Mid to late February, for Arthit, is always a mentally exhausting and unnecessarily complex clusterfuck of celebrations and holidays that his hermit tendencies just cannot keep up with.
Trust Arthit to have fallen in love with someone who not only shares the dilemma of having a birthday a mere week after Valentine’s Day, but this year, their birthdays both fall within the week of Chinese New Year.
“At least red remains the constant theme?” Kongpob had offered lamely when Arthit had pointed this out.
“How exactly is red applicable to our birthdays?“
“We…could get red velvet cake this year?“
This is not to say that Arthit doesn’t treasure every milestone he gets to reach with Kongpob, but planning for and executing these festivities always taes a psychological toll on the intrinsically nervous man. He just doesn’t need the added stress of having them crammed so closely together.
Since they’d discovered that their birthdays were only four days apart, they’d settled on just celebrating together on the same day, smack in between. They’d started a long-running tradition of buying each other a slice of cake from a café half an hour away from their university, an accidental discovery they’d made in Kongpob’s sophomore year.
Every year, they’d get a different type of cake, Arthit usually more adventurous in his selections (the mango chili cheesecake is weirdly amazing) and Kongpob sticking with the classics (you can’t go wrong with devil’s food cake).
“No way, I have my sights set on the raspberry gin cake with the popping candy.”
“Ew. That’s still red, though, I guess.”
Both a blessing and a curse, Arthit had had to take a short trip for work to Chiang Mai for Valentine’s Day, saving both of them the trouble of doing any celebratory planning. Neither of them really care that much for the frankly arbitrary commercial cash cow anyhow. If they do happen to celebrate, they keep it simple, cooking at home and getting slightly tipsy on wine. He’d been silently grateful for having avoided the imminent craze this time, still slightly bitter about the way their anniversary dinner had turned out.
Instead, he had video-called Kongpob from his hotel room, and they’d talked all evening, putting the most ridiculous filters and stickers on each other’s faces, laughing until their sides ached. Kongpob, drained from taking on extra work to go forward with the handover following his father’s announcement, had drifted off as Arthit rambled on about hypothetical social conformities in a world where humans have tails.
“…like if you think of it as another limb, then I guess you would leave it exposed like you could with an arm or a leg. But if it’s considered a somewhat private body part, then do you tuck it into your pants or would pants come with a separate sleeve for it? Think of all the fashion statements! Also, what would its function even be?”
After several moments of quiet thought, he’d turned his attention back to his laptop screen to see his boyfriend’s peacefully sleeping face, mouth slightly pressed ajar where his cheek laid on the bed. He still had his glasses on, lopsided so one of the temples caught on a stray wisp of hair. Arthit had smiled, watching him breathe softly for a few minutes before blowing a kiss at the camera and hanging up.
He’d brought the ring with him, not intending to propose on camera, of course, but simply because he couldn’t risk Kongpob accidentally finding it in his absence. He had yet to do so thus far, but the mishaps that had arisen during his last two attempts had Arthit erring on the side of caution and scrupulously deliberating any potential scenarios of interruption.
Chinese New Year, as usual, had involved more socialising than our painfully introverted protagonist cared for.
Kongpob’s parents had held an admittedly simple dinner at their house with their three children, along with Kongpob’s brothers in law and their children. Arthit’s acute awareness of his impending age further had come to a head when his boyfriend’s 14 year-old niece had unceremoniously asked them,
“So, like, what ancient dating app did you guys meet on? Tinder?”
After Arthit stammered through tinted cheeks that he and Kong had met through the hazing events at university, she’d said,
“Oh, like you guys just winged it without knowing anything about each other first? That’s so cute and old school!”
Arthit had promptly stuck his nose into his wine glass while Kongpob squeezed his other hand in sympathy.
Arthit’s family gathering had been its own brand of overwhelming. Being half Chinese on his mother’s side, the entire ground floor of his parents’ humble townhouse had been jam packed with potentially his entire bloodline of living ancestry. They’d come in from numerous Thai provinces as well as abroad, all greeting each other loudly with wishes of good health, fortune and prosperity.
He was now several days away from turning 30, and yet aunts he had no recollection of ever meeting in his entire life thought had thought it was funny to say things like N’Ai-Oon, you’ve grown so much taller! Such a big boy now! and You were such a cute baby! What chunky legs!
