The day of their anniversary starts exactly like any other weekend.
Kongpob had been the one to wake him up that day, much to Arthit’s protests – certain things never change – and they’d had a simple brunch in bed, intermittently snoozing between hushed conversations about everything and nothing, just basking comfortably in each other’s company.
After slow, lazy kisses had turned into tenderly making love among bagel crumbs and a coffee stain that Arthit would later receive an earful about, they’d finally decided to get out of bed at 3PM.
While Kongpob cleaned up, Arthit had quickly popped out to ‘run an errand’, returning with a small bouquet of five red roses and four red carnations wrapped in simple brown paper. He’d wanted to get nine roses, because he’d read the significance of the number somewhere online, and had hoped his sappy boyfriend might get at least a hint of what was to come. This would have to do, though.
“Uh…they were short on roses when I got there. I should’ve gone earlier, I guess,” Arthit says sheepishly.
“I love them, P’Arthit,” Kongpob flashes a brilliant smile. “Thank you.”
Arthit bites his bottom lip shyly before leaning over and pressing a furtive kiss to his lover’s cheek.
“Happy ninth anniversary, Kong.”
“I didn’t know you could be this romantic, P’Arthit,” his boyfriend says with twinkling eyes, pulling him closer by the waist.
“Yeah, well, I’ve got a brat that needs spoiling sometimes.”
Kongpob just grins and plants dozens of kisses all over Arthit’s face until he’s pulling away in protest, unconvincingly pretending to be grossed out.
“Thank you, P’Arthit.”
Arthit just smiles, and Kongpob presses their foreheads together before angling in for another gentle kiss that threatens to become something more. It’s soft and a bit saccharine, but Arthit stops himself before he feels the urge to drag his lover back into the bedroom.
“Hey, hey. Enough of that. Come on, get ready, or we’ll be late.”
“Ok, let me just put these in water, then I’ll go shower first.”
When he hears the water running, Arthit pulls the ring box out of the bottom of his briefcase, where he’s been hiding it at home, certain that Kong wouldn’t really go digging through his work papers out of the blue.
He takes a quick peek, as if the ring might somehow look different since the last time he’d gazed at it. It’s still there, of course, but Arthit feels his heartbeat quicken in pace and a tightness twisting in his stomach.
Today’s the day, he tells himself, and he can’t stop smiling as he tucks the box into the inner pocket of his jacket.
“So are you going to tell me where we’re going?” Kongpob muses as Arthit pulls the car out of the apartment building’s carpark, adjusting the rear view mirror.
“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?”
Kongpob just chuckles and adjusts the strap on his seatbelt.
“I’m really not used to you pampering me like this.”
Arthit says nothing as they hit the main road, feeling a faint pang of guilt.
It’s true that Kongpob has always been the more proactively expressive of the two, taking it upon himself to do all the outwardly romantic things that people did in relationships. Every milestone in their relationship had been adorned with beautiful gifts and elaborately planned dates, heartwarming words of love written in sophisticated penmanship, and whispers of sweet nothings to make Arthit blush and smile so hard he thought he might implode.
Arthit, on the other hand, had used up most of his creative ideas of wooing Kongpob in their early years, and there were only so many ‘surprise’ homemade lunches he could have delivered to the younger’s office and love songs he could play on guitar before he’d begun to just call it tradition to make himself feel better.
“I’m sorry, Kong,” he says, not once taking his eyes off the road.
“No, no, that’s not what I meant, P’,” Kong places a hand on Arthit’s lap. “I know you love me. It’s just that…this isn’t really your love language. I’m just pleasantly surprised.”
Arthit doesn’t know how to respond to this, so he just smiles briefly, before groaning, the car slowing to a halt.
“Shit, I knew we should’ve left earlier.”
