Chapter 24: Balance: ฿249
Arthit likes to think that he’s many things, but a dazed, lovesick mess has never crossed his mind as one of them. And yet, after Prae had let herself into the apartment, squeezing him till he could barely breathe, he’d been high on the endorphins that were a result of both his relief and excitement about his first kiss.
Now, as Kongpob’s not-so-subtly glancing back to smile at him for maybe the thirtieth time that lesson alone, Arthit has a hard time suppressing his own as he shakes his head in mock disapproval. He sighs, gesturing at the front of the classroom with just a raise of his eyebrows.
Pay attention, they say. You’re being way too obvious.
It’s fairly unlikely that anyone is paying them any mind, given that most people who sit near the back are notorious slackers who spend most of their time staring blankly at the second hand of the classroom clock, or are masters at the art of sleeping with their eyes open. In fact, Arthit is almost entirely sure that the guy sitting directly behind Kongpob (Oak, Arthit thinks his name is) is drooling slightly into his own palm, one side of his glasses pushed up to almost the top of his head as he rests his cheek in his hand. Still, he can’t help but be cautious for both of their sakes.
Kongpob returns Arthit’s look with a slight pout, but relents, turning his gaze back to face the chalkboard. And all in good time, as he’s asked to help hand out materials for the entire class. Arthit tunes out, averting his gaze out of the window for a while as Kongpob leisurely makes his way through each row. Soon, though, he’s quickly approaching Arthit’s corner, startling him a little as he enters his peripheral vision.
Before he puts the worksheet down, though, Arthit raises a brow in curiosity as he watches the boy slyly pull out a pencil from his pocket and scribble something near the top corner of the page. Kongpob smirks a little, clearly pleased with himself, before winking at Arthit and placing the paper face down on the desk. And just as quickly, he makes his way back to his own seat, almost losing his footing and slipping on his socks from lacking peripheral focus.
Arthit shifts his gaze with exaggerated agitation, then peels the corner of the page off the desk to peek at what Kongpob has written.
Is it possible for a person’s entire body to blush? How does a three-word question and silly, hand-drawn emoji send a momentary prickle of warmth down to even one’s calves? Looking up to catch Kongpob’s mischievous smile, Arthit bashfully blinks OK in the subtlest of nods.
For all intents and purposes, Kongpob discovers that kissing Arthit is one of his new favourite pastimes. Far, far better than kissing his own hand while imagining that his finger-lips belong to Arthit. And even though Arthit had yelped a little when he’d found himself gently pushed against the wall outside of the rooftop doorway, he’d all but melted like shaved ice in the sun when Kongpob had murmured a timid Hi, linking their hands together and leaning forward to give him a firm but gentle peck on the mouth.
“Kong, we’re at school!” Arthit half-heartedly pushes him away with an elbow, cowering his neck backwards in a poor attempt to mask his furious blush. He hadn’t been expecting their next kiss to take place so abruptly, not that he’s complaining. Kongpob is a little pink in the face himself, flustered with the pleasant rush that something as simple as pressing his lips to his boyfriend’s brings.
“There’s no rule saying that we can’t kiss at school,” Kongpob grins. “I’ve read the entire school manual seven times.”
“We go to an all boys school,” Arthit looks at him pointedly, but he’s tentatively running a thumb over Kongpob’s palm. He opts not to comment on his peculiar choices in reading material. “It’s not a frequent enough occurrence to bother mentioning. Like, there’s no explicit rule saying that you can’t technically take a shit on the basketball court, but it doesn’t mean that—mmph!”
His protests are smothered by another sweet kiss, which, despite his fear that they may actually get caught by a teacher, has his heart racing with excitement rather than anxiety. Suddenly, his previous protests die on his otherwise occupied lips, his already foggy mind only managing to process enough to kiss back.
A part of him still has some trouble processing that the very boy he’d quietly pined after for so long really, truly returns his affections. If it weren’t for the fact that as he occasionally peeks an eye open, he can see Kongpob’s thick eyelashes so very up close, he would think that he was having a hyperrealistic fever dream. Kongpob’s lips are soft and warm, and meet his own with a care and enthusiasm that Arthit is only happy to reciprocate. Even though they’re just a repeated chain of closed-mouth kisses, Arthit briefly wonders if he’s had some practice.