Kongpob had busied himself with giving out angbaos and herding all the children running circles around the kitchen island before returning to Arthit’s side with a small plate of kanom keng, a sweet but futile attempt to ease away his lover’s blatant discomfort with dessert.
“Let’s never see people again. I’m going to become a recluse. I’ll grow a beard, read philosopy books, and write deliberately vague poetry about inanimate objects. Join me?” he’d said dryly, after flopping face-down onto the sofa the minute they’d entered their own apartment.
“First of all, you don’t even own a razor, with what little facial hair you have. Second, while the prospect of staying in bed with you for the rest of time is incredibly enticing, I do have to keep a roof over our heads even if you decide to quit your job.” Kong had sat on the edge of the seat, playfully smacking Arthit’s butt.
“Nyyergnhhhh…bed.” he’d whinged in response.
True to his albeit previously sarcastic proposition, they’d stayed in the comfortable confines of the apartment for the next two days, only getting out of bed to use the bathroom and to answer the door for food deliveries. By Saturday evening, they’d almost lost track of what time of day it was, having binged and periodically napped their way through at least fifteen movies and four boxes of pizza, working off the calories every third movie or so.
They didn’t usually shut themselves away like this, their weekend afternoons often occupied by volunteering at the animal shelter for which Siam Polymer is an investor, or squeezing in a quick routine at the gym between various home errands. But every now and again, they would turn their phones off and live like misanthropes, Kongpob temporarily leaving his neat-freak tendencies at the proverbial door.
Now, their heads are at the foot of the bed, and Arthit, still naked and half lying on top of Kongpob, props himself up on his elbows. He runs a quick hand through his hair, tousled and messy from his boyfriend’s grip. Yawning, he reaches for the last slice in the box at the foot of the bed.
“Don’t. That’s from the first box we ordered. Two days ago.” Kongpob scrunches his nose in disgust.
Arthit just shrugs, as he takes a bite out of the stale and now-cold crust, tomato sauce dripping out from under the hardened cheese and onto his boyfriend’s chest. He bends down to slurp it off and Kongpob sighs deeply.
“You look ridiculously sexy right now, you know that?” He reaches up to play with a strand of Arthit’s hair.
“At least let me finish this slice before you try to maul me again,” Arthit says as he chews a mouthful. “I’m getting old and need to preserve my energy and strength.”
“Is this what turning 30 is like? Now I’m concerned.”
“You’ve still got another two years. After that, you start growing random grey hairs on your chest, you get random body aches and dizzy spells, and you actually have to exercise regularly to be able to eat all this junk.”
“Can’t wait,” Kongpob laughs. “Okay, get off me. I can’t feel my legs.”
Arthit rolls off of his stomach, pizza still in hand, then sits on the edge of the bed, finishing the slice off. With the last bite gone, they both pull their boxers on, picking up the remaining evidence of their sequestered weekend. It had felt nice to escape from the real world, even if just for a little while.
“You shower first. I’ll do the laundry and then take out the trash.” Arthit says as he pulls the stained and tangled blue sheets off of the bed.
The room now looking decidedly more like a responsible adult’s than that of a rabid college kid off of their parental leash, Arthit turns his phone back on, almost dropping it at the flood of vibrations from dozens of notifications pouring in, most of them messages from friends and family wishing him a happy birthday, and one from Kong’s mother asking for an update.
It had been his actual birthday today. He’d grown so used to their joint birthday of convenience that he sometimes forgets, occasionally even filling in forms incorrectly.
He types out Thank you! 🙂 once, and hits Send to All.
Eyes bleary and his body worn, he falls into his first deep, peaceful slumber as a 30 year-old. Perhaps the next time he fell asleep, he would have a fiancé.
Arthit awakens the next day with a slight headache and an uneasiness in his stomach. He narrows it down to his body foreshadowing his nervous jitters of what is to come that day, and thumbs over his temples.
