Chapter 5: Come Hell or High Water
The following weeks between Arthit and Kongpob vacillate between painfully polite, half-heartedly playful, and at times, deeply uncomfortable.
Arthit would play along with Kongpob’s attempts at their usual brand of nonsense banter at times, but it had felt inauthentic and like extra effort that he just didn’t have the energy for. Occasionally, Arthit would unintentionally start a petty argument, but would offer a grim apology soon after. Kongpob was not completely obtuse, maintaining his distance where he felt Arthit needed space, and gently offering affection when he seemed to be up for it.
He dives headfirst into his work, busying himself with menial tasks that could frankly be left to interns, taking extra care in sifting through the details of each and every spreadsheet and document. Some evenings, he would still be at his desk at almost 8PM, when he would normally have been home for at least two hours. While management is incredibly pleased with his added efforts, someone sits at home on those nights, waiting for the familiar unlocking of the front door.
Earth, Tod and Som-Oh bear witness the unusual tension between the two lovers at odds with each other’s emotions, when, one evening, Kongpob decides to stop by the office at exactly 5PM, hoping to pick Arthit up from work.
“I brought your favourite,” he says, holding up the cup of pink milk. Arthit stares at it briefly before taking it and placing it on his desk.
“Thanks,” he nods, turning back to his work without even taking a sip. He tenses as Kongpob presses comforting circles with his thumbs into the back of Arthit’s admittedly sore neck.
“Awww, I wish my boyfriend would be so sweet to me,” Som-Oh pouts, filing her nails.
“Som-Oh, you don’t have a boyfriend. Just a different crush every week,” Earth rolls her eyes.
“I mean hypothetically,” Som-Oh retorts. “N’Arthit, you are such a lucky man to have N’Kongpob. He’s like a fairytale prince!” she gushes, fluttering her lashes.
Arthit continues typing, silently agreeing. I don’t need reminding. He’s tired and doesn’t really want to engage in his colleagues’ usual rapport.
“P’Arthit, are you ready to go?”
Arthit glances up, turning briefly towards Kongpob, who’s still standing behind his desk chair, waiting expectantly.
“Uh, I don’t know. I’ve got some, uh…”
He gestures vaguely at his screen at the spreadsheet he has open, for which he’s been manually colour coding page after page of data by their numbers, each colour representing a range within multiples of five. It’s rather impressive and visually appealing, if a bit pointless. His actual work had been finished at least two hours ago, having skipped lunch to stay at his desk.
“I’ll finish it up, Mr. Sun! Go!” Tod grins, completely oblivious to Arthit’s hesitance.
Arthit is backed into a corner, several pairs of eyes on him now.
Et tu, Bonus? He eyes the crimson fish, staring at him from his undersized tank.
“Okay, just let me tidy up then.”
Kongpob takes his hand as they enter the lift, lacing their fingers together. It takes a few seconds before Arthit properly tightens his clasp around his boyfriend’s palm. It’s warm and soft, and despite everything, makes him feel safer.
“How was your day?” Kongpob says as the numbers on the display descend with the elevator.
“Fine, I guess. A bit busy.”
“You guys just got some new interns, right?”
The corner of his mouth turns up just a tiny bit at this, recalling the days when they’d gone to work together every day, struggling with the fax machine and navigating office politics.
“Yeah. One of them has already found themselves in Khun Paga’s bad books. Apparently he called her P’Paga right off the bat. I’m pretty sure he came back having pissed himself.”
Kongpob breaks into a grin at this.
“She’s really not so bad.”
“Says you. I think you’re the only person she’s ever taken a liking to.”
“Yeah, well, I learned my lesson after pissing off a really harsh hazer,” he winks.
Arthit doesn’t say anything, simply leaving a hint of a smirk on his face.
As they make their way through the lobby, Kongpob stops in his tracks, taking Arthit’s other hand as well.
“Do you want to eat out tonight or get takeout? I don’t really feel like cooking.”
“Um, we can eat out, I guess.”
“Japanese. I don’t even want to see a pizza right now.”
Arthit immediately regrets choosing to eat out. The restaurant is packed, a large group of particularly overzealous tourists pouring in after they’re seated. Every major restaurant or market district has been flooded with tourists since mid-week, many hoping to partake in the Songkran festivities after the weekend.
“Linda, I saw a McDonald’s down the road. Why can’t we just eat there?”
“We didn’t come all the way to Asia to eat McDonald’s. This is the whole package, Josh! We’re eating authentic Japanese food in an Asian country!”
“We’re in Thailand, Linda.”
“Yeah, well I don’t like spicy food!”
They both try to suppress snickers as they peruse that evening’s specials.
“Do you want to go somewhere else instead?” Kongpob regards him over the top of his menu.
“No, it’s fine, let’s just eat quickly and go.”
