Chapter 8: Balance: ฿780
Kong☕: Hey, sorry, but I can’t stop by today.😞
Kong☕: Practice finished late and Mae insisted on picking me up herself.
Arthit☀️: uh…ok? u don’t have to eat here every day
Kong☕: I know.
Kong☕: Just letting you know in case you might wonder where I am.
Arthit☀️:ur not my only customer 🙄
Kong☕: But I’m your favourite? 🥺
Arthit☀️: as if 😒
Arthit☀️: other customers don’t require me to manually keep a record of their spendings 😤
Kong☕: Hey, when is your birthday, by the way?
Kong☕: I’m just wondering.
Arthit☀️: i don’t celebrate my birthday
Kong☕: Why not?
Kong☕: Actually, never mind. So when is it?
Arthit☀️: feb 20
Arthit☀️: u tryna dig up dirt on me? u won’t find anything
Arthit☀️: i’m not even on facebook
Kong☕: Haha it’s nothing like that.
Kong☕: But now I’m going to have to start calling you P’Arthit. 🤭
Arthit☀️: we’re the same age
Arthit☀️: i’m literally only 4 days older
Kong☕: You know my birthday?
Arthit☀️: yeah u told me once
Arthit☀️: last week
Kong☕: Oh. I must have forgotten about that 🤔
Kong☕: Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow, P’Arthit! 😊
“Who are you texting? A girl?”
Kongpob looks up from his phone and realises he’s been smiling. He shakes his head and tucks his phone into his pocket. His mother smiles slyly, an eyebrow raised.
“I go to an all-boys school, Mae. Where would I be meeting any girls?”
She shrugs, slowly bringing the car to a halt at a traffic light.
“And no, I’m not texting a girl. It’s Arthit, my friend who’s tutoring me in algebra.”
“Arthit…that name sounds familiar. Is he on your basketball team?”
“No,” he pauses for a moment. “We went to the same middle school, though.”
“Oh? Was he in your class?”
“Possibly? I actually only started talking to him recently.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re getting help with maths. With your current grade, I’m not sure which engineering programme in the country would take you.”
Kongpob gives her a tight-lipped smile. Taking over the family business one day is the inevitable cliché of his life that he still has trouble stomaching, but he’d sooner kiss a boy than tell his parents that he would much rather be doing something involving less math.
But that’s a conversation for another day.
It’s as he’s coming out of the bathroom after a shower and looking for his phone, that his search pauses at the bookshelf. He has a rather impressive collection of comic books, ranging from Japanese manga, to Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts classics, to some of the more popular Marvel and DC issues.
But he’s not interested in reading comics right now. Rather, his focus falls on the bottom shelf, where all his yearbooks from primary school through to his freshman year are lined up neatly in order.
He pulls out the one from 2011, when he was in eighth grade. It’s a little dusty, as he hasn’t looked at it in a few years, but it’s otherwise still in pristine condition.
Careful not to crack the spine of the book, he thumbs it open to near the front, flipping through the page until he reaches the class photos for that year’s eighth grade. Automatically, his gaze falls on the image of himself, shorter and a little skinnier back then, his grin big and goofy and his hair buzzed short. He laughs at M, who stands a few people down from him in the same row, grimacing awkwardly and blinking just as the camera shutter had gone off.
He runs his finger along each row, trying to identify different people but only remembering the names of about twelve different other kids. It’s only as he gets to the back row that it occurs to him. Arthit isn’t in his class photo.
“Um…only for the first half of eighth grade.”
Kongpob flips to the next page, where the other eighth grade class is photographed. And only because he’s looking for him, does he spot him immediately. At the very end of the back row, looking off to the side, is Arthit. Indeed, he had been noticeably bigger, half of his body sticking out from behind the boy in front of him. Definitely not as much as M had probably exaggerated, but then again, most of the other kids truly were quite scrawny in comparison. His hair hangs loose in front of his forehead, a contrast to the way he has it combed up and off his face now. But Kongpob still recognises the same big, nervous doe eyes and shy, distant look that he’s now grown accustomed to seeing.
“What happened to you, Arthit…”
Arthit isn’t at school the next day, and Kongpob immediately feels like his day has gotten off to an unusual start. Not bad, just…different.
He spends his morning updating his planner as he usually does. He takes careful, detailed notes in each class, making sure to craft his penmanship extra neatly. Then, he slips to the bathroom at recess, locking himself in a stall before pulling out his phone.
Kong☕: Hey, where are you? Everything okay?
He anxiously waits for a response, checking his watch every ten seconds or so, lest he be late back to class. The reply comes a few minutes later.
Arthit☀️: i’m at home, i’m fine
Kong☕: Oh…I just haven’t seen you today, that’s all.
Arthit☀️: just a cold
Arthit☀️: wait, ur on ur phone at school? i thought u didn’t break rules
Kong☕: I wanted to see if you were okay.
Arthit☀️: yeah well i’m fine so no need to freak out
Arthit☀️: probably can’t get ur food today, tho
Kong☕: That’s okay. Hope you feel better soon!