Rolling over onto his side, he notices Kongpob has already gotten up, his side of the bed cool to the touch without his warm body. Arthit rubs the sleep out of his eyes and trudges into the kitchen, where his boyfriend is talking on the phone through an earpiece, a mug of coffee in one hand. Arthit pads closer to him, his slippers shuffling on the tile, before wrapping his arms around Kongpob’s waist, nuzzling his face into the crook of his neck.
“Yes, I understand,” Kongpob absentmindedly twirls the fuzzy hairs at the nape of Arthit’s neck between his fingers. “I’m out of office as it’s a Sunday, but I’ll have the papers sent over first thing tomorrow morning…Yes…of course…you’re welcome. Goodbye.”
He rolls his eyes as he pulls out his earpiece, pressing the button to hang up.
“Why are you talking shop on a weekend? A Chinese New Year weekend, no less?” Arthit mumbles into Kongpob’s collarbone, playing with the hem of his shirt.
“One of our partner companies is compiling their annual report, but one of their employees, probably some rookie kid, lost an invoice from us so now they’re asking for the numbers to meet a deadline.”
“You call this guy a rookie like you’re 40 with a dad bod and a penchant for desk toys.”
“Yeah, like that swinging pendulum thing. Or the little tray of sand with the tiny rake.” he snickers, raking his own fingers down Kongpob’s abdomen, gently tickling before his hand gets swatted away.
“Guess I know what I’m getting you when you turn 40.”
I would love to still be yours in ten years, Arthit smiles to himself.
“It’s Sunday. No more work, okay? You’re the one who keeps telling me I need to stop clocking in overtime.”
“I know, I know. But I don’t think the business world really cares much for how much I love my Sundays, especially with my newly announced title.”
“Ah, yes. ‘The young new president of Siam Polymer Group takes the weekend off to go and eat cake with his boyfriend like a mere commoner.'” he muses. “Such a scandalous headline.”
He snorts at his own remark, but he’s not joking about some of the rather interesting headlines they’d been featured under over the years. They’d managed to escape the attention of gossip columnists during the early years, enjoying the relative privacy of common folk. However, Kongpob, being the unnaturally handsome son of the Kerkkrai Sutthiluck, officially joining his father’s company meant that it had became increasingly commonplace to find grainy photos of themselves plastered across the pages of trashy magazines and social media, paired with exaggeratedly enthusiastic captions of their mundane, everyday lives such as:
Arthit’s perfect prince: Kongpob holds the door open for his beau! Exclusive pics inside!
The Love of Siam: Kongpob and Arthit share a bingsu at Siam Paragon!
And some utterly fallacious ones from more imaginative writers:
Kongpob the hypocrite: Siam Polymer heir seen openly sharing a KFC bucket with his boyfriend just days after retweeting an article condemning animal cruelty.
(Yes, apparently they’d been noticed that day, thousands of photos of him sucking on Kong’s fingers having circulated among his friends, much to his embarrassment)
Kongpob the abuser? Rumours of domestic violence as Arthit sports a black eye.
(He’d pulled too hard on a loose thread and accidentally punched himself in the face)
Indeed, he’s still weirded out by the attention, but the content is rarely vicious about their relationship, and Arthit would be remiss to say he wasn’t thoroughly entertained and amused every time Som-oh sent him link after link of her latest findings.
“Come on, then. Let’s give them something to talk about. Maybe I can feed you and they’ll write about how you’ve tragically lost the use of both your arms.”
“Do I at least get a cool cast with an arm sling?”
“Only if I get to sign it first.” Kongpob winks, kissing his forehead.
And so their joint birthday celebration comes as a welcome change of pace from rubbing elbows with thrice-removed cousins and being grilled by minors. Finally, it would just be the two of them, and Arthit prayed that no more chubby aunts or seasonally induced traffic jams would get in the way of finally putting the damn ring on Kongpob’s finger. It would be calm, simple, and just the two of them. Nothing fancy, no reservations nor elaborate gifts.
Just them, some cake, and possibly the rest of their lives together.
The familiar drive to the café feels longer than usual. Arthit still feels unusually queasy, his temples brimming with a foreign tension. He shifts in his seat, the ring box digging slightly into him in his back pocket. Slightly gassy, he rolls the window down and quietly burps a few times, but manages to keep it together for the duration of the ride.
“You ok, P’Arthit? You look a little pale,” Kongpob glances sideways. “I can pull over if you want.”