And he would be right, although not in the way that he dreads to imagine.
When Kongpob finally pulls back, resting his forehead against Arthit’s for a moment, the latter’s hands have disentangled from the other’s, instead settling on Kongpob’s shoulders as he tries to clear the dumbfound dizziness from his head and calm the flutter in his stomach.
“I’ve made a rebel out of you. You never used to break school rules.” He smirks, quietly toying with the back of Kongpob’s shirt collar as he collects his shortened breath. Kongpob’s own hands find themselves on the wall on either side of Arthit’s waist.
“Like I said, it’s not a rule.”
“Oh, so kissing is okay, but not swearing?”
“That’s totally different. Swearing is rude.”
“I’ve still yet to hear you say ‘fuck’.”
“You and M probably make fun of me about that behind my back.”
“Oh, on the daily,” Arthit says in mock confirmation. “We have a flipping good laugh.”
“I hate you.”
“You mouth was saying otherwise just a moment ago.”
“Actions speak louder, or so they say.”
Arthit brings his hands down in front of him now with an exhale of mild amusement, briefly glancing at Kongpob’s walking boot in their now more comfortable silence. Somehow, even though they’d talked for hours on the phone so many times before, speaking in such physically close proximity adds a strangely thick layer of intimacy to their playful banter. Kongpob smells like…well, Arthit isn’t so well-versed in scent varieties, but he definitely smells clean, unlike his own shirt, which probably reeks of char-grilled meat.
Not trusting himself to ask if he looks up, Arthit keeps his eyes trained on their shoes.
“Have you told M yet?”
Kongpob leans back, rubbing a finger across his chin. He shakes his head after a moment.
“Like, I’m pretty sure he already knows. But…it still feels strange to say out loud.”
“Which part?” Arthit mutters quietly, his nervous gaze searching Kong’s. That you’re dating a boy? That you might be gay? Or…that you’re dating me?
Kongpob sighs, shuffling backwards to sit at the picnic table.
“The part where I’ve kind of been neglecting him for a while now because of…this.”
“You know,” he gestures vaguely between them. “Spending all my time with you…trying to get your attention…” he trails off, and Arthit suddenly realises that Kongpob is…shy. He doesn’t know why, but this little fact pleases him greatly, and he takes a seat next to him on the bench. “What if it gets weird? Like, when we all hang out and stuff?”
“I…don’t know,” Arthit admits. In his giddiness, he hadn’t thought it through that much. He’d certainly anticipated that some people would disapprove, and they’d probably have to hide, but now, he realises they’d only skimmed the tip of the iceberg of questions they’d have to encounter. “But he’s your best friend, and he likely already knows. I think you can trust him not to be weird about it. Still…that’s your decision to make.”
“Right,” Kongpob nods slowly. “I’ll tell him soon. I promise you.”
“Hey, what? This isn’t about me. I just mean that…it’s nice having more people who support you, isn’t it?”
A small smile grazes Kongpob’s lips, and he nods again.
“I guess it does help that he already kind of knows it’s coming.”
“Yeah. So does Tew.”
Kongpob’s head snaps around to look at him in shock.
“What? How does Tew know?”
Arthit chuckles, shaking his head. Surely, his boyfriend could not be this dense, although the fact that he’d missed his attempt at flirtation a la algebraic equation is a sobering reminder.
“He…asked me out earlier this week,” he rubs his neck sheepishly.
“I…” Kongpob narrows his eyes, suddenly…annoyed? “Did you say yes?”
Arthit has to tilt his head and blink a few times, wondering why he’d ever once thought Kongpob might have been even a little bit the intelligent one between the two of them.
“Well, I-I don’t know!” Kongpob throws his hands up. “He’s…not a bad guy. He’s friendly, and he got you those snacks at that game. I mean, I didn’t even know he liked boys, but—”
“Kong, I don’t like Tew like that,” Arthit cuts him off. “You really think I would fall at someone’s feet over a pack of seaweed? I…it’s always been you. Even before I realised it, I guess,” his voice trails off in volume at this last part.