Arthit asks for the bill quite literally as he’s shoving the last spoon of rice in his mouth, and Kongpob just bites his lip. He’d been hoping they could talk tonight, perhaps subtly bring up the elephant that had laid occupancy in their idiomatic room for the past month. Or something. Anything. But he hands over his card wordlessly.
“You going to shower first?” Arthit loosens his tie as they unlock the front door.
“Yeah,” Kongpob slips his shoes off and dumps his briefcase down on the floor, turning to rubs Arthit’s tie between his fingers. “Or you could join me,” he tries, his face feigning innocence.
He’s being cute and coy, and Arthit can’t bear the fact that it’s directed at him, feeling anything but attractive lately. Kongpob has made more than a few attempts at being intimate with Arthit in the last few weeks, but is usually met with a sarcastic dismissal, or claiming that he’s not just feeling it.
And it’s true. Whereas Arthit’s body usually takes on a life of its own when they’re in such close proximity, lately, he hasn’t even bothered to take matters into his own hands. He looks at Kongpob now, detecting lust and pent up frustration in the flickered gazes at his mouth, as well as confusion over why their usually fruitful and exciting sex life has taken an unannounced hiatus.
He feels guilty. It’s not that he doesn’t want it, but every time Kongpob begins his physical worship, what fills his mind is literally anything else but what’s being lovingly done to his body, and he lies flat and still, completely unable to enjoy himself.
But he wants to try.
“Okay,” he says, and the blatant shock in Kongpob’s expression sends another pang of guilt through Arthit’s chest.
“Yeah?” Kong says, his voice hopeful.
“Yeah,” he gives him a soft smile, and Kongpob back-walks to their bathroom, dragging Arthit with him.
Their lips meet, slowly and patiently, as they undress each other and step into their shower.
Dense steam and the sensation of their mouths against each other has Arthit’s heart racing, and oddly, it calms his mind, clearing it of thoughts of work, of his dwindling self-worth, and his nagging guilt.
For the first time in a while, he feels good, and allows himself the pleasure of being kissed and held and taken care of, Kongpob’s hands and mouth hungry with exploration.
Then Kongpob brings his mouth back up to his, and whispers desperately,
“You’re so beautiful, P’Arthit. I can’t believe you’re all mine.”
A diamond ring.
Five roses and four carnations.
Car horns in the distance.
Slow dancing by the pool.
A diamond ring.
Cake. A stone path.
A diamond ring.
Arthit gulps and his hands fall to his sides, eyes wide and blood rushing back through his torso. He looks at the man in front of him, eyes searching and searching, until realisation dawns on him that the moment has gone.
Just like that.
“I’m sorry, Kong,” he says for maybe the twelfth time in the last month.
He slips out from between Kongpob and the shower wall, sliding the door open and wrapping himself in a towel before stepping out in the bedroom.
Neither of them hear the other shedding frustrated tears.
The weekend comes and goes without so much as a word spoken between them nor a single touch despite sharing their suddenly too-small bed.
It’s Sunday evening when they both receive a text in their friends’ group chat, asking if they want to carpool to Silom the following day, and telling them to bring an extra water gun.
Kongpob looks up from where he’s sitting on the couch at Arthit, who’s sat on one of the kitchen barstools with his laptop.
“Are we joining them?” Arthit says finally, after several moments of silence pass.
“I was going to take my motorbike.”
“Where are you going to park?”
“Probably on the corner of Naradhiwas.”
“So close to the bridge?”
“Well, it’s where we’re meeting your friends, right?”
“I guess, yeah.”
“So we’ll park along that road.”
“Why can’t we just carpool?”
“Are you planning on staying out late?”
“No, I just…never mind. We’ll take your bike.”
“You can carpool with them if you want. Can’t fit six people anyway, so I’ll just go by myself.”
“It’s fine, Kong. We’ll take your bike.”
“Well you want to go with them, right? So just go.”
Arthit hops off the barstool and exhales loudly.
“We’re taking your bike. End of discussion,” he says before stalking off down the hallway to their bedroom.
They don’t speak again for the rest of the evening.
One of Bangkok’s busiest roads, usually occupied for miles with cars and motorbikes, is currently flooded with probably two thirds of the city’s population and thrill-seeking tourists. They’re dressed in vibrant hues across the entire spectrum, girls with their hair in plaits and men in colourful Hawaiian shirts.
Vendors under colourful umbrellas line the sides of the road, selling scented water, elaborate flower garlands, and assortments of water toys. Upbeat music blasts from various corners and pedestrians are climbing onto the concrete road divide under the bridge.
Bright barely makes it out of Knot’s car before someone has already sprayed him in the face, leaving him sputtering and his shirt soaked.
“Hey! I know I’m hot shit but at least buy me dinner before you put out my fire!” he shouts, heading straight in the direction of a group of laughing girls.
