of all the people in the world he had to fall for, it had to be someone as persistently annoying as Kongpob.
“Okay, okay,” Kongpob says, laughs softly. “I’ll do the problem.”
Arthit holds his breath as he watches Kongpob work through the first step.
“Mmhmm,” he hums as Kongpob looks to him for confirmation. “Go on.”
He gulps, the temptation to begin clicking his pen again making his hands twitch as they grip at the hem of his shorts.
“I can eliminate 12x on both sides here, right?” Kongpob tilts his head, examining the equation. “Because they’re of equal value, so it doesn’t affect the final answer…”
“Yeah…now you just need to simplify it again,” the vein in Arthit’s forehead threatens to pop at any moment from how hard he’s tensing. Perhaps he should’ve waited until towards the end of the day, or done it via LINE, so if things went badly, he could lock himself away and never see the world again. Still, it’s too late to back out now.
And there it is.
His breath feels unbearably tight in his throat as he waits for a reaction, his hands now laced together in front of his mouth, lips pressed together in a thin line. He stares pointedly at Kongpob’s face, searching for any indication of what he’s thinking. Kongpob’s eyebrows furrow for a moment, squinting at his work.
“I can get rid of the negative signs, too, right?”
Arthit has to gather his tumultuous typhoon of thoughts for a moment, breathing noisily into his fingers.
“Yeah. That’s the answer.”
“Okay,” and then Kongpob shrugs. Shrugs!
Over an hour of Arthit searching up ‘romantic algebra’ and customising the equation, only for Kongpob to fucking shrug. “Next question, then?”
Arthit just stares at him, unsure of whether he’s more exasperated or relieved. His entire face feels numb. At the very least, they could go about the rest of their day without any sort of awkwardness.
And actually, as Arthit begins to force quit the 500 or so tabs open in his mind, it’s probably better that Kongpob hadn’t at all registered what had just happened, because while there’s some element of truth, it seems awfully early on to talk about the L word.
That said, it’s less complicated than trying to construct an equation where the answer would spell out
i like you so much it’s actually stupid how many of my thoughts you consume but if you don’t feel the same that’s fine but also i might dissolve into a puddle and run down the drain. Solve for i.
“Never mind, it’s almost time anyway,” he eyes the nearby wall clock. “We should get to class.”
Perhaps clarity is subjective, and like M, he would have to shout for everyone to hear.
Their early morning classes feel like Arthit had merely hallucinated them. He spends both of them either staring at a random spot on the chalkboard, or gazing over at Kongpob’s back, before sighing quietly and staring at his books, simply allowing the time to pass while willing himself not to fall asleep.
It’s only when someone stands next to his desk, nudging his arm to attention, does Arthit realise that it’s already recess.
“Oh, hey, M,” he peers past him, noticing that Kongpob has left his seat, probably to use the bathroom.
“You seem really out of it,” M takes a seat in the chair in front of Arthit’s desk. “Does this have something to do with what you told me yesterday?”
Arthit heaves out a sigh and nods gently, watching as M inspects the underside of his white socks, blackened from the residue of dirt on the classroom floor.
“I…tried something this morning, but it just didn’t work out the way I wanted.”
“Wait, you actually said something?” M sits up now, genuinely intrigued. Had he missed something when Kongpob had come in that morning?
“Well, not exactly,” Arthit rolls his pencil between his fingers, feeling the hexagonal edges bump over his knuckles. “I…kind of worked it into a math equation and the answer said something to the effect of a confession. Um…he didn’t catch on, though. He thought it was just another equation,” he adds this last part quietly, burying his face in his hands at the embarrassing recollection.
M is biting back a smile, but fails. That’s disgustingly cute, he thinks. He watches as Arthit’s ears turn red, and is somewhat surprised at the boy’s boldness. Suddenly, though, it occurs to him what Arthit has just admitted out loud to him.
“You said ‘he’…”
Arthit quirks an eyebrow at M now, eyes darting from side to side to see if anyone might be listening in on their conversation.
“Well, yeah, I figured you’d already connected the dots by now. The three of you are the only friends I have other than Prae. And well, Tew…”
“Jumping is for trampolines, not conclusions.” M points at him. “That’s…thank you for trusting me with that information,” he says, more softly now.
“Anyway,” Arthit merely nods in response. “I’m fine.”
“You should keep trying. Do something more obvious.”
Like what? Just say it out loud to him? Just grab Kong by the face and kiss him?
How positively absurd, Arthit thinks.
“I’ll think about it.”
“By the way, I still need to ask you about the homework. Lunch?”
“Cool. Take it easy, Arthit.”
M softly bumps his fist on Arthit’s desk before strolling back over to his own.
“Three of the beef,” Kongpob tells Arthit as they’re standing on either side of the cart again. “Oh, and two of the chicken for Shin.”
“Is he picking you up again?” Arthit sniffs, the aroma of the skewers slightly tickling his nostrils.
“Yeah, Mae refuses to let me take public transport until my ankle is full healed.”
Arthit nods, brushing marinade on top of Kongpob’s order. As he does, he subconsciously smiles, his dimple forming in one cheek. He chortles a little at his own failed attempt. Even though his day had started out somewhat oddly, it had hardly produced the worst outcome possible, and Arthit at least feels a little less apprehensive about trying again.
“What’re you smiling about?” Kongpob says, wearing a smile of his own.
“Hmm?” Arthit snaps out of his daze, looking up in surprise. “I…nothing, just remembered something, that’s all.”
“Was it me?” Kongpob smirks, eyebrows wagging playfully.
Arthit rolls his eyes, shaking his head as he pulls Kongpob’s skewers off the grill, adding a few more to replace them. Perhaps it’s because he’s in a better mood, or because he doesn’t know if he’ll find another time when he has the guts to try again, but something occurs to him in that moment.
“Hey, Kong,” he says as he hands him his order.
“Yeah?” Kongpob loops the plastic bag over his wrist as he grips onto his crutches again. He looks back up at Arthit, who’s gazing right back at him, his eyes narrowed slightly in thought. “What is it?”
“Um…I won’t be working tomorrow,” he licks at his chapped bottom lip. “Do you want to come over after school? Like, just to hang out, or something.”
Kongpob’s gaze falters for a moment, trying to make sense of what is happening before he responds.
“Just us, right?”
“Without M or Tew?”
“Just you and me.”
As much as Kongpob’s smile does funny things to his heart, Arthit feels like he will soon have to stick his face in his mini-fridge if the boy doesn’t stop grinning and give him an answer.
“I’d love that, P’Arthit.”
“Tomorrow it is, then.”
And as Kongpob hobbles away, turning around to smile at him again, Arthit finds himself unable to hold back his own grin. It only momentarily falters as he notes down that day’s order.
17/9/2014 – ฿36