“Remind me again why we spent an absurd amount of money on this bottle of wine that we don’t even get to enjoy?”
Arthit inspects the label on the stupidly expensive bottle of Merlot for which they’d driven two hours to a specific wine boutique. They’re standing in the front room mirror, Kongpob adjusting Arthit’s shirt collar.
“I already told you; we can’t show up to the party empty-handed.”
“We’ve been to your parents’ house dozens of times, Kong. Why is this any different?”
Kongpob sighs, resting his arms on Arthit’s shoulders and linking his hands behind his neck. Both men are donned in crisp white shirts and near-matching navy suits, Kongpob with faint silver pinstripes in his and Arthit’s with thin white checkered lines in the blazer. They look like the picture of young royalty, about to announce the name of their newborn child.
Frankly, Arthit feels a bit out of his own skin in these tailored suits and Italian leather shoes from brand names he can barely pronounce, but being associated with the heir of a major conglomerate, some things are inevitable.
“There are going to be a lot of really important people there tonight. My parents aren’t snobs that way, but some of the people my dad does business with scoff if the smoked salmon is only ‘half Norwegian’, whatever that means. We’re under constant watch whether we like it or not.”
“Aww, no sneaking off to make out in your old bedroom then?” Arthit pretends to pout.
“That I make no promises for. I may just have to drag you off and have you for dessert.”
“That’s not very Norwegian of you, Khun Kongpob.”
Kongpob inches closer, smirking as he licks his bottom lip.
“If I recall correctly, we’ve had our fair share of very un-Norwegian adventures. Remember that time before midterms when we still had rooms facing each other and we -“
Arthit shoves him away and places a hand over the younger’s mouth.
“I think that’s enough reminiscing,” he rolls his eyes. “Let’s go before we disappoint these business hotshots with our tardiness.”
Kongpob grabs the car keys off of the front table and slips on his best leather oxfords.
“Ready?” he holds out his hand after he’s done tying the laces.
Arthit pauses a moment, eyeing the briefcase under the dining room table.
“Uh…you go ahead and start the car first. I’ll meet you downstairs in a few minutes. Just need to make sure I’ve sent an email.”
“You sure? I can wait.”
“No, no, it’s fine. It’ll save time. Go!” Arthit smiles a little too big and practically shoves him out the door.
Kongpob raises an eyebrow, clearly a bit skeptical, but shuffles around the door anyway.
“Okay…see you in a bit then.”
Once the door clicks shut, Arthit practically sprints for the briefcase, digging around in the bottom. Of course, both ring and box are still there.
Tonight will be the night. They’ll be leaving on time, and they don’t have to drive as far this time, so traffic isn’t an issue. They will be at the Sutthilucks’ all evening, and there will definitely be food to eat.
Nothing can get in Arthit’s way tonight.
He takes a deep breath and tucks the box into his inner blazer pocket, patting it for reassurance, before locking the door behind him.
“Email get sent through?” Kong says as he adjusts the side view mirror.
“You said you had to send an email.”
“Oh! Right, yes. It got sent. All good.”
The car starts with a rumble, and they’re on the road, traffic fairly smooth.
“You really should take a break sometimes. It’s New Year’s Eve, P’. You keep working overtime, and I’ll have to ask Por to pluck you from Ocean Electric and work for him instead.”
“Right, like you never work late.”
“Guilty as charged. But I feel like Por is just expecting a lot from me lately. He keeps telling me ‘Son, one day you’re going to have to handle this on your own.'” Kong imitates his father’s stern, serious-business mode voice. “I mean, I’ve always known that, but it just feels like he’s really pushing my nose to the grindstone these past few months.”
“I’m sure he’s just proud of you, Kong.”
“Yeah, I know. But somehow I get the feeling everything’s going to change overnight.”
Arthit says nothing and looks out the window, resting his elbow on the car door.
“Mae’s probably fussing over napkin shapes by now,” Kong chuckles as the car slows to a stop.