Kong☕: I’ve got to go. I’ll text you again after school.
Kongpob smiles, turning to his phone off and making it back to the classroom just in time for his teacher to follow in closely behind him.
“Excuse me, Teacher Lynn?” he says as she places her books on the teachers’ desk.
“Yes, Kongpob, what can I do for you?”
She looks a bit frazzled, glasses perched on the top of her head as she shoves her wild bush of hair into a bun. His stellar English grade aside, she’s probably his favourite teacher, just because she’s a bit kooky and less uptight than most of their other teachers. That’s not to say that she doesn’t still run a tight ship, her sixth sense for nonsense easily comparable to that of dog to its owner’s scent.
“Arthit is out sick today. I was wondering if I could bring his homework to him after school.”
She tilts her head slightly with a pensive look.
“Sure. I’ll ask the other teachers. Swing by the staff room after school.”
“Thank you, Teacher Lynn.”
“You know, I didn’t know you two were friends.”
Kongpob smiles nervously at this, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together.
“Good. Arthit could do with friends like you.”
Kongpob doesn’t ask what she means, as her smile morphs into a terse frown, glaring at two students at the other side of the room who are playing volleyball with a scrunched up piece of paper. They immediately scramble back to their seats.
The cart, as Kongpob suspects, is closed. It’s odd, not seeing the bright lamps hanging over the grill, which is currently empty and covered with a green tarp. He keeps walking further down the street until he recognises Prae, and Arthit’s mum.
“Sawasdee krab.” He wais to both of them.
“Oh! N’Kongpob!” Arthit’s mother’s face lights up upon seeing him. “Are you looking for our Arthit? He’s sick today.”
“Yes, I know. I’m bringing his homework.”
He holds up the brown envelope in his hand, filled with various assignments and a photocopy of the notes he’d taken that day. Neither Prae nor Arthit’s mother say anything, but they exchange a very wide, deliberate smile that Kongpob can’t comprehend.
“That’s so lovely of you!” Arthit’s mother finally says.
“If you could pass this on to him, that would be great,” he begins to hand her the envelope.
“You know what? How about you take them to him yourself?” She scribbles down what looks like an address. “It’s just around the corner from here.”
“Oh,” he says, surprised. “Would that be okay? I don’t want to disturb him.”
“He’s been sleeping almost all day. He’ll be fine. Here, what do you want to drink? I’ll make you something. My treat.”
“Oh, that’s okay, you don’t have to-“
“Nonsense! You’re doing him favour; the least I can do is make you a drink.”
“Um…I guess I’ll have an iced coffee then,” he chuckles, finding himself unable to argue with her.
“Oh, I’ll make you a pancake!” Prae pipes in, flipping the pastry on her griddle with two spatulas.
“Really, that’s – it’s too much. I’m just bringing him homework. If anything, it’s a bother.”
She’s not listening though, busy slicing the pancake into eight equal pieces.
Arthit’s mother hands him two drinks – an iced coffee, and a cup of pink milk. Kongpob squints at the latter. It’s not his order, nor something he would really think to choose. The last time he’d drunk pink milk was in elementary school.
“That’s for him. Such a sweet tooth. It puts him in a good mood, though,” she shakes her head. “You know, my son is a bit like a durian.”
“He acts like he’s all tough and unapproachable but deep down he’s a sweet, mushy kid, really.”
“I see,” Kongpob laughs, agreeing with her fairly accurate—if somewhat odd—analogy.
“But give him some time to warm up to you. He looks up to you, I can tell.”
“Um…” he doesn’t know how to respond to this. Why would he look up to me?
Prae comes to his rescue, though, handing him a paper bag with the fresh, crispy pancake.
“Oh, thank you! At least let me pay for this.” His hand begins reaching for his wallet.
“Stop, or I’m going to be offended,” Prae smirks. “Any friend of Arthit’s is a friend of mine, too.”
He nods, before saying his goodbyes, following the directions on this piece of paper Arthit’s mother has given him.
“Such a nice boy! I’m glad Oon has him as a friend. I like him.”
“Mmhmm…” Prae smiles to herself.
Some things are better left unsaid, and nature should let its course be taken.
Kongpob doesn’t think he’s ever been in a walk-up apartment building before. It’s definitely an old construction, although fairly well kept, the staircase brightly lit and the tiled floors swept clean of debris.
When he reaches the second floor and sees the door for the correct apartment, he hesitates about knocking. Suddenly, he’s oddly nervous, his heart thumping loudly in his chest. Would Arthit be alright with him showing up unannounced like this?
He decides to try a different approach.
Kong☕: Feeling better?
Arthit☀️: yeah i took some medicine and slept a lot
Kong☕: Are you thirsty, by any chance?
Arthit☀️: uh i guess…y?
Kong☕: I’ve got a glass of pink milk with your name on it and I think you’re going to want to drink it before the ice melts.
Arthit☀️: how…? wait where r u?