Oh, Bangkok and it’s ever-persistent traffic. This in addition to the fact that it’s nearing the holiday season means that the usual build up along Silom Road has increased twofold. The pace at which they’re moving is painfully slow and Arthit can feel his anxiety bubbling with each second passing. He begins checking his watch every half a minute or so, tapping his fingers nervously on the steering wheel. It’s now 5:54, six minutes until their reservation, and Arthit is praying for a miracle; for the traffic to part ways like the Jordan River, Bruce Almighty style.
Kongpob, sensing his boyfriend’s state of anguish and frustration, carefully takes his hand in his, rubbing soothing circles into Arthit’s stiff palm.
“P’, maybe you can call the restaurant and let them know we’ll be late.” he tries calmly, his voice steady and comforting.
Arthit heaves a sigh and nods, pulling out his phone.
“Hello, this is InLove on Krung Kasem. How can I help you?”
“Yes, hello. I’ve made a reservation for two under the name Rojnapat for 6:00. We’re stuck in traffic at the moment…could we push our reservation until 6:30?”
“I’m sorry, sir, but we’re fully booked for tonight. If you can’t be here by 6:05, I’m afraid we’ll have to give your table to another customer.”
Arthit feels like his blood is leaving his body. Is this really happening? Today of all days? He pinches the space between his brows and squeezes his eyes shut.
“And nobody else has cancelled?”
“I’m afraid not, sir. Would you like to make a reservation for another day?”
“No, no,” he runs his free hand over his face in disbelief. “I understand. Thank you.”
“We’re sorry, sir. Hope you have a good evening.”
“Yes, thank you.”
He hangs up, dropping the phone in his lap and leaning onto the steering wheel.
“Fuck!” he hisses to himself, before pulling out his phone again, quickly pulling up the maps app. He turns to Kongpob, who’s squeezing his shoulder in sympathy. “I’ll call around and see if any other restaurants nearby have any openings.”
Kongpob nods and pulls out his own phone.
“I’ll do that, too.” he smiles reassuringly. “Don’t worry, P’Arthit.”
Traffic seems to have come to a screeching halt as the two of them make phone call after phone call.
“We’re sorry, we’re fully booked for tonight.”
“Not for the next week or so, I’m afraid.”
“We have an opening for tomorrow instead.”
“Sorry, reservations have to be made two weeks in advance.”
After what seems like the 50th phone call, Arthit finally chucks his phone in frustration into the backseat, puts his face into his hands, and…cries. A pounding headache begins to work its way into his skull, which now feels ten times heavier. He’s full on sobbing, his shoulders shaking and his nose stuffy, making it difficult to breathe. The car suddenly feels incredibly small.
“P’,” Kongpob reaches over to unbuckle Arthit’s seatbelt and cradles his head into his chest. “Come here. It’s okay, P’Arthit.”
Arthit looks up and shakes his head.
“No! No it’s not!” he chokes out between sobs. “I had it all planned out, Kong! I was going to buy you the right flowers, and I was – I was going to take you to this really nice place I found! And it had the most gorgeous view of Rama VIII, and then I was going to -” he stops himself and shakes his head before he gives away too much. “I made all these plans, Kong, but they’re all ruined now, and it’s all my fault!”
“Shhhh,” Kongpob holds Arthit’s face now, gently wiping away tears. “Look at me. It’s really okay. I really do appreciate what you’ve done. Please don’t feel bad. I love you, okay?”
He gazes into Kongpob’s eyes, kind and loving, and Arthit wonders what he’d ever done to deserve someone like him.
Arthit, still snivelling, wipes his eyes on his sleeve, and exhales loudly.
“God, this is so embarrassing.”
Kong gazes out the window before turning to Arthit.
“I’ll be right back. Just wait here, okay?”
Arthit looks at him questioningly as Kongpob climbs out of the passenger seat and out onto the street. He disappears towards Silom Complex, about twenty metres from which the car has stopped, his back fading into the crowd of shoppers as Arthit watches him.