The Sutthiluck house – no, mansion – is one of many lavish properties in Sukhumvit, complete with a wrought iron gate and a well-kept front lawn flourishing with bauhinia bushes and bougainvillea trees.
Rolling down the car window, Kongpob presses the button for the intercom.
“Welcome back, Khun Kongpob, Khun Arthit,” the voice of comes buzzing through the speaker.
“I’ve told you a million times, P’Shin, drop the ‘Khun’. You’ve literally seen me run around the house in a diaper,” Kongpob shakes his head.
“Yes, of course. Your parents are in the kitchen with the caterers. I’ll let them know you’re here.”
“No, that’s fine, we’ll go greet them ourselves.”
“As you wish.”
The gates slowly open, and Kongpob steers the car into the far end of the driveway, parking in an empty space next to his father’s car.
The front foyer is dripping with twinkling lights and silver garlands. The words Happy 2026! in large, glittery lettering hang on the front door.
Multi-coloured streamers are hanging from the ceiling of the enormous living room, and the sofas have been pushed to the very edges of the sunken floor to make room for guests to mingle. Caterers and decorators are bustling around every corner of the house, setting up food towers and platters of what Kongpob’s mother had called ‘orders’ (Arthit can’t remember the actual spelling but he knows it’s French for ‘appetizers’).
“Wow, they really went all out this time,” he mutters, taking in the extravagance of their surroundings.
“Mae? Por?” Kongpob calls as they enter the kitchen. It’s like Friday night on Khaosan Road; bodies shuffling past each other, delicious scents pouring from every direction, hectic in all the best ways.
A head of dark hair, held back with an embroidered pin, spins around to face them, waving past the 20-odd catering staff.
“You’re early!” Kong’s mother, from whom he clearly inherited his dazzling smile, calls out as she weaves her way to the kitchen door.
“Hi, Mae,” the three of them exchange wais and hugs, pressing cheeks together in greeting.
“The place looks great, Mae.”
“Oh, you two look so handsome!” she spins them around to get a better look. “Oooh! You got the Merlot. Kong, go give that bottle to Shin and then go say hello to your father. He’s in his study.”
No fewer than three seconds after Kongpob disappears down the hallway, the anxious lady is pulling Arthit closer by the arm, bringing her voice down to a whisper.
“Have you asked him yet?” her eyes searching, eager for an answer.
Arthit sighs, shaking his head. He’d had a feeling she would bring the subject up.
“Aww, why not? I thought you were going to ask him a few weeks ago. I got worried that he’d stupidly said no when I didn’t hear from him!” Her shoulders sagging in disappointment.
“Sorry, Mae. Things didn’t really go according to plan,” he presses his lips into a tight smile. “Something came up and the entire thing just got swept from under our feet.”
She pats his face before sighing.
“Well, I was hoping to announce my future son-in-law to everyone tonight, but I guess it will have to wait.”
You might not have to wait long, Mae, Arthit smiles to himself.
Arthit had paid Kongpob’s parents a visit the same afternoon he’d bought the ring, telling his boyfriend that his meeting had run late, and that he would have dinner before returning home. His hands had been sweaty and shaking as he pressed the intercom. They were definitely surprised by his unplanned visit, but had welcomed him in nevertheless.
“Mae, Por. You’ve been so kind to me all this time. And I came here today because…”
“Because…what? Oh, Arthit, you’re not planning to break up with him, are you? You make him so happy. Please, whatever it is, you can-“
“No, no! It’s nothing like that. The opposite, in fact.”
“What do you mean?” Kerkkrai had wrung his hands together, his eyes expectant.
“I’m…I want to ask permission from you…to ask Kong to marry me. If that’s okay, I mean,” he’d added. “Of course, I respect any decision that you make, and-“
If the crushing hugs and tears that ensued had been any indication, Kongpob’s parents had greatly approved, excitedly talking wedding plans, his mother already babbling about flower arrangements and napkin colours, asking to see the ring and gushing over how cute it was.