When Arthit pulls the door open sharply, he almost stumbles back. He has his hair down, loose and slightly messy, and he’s wearing a loose t-shirt and shorts. His nose is evidently red against his pale skin, but he otherwise looks fairly alert.
“Um, hi?” Kongpob holds the plastic cup out to him.
“You’re….here,” his voice is slightly stuffy. “At my house.”
He blinks, looking left and right as though someone else might be hiding around the corner.
“Yeah…I meant to just drop your homework off with your mother, but then she gave me your address and insisted on giving me a free drink.”
Arthit eyes the pink drink, and takes it from him.
“I don’t usually drink this,” he feels the need to clarify.
“I’m not judging,” Kongpob grins. “It’s cute.”
Arthit rolls his eyes, ignoring the warmth growing in his cheeks.
“Uh…come in, I guess.”
He steps aside, gesturing into the apartment. As Kongpob takes his shoes off, he takes in the surroundings. The space is lit warmly by a lamp hanging from the wooden ceiling fan, the walls a faded turquoise blue, with wooden doors painted a creamy, faded white. The floor is lined with planks of varnished redwood. The furniture is mostly rattan pieces, lined with fitted cushions covered in thick fabric in faded hues of dark purple and pink.
Immediately, his skin prickles with the feeling of home and warmth, a stark contrast to the grand, marble emptiness of the enormous living room in Kongpob’s own abode.
“It’s…probably really shabby and small compared to your place,” Arthit mumbles.
“I like it. It’s very cosy,” Kongpob smiles at him, shrugging his bag off his shoulder and placing his coffee, the pancake and the envelope on the table that Arthit has led them to.
He sits down across from Arthit, who hasn’t touched his drink. Kongpob sips at his own iced coffee.
“Your mother wouldn’t let me pay for this,” he says. “But could you deduct it from our deal? I don’t feel right getting things for free.”
“It’s only ฿5.”
“Still. Prae even gave me a pancake.”
“Fine. Wait, Prae gave you free food?” Arthit raises his eyebrows. “I’ve known her for years and she hasn’t ever so much as offered me a glass of water!”
“You can have the pancake,” Kongpob laughs at his reaction, pushing the bag towards him. Arthit freezes a moment, looking at the paper bag, then shakes his head.
“No, it’s okay,” he chews at his bottom lip, still not taking his eyes off the food.
Kongpob watches Arthit’s expression carefully, but doesn’t comment. Instead, he breaks off a piece of the flaky pastry, marvelling in the delicious, warm, and chewy texture. Arthit’s gaze follows the bite of food, hardly blinking as he watches Kongpob chew.
“Oh, wow that’s good,” he says through a mouthful. “You sure you don’t want any?”
Arthit scratches his chin, eyeing the pancake again.
“Maybe…maybe just a little.”
He cautiously breaks off a small piece. Kongpob pretends to be deeply interested in the envelope, untying the string around the opening as Arthit slowly brings the pastry to his mouth, barely nibbling. It is good.
“So, there’s a reading task for English that’s due on Wednesday. Then Maths, which I’ll probably need your help with. That’s due Tuesday. Nothing for Thai, although Teacher Yong says we’re doing an essay in class next week. Everything else, I took notes for.”
Arthit swallows the last of his bite as Kongpob talks through each piece of paper. When he’s done talking, he shuffles the papers back into a tidy pile and smiles at Arthit.
“Thanks, you really didn’t have to.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Kongpob grins, taking another sip of his coffee. “Or do I have to remind you again that we’re friends?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Arthit smirks, looking through the various papers. “Thanks anyway.”
Kongpob’s phone pings then, alerting him to the time.
“Yikes, I have to go before my mother phones up the RTP reporting a missing person.”
Arthit chuckles at this, and Kongpob immediately notices the deep dimples in his cheeks. He can’t decide whether he wants to poke his finger into one of them, or press his lips to the skin around it.
When he realises what he’s just been imagining, he shakes his head of the thought.
Stop it. That’s completely absurd. Arthit is my friend. A boy, nonetheless!
“I’ll…see you on Monday,” he quickly gathers his bag up and picks up the cup of iced coffee, nodding more to himself than anything else. He’s grateful that his complexion doesn’t naturally show give way to the furious blush he feels creeping over the entire expanse of his skin.
Arthit stands up as well, walking him to the door. He leans against the open door as Kongpob slips his shoes back on, finding himself observing with unnerving detail the way the other boy’s exposed arms are taut and firm, sinewy muscle moving under olive skin as he does up his shoelaces.
Kongpob looks back and waves at Arthit as he heads down the staircase, and Arthit shuts the door, leaning against it and sliding down until he’s sitting on the floor.
He’s probably out of his mind letting himself get so close to Kongpob. And yet, even if the last time he’d allowed himself to become drawn to him, he’d ended up hurt and even more alone, he can’t bring himself to say no whenever Kongpob asks for his attention.
He sighs, taking out his phone.
22/08/2014 – ฿5