They’d not moved even an inch in the last 20 minutes, and looking at his phone’s map app, dark red lines extend like a million tiny blood vessels throughout the bleeding heart of Bangkok’s city central. Deciding that they’re unlikely to improve anytime soon, he keys the engine off and pushes his own door open, before stepping out into the warm open air, ignoring curious glances from neighbouring vehicles. The fresh air (well, as fresh as it can get for urban Bangkok) helps to clear his nasal passage, and he sighs as he takes in his surroundings.
The entire road is elaborately decorated with twinkling lights and glittery red and white displays, neon tubing spelling out Season’s Greetings! And Happy New Year! in every direction you look. It really is quite beautiful against the backdrop of the fading sunset, although Arthit can’t help but think it’s not nearly the same as being under the more subtle sparkle of lights under the bridge. Their bridge.
He leans against the hood of the car and places a hand over his pocket where the ring box still sits, exhaling his disappointment. Maybe tonight just isn’t the right time.
Arthit looks up and laughs when he realises what Kongpob is carrying.
“What can I say? You spoiled me with flowers, I’m returning the favour with fried chicken,” he holds up the signature red and white plastic bag.
Kongpob joins Arthit in leaning against the the car, placing the bag with the bucket on the hood. Reaching inside, he pulls out a piping hot drumstick and holds it under Arthit’s nose, the spicy, savoury scent wafting into his nostrils.
Arthit pulls a bite off of the drumstick, licking his lips as he chews.
“I really wanted tonight to be perfect,” he says quietly, swallowing the last morsel of his bite.
“It is perfect,” Kongpob grins flashing sparkling white teeth and dropping the bare bone into the bag. “I’m enjoying a delectable meal, surrounded by dazzling lights, and I’m here with my favourite person in the world, dressed to the nines. I’m good.”
“You’re such a cheeseball,” Arthit snorts, digging around for a napkin.
“Actually, right now, I’m rather spicy,” Kong waggles his eyebrows, shifting closer to Arthit.
Maybe it’s the lights, and maybe it’s that Arthit is overwhelmed with how much he just loves this annoyingly handsome man, but Arthit feels a surge of bravery wash over him.
Wiping his own hands on a wet towelette, he takes Kongpob’s left hand and slowly takes one of his fingers into his mouth, all the while watching his boyfriend’s expression transform from mischievous to darkly clouded with pure want. The normally composed man swallows, watching with fascination as each finger disappears between soft pink lips. Arthit slowly and deliberately licks the salty, piquant seasoning off of each digit, and Kong’s mouth softly hangs open, breathing shallowly at the tantalising sensation.
“P’Arthit, you keep doing that, and the next thing I’m going to search up is the nearest hotel.”
Arthit laughs and gives Kongpob his hand back.
“It is finger licking good.”
As another of many turns of events, Kongpob blushes, barely able to suppress his smile. They lean towards each other, sharing a slow, open mouthed kiss that tastes of fried chicken and the familiar comfort each other.
“I love you so much, Kong,” Arthit whispers, their noses still nuzzled together.
“I love you, too. More and more with time,” Kongpob looks at him through long eyelashes. “And I mean it. Tonight really was perfect, because I got to spend it with you.”
Almost perfect, Arthit thinks, feeling the subtle weight in his jacket.
The moment is interrupted by the sound of car horns blaring behind them, indicating that traffic is picking up again.
“Move, lover boys!” an irritated shout comes from someone several cars away.
Laughing, they scramble back into the car, and Kongpob places the bag of remaining chicken in the backseat. They slowly make their way home, loudly singing along to every love song on the radio.
At least it would still be an anniversary to remember.
Poor Arthit. There will be other opportunities.
I’m a paranoid stickler for details, so I actually looked up restaurants near Rama VIII as well as every KFC within a 20 minute-drive radius. Google Maps is a life-saver.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed Arthit’s first failed attempt at proposing to Kong.