Chapter 4: Murphy’s Law
Warnings: Depiction of OCD symptoms (rumination)
“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
The entire car ride to the hospital had hung thick with the tension of anticipating when Arthit might violently throw up yet again into the plastic bag that the café owner had so kindly offered them.
Kongpob had been hesitant to speak, focusing on driving as slowly and carefully as the agitated honks behind them would allow, not wanting to create any more sudden movement than necessary. Still, he’d had to pull over briefly to allow Arthit to retch and hurl a couple of times into an isolated bush at the side of the road.
He’d rubbed Arthit’s back in slow, soothing circles, meekly attempting to pacify the burning in Arthit’s oesophagus. What does one even say in this situation? Are you okay? If Arthit’s pained heaving and pale lips were any indication, that would have been an incredibly stupid question.
“I’ve got you, P’,” he says, the first he’s spoken since he’d helped Arthit into the car.
Arthit wipes at his mouth and gasps for as much air as he can manage, becoming increasingly frustrated with himself when his head remains hotly clouded with fever, and his insides convulse with the need to expel what he’s not even sure is physically capable of being left inside of him. Where is all this liquid even coming from?
Eventually, his stomach has settled enough that he manages to swerve clumsily back to the car with Kongpob’s assistance. He’s holding him up as though Arthit has jelly for bones, an image that may as well be true, his entire body numb and exhausted with persistent nausea.
He throws up two more times in the waiting room at A&E before they finally enter the doctor’s office, where Arthit is met with query after query about his recent medical and travel history, any allergies, and any odd changes in diet or lifestyle.
“I’m not dying, am I?” Arthit groans after what feels like the fiftieth question, his vocal cords sore with the acidic taste of his own bile. He just wants to go home, crawl into bed and forget that this day ever happened.
The doctor merely chortles at this, shaking her head.
“No, nothing quite so dramatic. Just a nasty case of food poisoning, probably. Have you eaten anything irregular from your usual diet lately?”
“Not that I can recall.”
“Anything that might have been past its expiry date? Sometimes food goes bad before it looks like it does, especially when you don’t refrigerate it.”
“Don’t. That’s from the first box we ordered. Two days ago.”
It hits him like an ice cold bucket of water. Kongpob’s warning rings clearly in his memory, always the voice of reason.
If Arthit had been feeling shit about yet another failed attempt just seconds ago, he now wishes to walk directly into oncoming traffic, cursing internally for having brought it upon himself. A dull aching forms in his chest, wrapped in disappointment and self-hatred.
Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
Maybe I’m the problem.
Maybe…I don’t deserve him.
“Uh…I don’t know,” he mutters, barely paying attention anymore.
“Well, either way, I’m going to get you some electrolytes to replace the lost fluids, and something for your fever. Take it easy for a couple of days, drink plenty of water and try to eat plain foods for a while.”
“Thanks, Doctor,” he manages before his mouth is filling up again, and the doctor, completely unfazed, simply pulls a bedpan from one of her desk drawers and holds it under Arthit’s chin, as if she’s rehearsed for this exact moment.
Kongpob extracts a tissue from his pocket, reaching out to wipe Arthit’s mouth, but Arthit haughtily snatches it from him, wringing the soft fibres in his hand. If Kongpob flinches at the rejection, Arthit doesn’t notice.
“Keep an eye on him,” the doctor says to Kongpob. “If his fever doesn’t subside by tomorrow, you should bring him in again.”
“Yes, thank you,” Kongpob gives her a wai, and tries to help Arthit to his feet.
“I’m vomiting, Kong, not crippled,” he pushes out of the chair and makes a beeline for the door.
After brushing his teeth of the vile flavour in his mouth, Arthit slips out of his jeans in the bedroom, kicking them to the side before he remembers the box he’d tucked into the back pocket that morning. Crouching down, he takes it out and snaps the box open, tracing the the velvet-lined casing with a fingertip.
How could he ever have thought that he was capable of being the one to propose? How dare he think that he could be the romantic one? Each and every attempt had gone like rainwater down a flood drain and it was his own damn fault for taking too long and making poor choices out of egotistical laziness; he couldn’t even just listen to people once in a while.