“Well, it’s about time. I thought I would have to wait until I was too old to eat solid food!” was all his father had said, a huge grin on his face as he patted Arthit on the back.
Arthit had been relieved, to say the least. The first time he’d been introduced to them as Kong’s boyfriend, Khun Kerkkrai had stared in confusion, trying to connect the dots between the young man at Ocean Electric he’d admired so much and the man who his son was now calling his lover.
After a long minute of earth-shattering silence, he’d stalked off to his office, leaving Kongpob almost on the verge of tears and Arthit frozen in his seat. There was always the chance that their respective parents wouldn’t accept them.
While Arthit’s father has simply joked Well at least you can’t get each other pregnant by accident! and his mother had asked Kongpob what he even saw in her oddball of a son, asking acceptance from one of the most publicly recognised entrepreneurs in Thailand was like hovering a clipper in shaking hands over the wires of a ticking bomb.
Several moments later, Kerkkrai had stormed back into the dining room, gesticulating wildly in his son’s direction.
“Five years? You waited five years to tell us that you’re in a relationship?! That is not how I raised you! Are you so ashamed of Khun Arthit here that you couldn’t tell your own parents? I taught you to always be open and honest with us, and you hide something like this? Unbelievable!”
The distinguished businessman had stood there, arms akimbo, huffing out his anger before siding a glance at Arthit, gesturing for him to stand. Arthit had obliged, trembling slightly before being pulled into a tight hug.
“Welcome to the family, Arthit. Look after my son, he’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the box,” he’d said, before his wife and son erupted into chuckles of relief.
Arthit now sees Kongpob returning down the hallway with his father, who is dressed in a crisp new suit, a deep crimson red, with a silk black bow tie.
“You look lovely, dear,” he kisses his wife on the cheek, admiring her matching red cocktail dress.
“Gross, Por. Go make out with Mae somewhere else,” Kongpob groans, pulling Arthit next to him by the waist.
“Like you two youngsters are any better. Besides, you’ll find out soon enough what marr-” he’s abruptly cut off by Kong’s mother, who pulls him into the kitchen before he can finish his sentence.
Kongpob brings his other arm around Arthit’s waist, and they just gaze at each other for a few seconds.
“Ready to ring in the new year?”
“Not sure, actually. I still have to put a cross through my entire resolutions list from this past year.”
“Eh, you were never going to actually learn Japanese anyway.”
“That Duolingo owl is one scary asshole.”
They busy themselves by trying to identify all the mysterious bite-sized food items, bowing with wais and saying hello to each and every guest and relative that comes their way. Kongpob’s mother announces the opening of the lavish buffet spread, and they’re grateful for the opportunity to stuff their mouths with good food, the perfect excuse to not have to talk to anyone.
Slowly but surely, the guests trickle back into the living room, where soft jazz music is playing over the speakers. They exchange reluctant sighs before joining the crowd. Each slightly awkward interaction with some marketing executive or another is nursed by several refills of pink champagne in Kongpob’s glass until Arthit finally excuses himself, claiming he needs the washroom. Instead, he steps out onto the patio by the pool, sharply inhaling the fresh air and notable tranquility.
In the past hour or so of networking with over fifty different people – some he recognises from work, others friends or employees of Kongpob’s father or their relatives – he’d had to subtly come out to over half of them. It’s one thing to do so in familiar company, but Arthit has never been one for crowds, especially one mostly full of strangers.
Setting his glass down, he seats himself on the raised edge of the pool, focusing his gaze on the slight ripples where the breeze is blowing over the dimly lit water.
“P’Arthit?” Kongpob, with his own glass, sits next him, linking their hands together. “Sorry, I know these events can be kind of overwhelming.”
“It’s fine. It’s good for business, I suppose,” he downs the last of the strawberry cordial in his glass. “Although if I have to hear the words ‘incredible opportunity’ or ‘great investment’ again tonight, I’m going to drown myself in this pool.”