Arthit thinks he will never tire of the rare sight that is Kongpob’s blush. If it means he could see it every day, he’d stop holding back on telling him more of his honest thoughts. He bites back a timid smile of his own, but hooks his pinky finger over Kongpob’s on the bench between them.
“Anyway,” he continues. “I said no to him, more or less. And he kind of put two and two together. I don’t think he would be weird about it, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Kongpob smiles, nodding once. He hooks his pinky around Arthit’s, his own fingers thin and bony next to Arthit’s larger, slightly calloused ones.
“I’m glad,” he whispers. “That you don’t like someone else.”
They hadn’t properly said it out loud to each other yet, despite it being silently agreed upon, but Arthit feels pleased nonetheless. He clears his throat, before slowly pushing himself off the bench.
“We should get back to class. Recess is almost over.”
“Meet you back here at lunch?”
“I want…three of the pork, two of the chicken, and two of the beef,” Kongpob is practically drooling over the grill as he watches Arthit set up the first batch of skewers.
“Hungry, then?” Arthit smirks, but lines up the order neatly, the chicken and pork slightly more spaced out. Then he takes his notepad out, scribbling out a familiar format.
19/9/2014 – ฿43
It had rained the night before, and the air is still a little muggy. With the added heat coming from the grill, Arthit wipes at his upper lip on the sleeve of his shirt. Kongpob watches this with fascinated precision, paying particular attention to the faintest reddened outline of swelling around Arthit’s lower lip.
“We didn’t exactly do much eating at lunch today,” he smugly reminds him, much to Arthit’s embarrassment at the memory. The boy glares at him briefly, but simply shakes his head. In some ways, he thinks that things might be progressing a little too quickly between them, which might leave him with no choice but to have to deal with the increasingly frequent problem in his shorts very soon. On the other hand, he’d waited far too long to fulfil his simple wish to even be Kongpob’s friend, and he doesn’t want to waste any more time.
“We can’t keep sneaking off like that,” he finally says, having mostly collected his thoughts now. “People will start to talk.”
“If they’d wanted to talk, they would’ve been doing it for weeks now, what with how many times we’ve been eating alone up there.”
Arthit shrugs noncommittally, turning the skewers over.
“Maybe we should start eating in the cafeteria then,” he remarks, looking up to meet Kongpob’s unreadable expression.
“Like…with everyone around?”
He seems to be seeking confirmation, one that Arthit isn’t entirely confident in giving himself. But perhaps everything they’d been through together up to this point in time had been building up to that all along. Perhaps he would change his mind over the weekend. For now, though, he’s determined to continue the pattern of leaping over positive milestones.
“Yeah,” he nods. “With our friends.”
Kongpob’s previous uncertainty morphs into a genuine, wide smile, and Arthit falls just a little deeper. They lapse again into comfortable silence as Arthit hands him his order, wiping his hands on the towel around his apron. Arthit doesn’t think that things could be better than they are right now. Well, he could definitely do with less upper lip sweat as his glowing-not-greasy boyfriend stands in front of him, but other than that, he’s pretty satisfied.
“Hey, what are you doing tomo—“ he starts, but his question is broken off by Kongpob’s ringtone. He hurriedly pulls his phone out of his pocket, squinting at the caller ID before tentatively answering the call.
Arthit watches as Kongpob’s brows furrow with concern, listening as his mother tells him something that extends over a good twenty seconds or so. Kongpob’s expression fades into a vague stiffness, mashing his lips together as he listens in silence.
“Okay, Mae. I’ll be home right away.”
He hangs up, staring at the phone screen for a few moments longer before looking up again. Arthit eyes are slightly wide with anticipation, wondering what could possibly call for Kongpob to be needed at home so urgently.
“Uh…I-I have to…I have to go,” Kongpob says distractedly, pocketing his phone again. “I’ll…text you. Later.”
“Oh…uh, okay,” Arthit nods ever so slightly, not quite understanding, but seemingly aware that he shouldn’t pry, at least not right now.
He watches blankly as his boyfriend — usually exhibiting at least some sort of emotion, even if it’s a negative one — push off on his crutches back up the street without so much as a goodbye, nor the vaguest reflection of his thoughts.