All this time, he’d blamed it on exterior influence and unfortunate coincidences, when it had all been his own doing all along. He’d not left in time to beat traffic. He’d been the one to selfishly assume he could take advantage of someone else’s party. He’d been the one who’d eaten expired food when he knew it was a bad idea.
This is karma for not being expressive enough, not sociable enough, not responsible enough, just not enough for Kong. Beautiful, sweet, caring, selfless and widely loved Kong.
I’m so sorry, Kong, he thinks. I couldn’t even give you the perfect proposal you deserve.
His throat aches, a lump forming, but Arthit is sure it’s not because of the nausea. He takes one last look at the ring, the gems not quite so brilliant now, its previous light fading along with what was once a beautiful dream.
He closes the box and tucks it away in a storage bin under the bed, along with other forgotten items of past memories, and curls up under the covers. He stares blankly at the window, a warm breeze sifting through Venetian blinds that fails to comfort him. Angry worms eat at the deeply enamoured butterflies in his stomach until their bodies lay lifeless and their wings are torn to shreds.
“P’Arthit?” He hears Kongpob come into the room, a glass of water mixed with electrolyte powder and the plastic baggie of pills for his fever in hand.
He sits on the edge of the bed and smiles gently, placing the glass on the bedside table next to Arthit, who hasn’t even looked up at him.
“Don’t say it.”
“Don’t say what, P’?”
“Don’t say I told you so. I don’t want to hear it right now.”
“What? Why would I say that?”
“The pizza, Kong. You warned me, and I didn’t listen. You don’t need to remind me.”
Kongpob reaches out to stroke Arthit’s hair, but he rolls over, shifting away from his touch. Allowing himself to be loved like this just doesn’t feel right anymore.
“P’, I wasn’t going to. You really think I’m going to try and be petty when you’re in pain?”
“No, of course not. You’re not like that,” it comes out almost scathing and spiteful.
You’re fucking perfect and I don’t deserve you.
He hears a drawn out release of breath behind him, and Kongpob is quiet for a moment, sensing the hint of derision in Arthit’s remark.
“P’Arthit…what is this really about?”
There’s a slight tremble in his voice, uncertain and completely thrown off guard by the dramatic pivot in Arthit’s entire demeanour. Such an occurrence hasn’t graced their relationship in years. They’d had their tiffs and disagreements, of course, Arthit driving the mothership of jealousy and insecurity, and Kongpob with his neurotic fussing and slightly overbearing tendencies.
But there’s an underlying weight to this particular episode that Kongpob has sensed gradually whittling to a point for about a month now.
Arthit pushes himself up in a seated position, grabbing the glass and pills before downing the contents of both in one go, not taking a single breath until the entire glass is empty.
“Nothing. I’m tired. I’m going to sleep.”
He slides himself down again, not once looking at his…well, if they aren’t getting engaged, then what even are they anymore? Arthit pushes the thought away and pulls the blanket up to his chin, closing his eyes.
Kongpob remains seated next to his lying figure for several more quiet minutes, until eventually, Arthit feels a weight lift off the mattress, and a hesitant kiss being pressed to his forehead. Several moments later, he hears the bedroom door click shut.
Thankfully, his fever does subside after a night of cold sweats and recurrent trips to the bathroom. By morning, he no longer feels like emptying his stomach every ten minutes. He calls in sick anyway, waking up at 8AM and finding that Kongpob had spent the night out on the living room sofa.
“Kong,” he nudges the sleeping man, curled into a ball on his side.
Kongpob stirs, wincing slightly at the ache in his back. He rubs his eyes, shifting to sit up.
“P’Arthit, you’re up. Are you feeling better this morning?”
Arthit, still a little queasy, but mostly from exhaustion, nods slowly.
“Yeah, but I called in sick at work. Why are you on the couch?”
Kongpob rubs at the back of his neck, tilting it from side to side to loosen the cricks, emitting a resounding crack of tense joints. Dark circles have formed under his eyes from getting up every half hour to press his ear to the bedroom door, worried that Arthit might still be throwing up.