Kongpob breathes a soft laugh and watches the guests laughing and dancing under the living room chandelier, their voices and the slow music dampened by the patio doors.
Smiling, he stands up, holding out his hand. Arthit looks up at him, an eyebrow raised.
“Dance with me.”
“Really? Out here?”
They’re the only ones outside, the only light coming from the pool and the stars above.
Arthit hesitantly gives his hand to Kongpob, who sharply pulls him up and flush to his chest with the other hand. They say nothing, gently stepping from side to side, not really even following the music. They simply breathe in each other’s presence, eyes only half open, noses bumping together and their lips occasionally meeting softly in the middle.
This is it, Arthit says to himself.
“Kong,” he practically whispers. “I want to start this year off right.”
Kongpob says nothing, continuing to lead them in their gentle waltz.
“You…you mean more to me than I’ll ever be able to put in words. And I know you keep saying I shouldn’t apologise, but I really am sorry that I suck at letting you know that I love you.”
Kongpob pulls away slightly, only to look at him. Arthit sucks in a breath. He’s never really gotten over just how good-looking his boyfriend is.
“P’Arthit, I know you love me. You’re always showing me, even if you don’t realise. When you spent all those nights studying with me, when you know I have to drink at these events so you stay sober so you can drive us home. I know you love me when you push and argue with me so I don’t stay close-minded. When we’re in bed and you -“
“Let’s not get carried away.”
“What? I was just going to say that I love that you let me cuddle you when I’m sad, even though you usually complain that it’s too warm.”
“Uh huh,” he rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling. “I just want to be sure.”
“Sure about what?”
“I want to be sure that…”
He reaches into his jacket pocket, reaching for the ring box…before they hear the patio door swing open, and a screeching voice call out,
Their heads snap up, looking towards the house. It’s one of Kongpob’s aunts, waving at them, her jiggly arms swinging as she does so.
No, this can’t be. Not again.
Arthit can feel his blood bubbling to a boil, and he clenches his jaw, eyes squeezed shut, trying his best to breathe through his nose.
“Come back inside! Your Por is about to give his speech and do the countdown!”
Kongpob’s eyes flicker briefly at Arthit, full of questions and concern.
Why? Why is this happening to him?
“Everything alright, P’?”
Arthit heaves out a breath, choking back the painful lump in his throat. He’s not going to freak out and cry. Not again.
“I’m fine. Go. Let’s go.”
“Kooonnngggg! Come on! It’s almost time!”
“Yeah, just…” he gestures lamely at the house. “Your father is waiting.”
He looks everywhere but at Kongpob, and Kong nods slowly before taking Arthit’s hand and leading them back towards the house. All the guests are gathered around the living area, some sitting on the sofa, others clutched to their partners to the side of the room. Arthit settles next to a table of bite-sized desserts, and Kongpob quickly presses a kiss to their joined hands.
“We’ll talk later, okay?”
Arthit just nods before Kongpob hurriedly joins his parents and sisters at the front of the room.
“Ah, there you are, Kong.”
Kerkkrai hands him a fresh glass of champagne before turning to his party.
“My friends, it gives me such pleasure each year to be able to ring in the new year with all of you. I’m so glad to say that, first of all, I am so blessed to still have the love of my beautiful wife, my daughters and my wonderful son. They always remind me that kindness and honesty take priority above all else,” he places an arm around each of them, his eyes crinkling as he smiles.
“My girls are like their mother – stubborn, opinionated, and likely smarter than me,” he continues.
“Por!” one of his daughters chides, rolling her eyes.
A few guests chuckle. “I’m still a little bitter that they didn’t want to take over the company for me, but they’ve both always done what makes them happy, and there’s not much more I can ask for than that. My beautiful grandchildren are just the cherry on top.
“I’m also fortunate in having so many opportunities to work with my son this year, for the fourth year running. He’s brought so many innovative ideas to our company, including the introduction of biodegradable alternatives, which have not only significantly reduced our carbon footprint and health risks in the labour force, but also been a saving grace in fulfilling demand since the plastic bag ban in 2019.”