“No, I’m fine. We’re almost there anyway.”
I’m just nervous about tonight.
The café, on the corner of a quiet street that meets the main road, looks exactly as Arthit remembers it. A stone path leading to the entrance of the cafe, tall trees lining the way and towering over the single-story structure. Mismatched furniture runs throughout the shop and a modern but cosy aesthetic dons the interior.
They sit at their favourite table by the window, two leather-seated chairs facing each other on either side of a vintage wooden coffee table with a glass top, pieces of a broken decorative china plate scattered strategically in the shadow box.
The owner recognises them and makes her way over, wishing them both happy birthdays, before taking their orders: a slice of red velvet cake for Kongpob, and the raspberry gin fizz cake for Arthit.
Kongpob takes about thirty photos of their food before Arthit calls him a ‘basic Instagram bitch’ and demands that he be allowed to eat his cake. They each take a forkful of cake and clink them together.
“To us,” Arthit says.
“To us, and another year of getting older together.” Kongpob smiles.
The raspberry topping on Arthit’s choice is tart and tangy, blending unusually well with the gin-soaked sponge cake, but he can’t seem to take more than two bites before he feels his insides convulsing again, and a painful pressure building in his frontal lobe.
He tries to focus, willing the nerves to go away. He knows that he has to follow through with his objective tonight, or he may not have another optimal chance. Arthit doesn’t know why his entire body is reacting so divergently, when he hadn’t even been nearly as trepidant with his previous two attempts.
Then his eyes fall on Kongpob, who’s contentedly licking a dollop of cream cheese frosting off his fork. Sunlight through thin branches cast a gentle, fluttering shadow on his face, warmly hitting his skin with specks of light that peek through, and Arthit feels his heart pound in his chest and sweat prickling all over his skin, and it’s all too hot all of a sudden.
He reaches out and takes his lover’s hand, fingers trembling, clammy with sweat.
“Kong,” his voice comes out a little strangled.
“Yes, P’Arthit?” Kong looks up, his eyes bright before his expression morphs into a concerned frown. “Are you sure you’re alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
He reaches up to feel Arthit’s forehead.
“I’m fine, really,” Arthit insists.
“P’, you’re boiling up!”
“Kong, listen to me. There’s something I want to tell you.”
“What is it? Are you sure you don’t need to see a doctor?”
“No, I’m fine. Listen. I’ve been…ah, I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, and I feel like now is the right time.”
Kongpob, sensing the seriousness in his voice, tentatively places his hand over Arthit’s and looks straight at him, eyes waiting and questioning.
“What is it, P’?”
“Kong, I -“
Arthit feels his vision swirling, and he can’t bring himself to force out another word before he feels the bile surging up his throat.
A hand clasped over his mouth, he stumbles out of the cafe and out into the open, and the entire contents of his stomach purge onto the soil beside the stone path.
I’m leaving this chapter like this because it was just getting way too long. So the next chapter will essentially be a continuation of this one. I think I just got a little carried away with explaining why they were celebrating so many things in February, as well as how Arthit got food poisoning. I also wanted to show different angles of their relationship, this chapter seeing them be imperfectly domestic hermits.
I realise the irony of this story being a Valentine’s Day special yet they don’t even really celebrate it. I guess my objective when I started this fic was for Arthit to try really desperately to be the boyfriend he thinks he should be because he’s extremely insecure, and especially after the events of SOTUS S, he really wants to put in all his effort to make sure Kong feels loved. He has it in his head that he needs to do all these elaborate things to be on par with Kongpob (but of course he doesn’t).
That being said, I skipped over Valentine’s Day partly because I felt like his plan would be extremely similar to their anniversary and therefore not terribly interesting to read, but also because it feels impersonal to them, as it’s a day where everyone is celebrating their love rather than one that’s their personal milestone.
As for why I’ve put their birthdays so close together, again, it’s a further insight into the unique dynamic of their specific relationship. That in tandem with the idea that I’ve always felt like both of them are Pisces Sun babies, Arthit with a Virgo rising and Kongpob with a Cancer rising (if you believe in astrology, that is). Not that I’m really huge on that kind of thing, but it made for a fitting title, I think.