“Oh…I uh, I didn’t hear you vomiting anymore after several hours so I figured you’d finally gotten to sleep. I didn’t want to wake you.”
Arthit says nothing in response, and glances at the clock.
“It’s past 8 now. Don’t you have to go to work?”
“But you’re sick. I’ll stay and look after you,” he smiles, gently reaching out for Arthit’s hand.
“I can look after myself. Go to work.”
“Really, it’s fine! I can just tell Por-“
“I’m not a damn child, Kong. Just go to work.”
Another pregnant silence hangs between them, witty and playful banter replaced by painfully clipped conversation. Today feels like the wrong day to be pushy and it sits like bricks on Kongpob’s chest that Arthit is in no mood to humour his usual antics. He finally stands up, gazing briefly at Arthit before tentatively wrapping his arms around his middle in a careful embrace. Arthit tenses, but reaches up to gently place cold hands on his back.
“You sure you’ll be fine?”
“Yeah. My fever is gone, anyhow.”
“Okay. But can you please call if you need anything?”
Arthit exhales slowly through his nose, hating himself for making it awkward, but if he were to explain his behaviour, it would be near impossible to do so without providing details of the root of his troubles. Kongpob never needs to know that he tried and failed to ask what seems like such a simple four-word question, but which has laughed in his face at least three times now.
“Yeah, okay,” he nods, before pulling out of Kongpob’s grasp.
Kongpob sighs, unsure what to do with his hands or where to look, finally settling on shifting his gaze unsteadily at Arthit’s face.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can. You should get some more rest.”
Arthit nods. He feels awful for how his emotional awkwardness has resulted in the looming discomfort between them, but he’s not sure how to salvage it, not really even knowing how to apologise without giving too much away.
“Kong,” he starts. “I’m sorry about yesterday.”
“Hmm? What do you mean?” Kongpob looks surprised by this shift in tone.
“All of it. Ruining our birthday. Snapping at you. I know you wouldn’t rub it in my face. I was just…cranky from being sick.”
That, and I’m an unworthy piece of shit.
“You didn’t ruin it, P’,” Kongpob runs his hands down Arthit’s arms reassuringly, the frowning crease between his brows finally subsiding, replacing his terse expression with a tenderness that is uniquely the Kongpob that Arthit is still so desperately in love with. “Let’s focus on getting you fully better first, okay?”
“I love you.”
His eyes, as they always are, are deep and sincere, and Arthit thinks maybe the flutter in his stomach might not be the food poisoning.
“Love you, too.”
He blinks, allowing Kongpob to kiss him briefly, before he turns around and goes straight back to bed, a tear escaping onto the pillow.
Oh boy, I struggled big time writing this particular chapter and actually had to cheer myself up by writing the next chapter before coming back to this one. My writing style in combination with my usual portrayal of them having witty, sarcastic nonsense rapport had to take a backseat here and it killed me because it was so not fun to write 🙁
I hope it’s at least clear to you guys that Arthit isn’t just randomly being a jerk here. He’s just really easily down on himself and he always feels like he’s to blame for everything that goes wrong, and it manifests itself in the form of being closed off and slightly standoffish. Of course he wants Kong to love him, but he just doesn’t believe he deserves it, a thought that I think has plagued him for years now. In other words, he’s a dumb insecure hurting baby.
Edit: At the risk of making this author’s note even longer, I want to point out something that’s really important. Please don’t think that Arthit’s behaviour in this chapter is conducive to the actions of a mentally healthy person. To my understanding of his entire demeanour in the series, Arthit is someone who suffers anxiety(OCD)/depression to some degree. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have good days or even weeks and months, but the journey to good mental health isn’t a straight line, and he needs a lot of consistent support. I don’t like when authors make a depressed person’s lover the answer to their problems, but I will say that Kongpob has definitely pushed gently and gradually for Arthit to take steps outside of his comfort zone and fears so that he can experience more of life without irrational anxieties. This chapter is deeply personal to me as a fellow OCD sufferer, and I really hope that young readers understand why it’s gone this route.