The guests clap politely, and Kongpob smiles shyly. Arthit, despite himself, smiles too, proud of his lover’s hard work and achievements.
“He’s really proven himself to be the kind of man I always hoped he would become, and I’m so proud of him. And so, friends, it is here that I announce that come June, I will be officially retiring from Siam Polymer, and handing the ropes of being CEO to my son, Kongpob.”
Gasps fill the air, and a slow but steady burst of applause erupts across the room, many reaching over to Kerkkrai to shake his hand and congratulate him.
Kongpob, on the other hand, looks shell-shocked. Arthit jolts out of his senses, trying to digest the last twenty seconds of events, before going over to the family, sharing in the sudden revelation.
“Por…what?” Kong looks over at his mother and sisters, who are equally dumbfounded. His mother shrugs, in disbelief of what’s just happened.
Kerkkrai, after entertaining the niceties of various guests, turns back to his family and Arthit, who are in various states of surprise and shock.
“Por, are you sure?” Kong is shaking his head, still trying to wrap his head around the idea.
“Is my name Kerkkrai Sutthiluck? Son, I’ve never been more sure of anything.”
“What if I’m not ready? I’m not even 30 yet.”
“Of course you’re ready. You’ve more than proven yourself to be suitable, everyone at the company loves you, you have the support of your family and Arthit. What more is there to question?”
Arthit, as if trying to reaffirm his words, puts an arm around Kongpob’s waist, squeezing his hip slightly. Kongpob cautiously bites his lip, lost for words.
“Stop fretting already. If it makes you feel better, I’m still going to stop in and check on you every now and then. I’m not dropping you into the deep end. Now, come on, or we’ll miss the countdown.”
Kerkkrai turns back to his guests.
“Everyone, join me outside as we count down to the year 2026!”
The guests pour out onto the patio, all gazing up at the night sky. Shin, the family’s butler, has set up a large digital clock that currently reads a little past 11:58.
Kongpob and Arthit hang back at the patio door, arms wrapped around each other as they wait.
“Hey,” Arthit tilts Kongpob’s chin up to look at him.
“I’m fine, just…it’s a lot, you know?”
“I know. But like your Por said, we’ll get through it together. I don’t think he trusts you for no reason.”
Kongpob exhales through his nose and nods.
“P’Arthit, what was it you wanted to talk about earlier?”
Arthit, reminded of how they’d had their moment stolen from them yet again, shakes his head briefly.
“It’s nothing, really,” he presses a kiss to Kong’s forehead. “I just wanted to say that I love you, and I’m glad I get to spend yet another year with you.”
“Me too, P’.”
The sparkle returns to his eyes, and Arthit feels the dull pain in his chest fading.
“Happy New Year, Kong.”
“Happy New Year, P’Ai-Oon.”
“You haven’t called me that in years.”
“Yeah, well, I’m feeling pretty warm right now.”
They smile, laughing into their kiss as cries of Happy New Year! echo around them, the loud bang of fireworks popping intermittently. Breaking apart, they watch the light show for a few moments before Arthit takes Kongpob’s hand.
“Homeward, Mr. CEO?”
“Homeward, my love.”
They sneak through the living room and out the front door, driving away without anyone’s notice.
Next time, Arthit thinks. Third time’s a charm.
Whew! That was a super long one, I felt. I may have carpal tunnel from typing for so long.
I hope some of the references and allusions made sense; some of them are a bit obscure. Happy to explain things if necessary.
Yes, Arthit could easily have just gone ahead and asked despite the failed plans. I just think that to my understanding of Arthit’s character, he’s a perfectionist in his own way, in that once he commits to something, he’s either going to commit fully and exactly as he intends, or he won’t commit at all. In each of these instances, it takes so much courage for him to build up to the moment in the first place, that once the moment is gone, I find it hard for him to then just wing it as if it’s so easy.