Knot shakes his head and locks the car door, walking over to where Kongpob and Arthit are sitting on the edge of the pavement, about the length of a large dog of space between them. They’re already soaked from head to toe from passersby shooting at them and smearing coloured chalk on their faces.
“Why are you two just sitting here? You could’ve just gone ahead first.”
“That’s what I said,” Kongpob mutters. “But he…never mind.”
“I said you could go ahead first and I would catch up when they got here.”
“Yeah, well we came together, so it doesn’t make any sense for me to just go around by myself, does it?”
“They’re my friends, Kong. Not yours.”
Kongpob just looks at him and nods, his expression unreadable. He gets up, heading down the road and stopping at one of the large water barrels, queuing behind a group of other pedestrians for a refill.
Knot eyes Arthit, who just sighs, fiddling with the pump on his water gun.
“You want to share whatever that‘s about?”
“I thought you were going to propose to him like half a year ago. What happened? I never heard you say anything about it after you first mentioned it.”
“It didn’t happen,” he shrugs, the last thing he wants to be reminded of.
“Wait, he said no?” Knot looks genuinely alarmed.
“He hasn’t said anything,” Arthit stands, leaning against a lamppost. “I never got around to asking.”
“Why? You have the ring, just ask him.”
“I tried, okay? Our anniversary, New Year’s Eve, our birthdays, and a few other times I considered it. Every time, I somehow fucked it up and it didn’t happen.”
“Why didn’t you just do it at home?”
“You know what he’s like. He’s into all the sappy, romantic shit. You know, flowers, dinner, sparkly lights and all that. I couldn’t just pop the question while we’re on the couch watching Cougar on the Prowl.”
“Why the hell not?” Knot scoffs in disbelief. “Arthit, I don’t know Kongpob that well, clearly, but I do know he’s been insanely in love with you since whatever weird thing you guys had going on in our hazing days. You guys have been together almost ten years, and he is still literally the heart eyes emoji around you. And I know you feel the same about him. At this rate, I’m pretty sure you could yell Marry me? from the bathroom while you’re taking a shit and he would still be over the moon.”
Arthit is quiet, scraping the sole of his sandal against the edge of the wet pavement.
“What if he says no?” his voice is quiet, the question urgent.
“He’s not going to say no.”
“But what if—”
“Fucking hell, ‘thit. Just talk to him already. This whole self-loathing, I-don’t-deserve-shit nonsense isn’t funny to watch anymore. You deserve happiness, do you hear me?! If you still love him and you want even the slightest chance of keeping him then go over there and work your shit out.”
Knot sighs, clapping a hand to his friend’s shoulder.
“Go. Get your man,” he says, shoving Arthit in Kongpob’s direction.
“Okay, okay, I’m going,” he holds his hands up in surrender.
Kongpob is fiddling with his sandal when Arthit hesitantly approaches the water barrel he’s been waiting his turn at. He pauses a moment when he stands and realises the company he’s in.
“I didn’t mean that they’re not your friends, too,” Arthit says, his voice small. “Sorry.”
He picks the scoop up from inside the barrel and begins pouring water into the opening of the water tank in his gun.
“You’re supposed to just dip the entire thing in the barrel and let it fill up.” Kongpob says, taking the gun from him and submerging it in the water.
“It’s a toy, Kongpob. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do it.”
“I’m just saying it’s easier.”
“Why are you picking a fight?”
“I’m not picking a fight. I’m just telling you that – you know what? Never mind.”
“Well, you started it, with your know-it-all dip it in the barrel thing!”
Kongpob blinks hard in frustration, and shoves the water gun back into Arthit’s hands.
“I started this? You’re the one who’s had a fucking chip on their shoulder for the past few weeks and I can’t say or do anything anymore without worrying that you’re going to get upset with me one way or another!”
Kongpob rarely raises his voice, much less swear in public or use informal pronouns, but Arthit is too determined to be thrown off and walk away from this fight. Not this time.
“Why would I be upset with you?!”
“Gee, I don’t know! Maybe because ever since we left the hospital, you’ve barely spoken to me except out of necessity or when I initiate conversation? Maybe because you’re suddenly staying at work until ridiculous hours even though I know for a fact that you don’t have any major new projects lately, given that I’m your supplier? Or maybe because every time I try to touch you, you push me away, or we try and it goes nowhere! I don’t even know what I did that was so wrong!”
“You? You never do anything wrong! It’s me who’s the problem! I can’t go anywhere or do anything without being reminded of how fucking perfect you are!”
“Oh, here we go again. I’m not perfect—”
“Not in the things that don’t matter. Are you kidding me? You look like a fucking Disney prince, Kong, and you’re one of the most successful bachelors in Thailand. You charm the pants off of every fucking person you cross paths with, your family literally are the nicest people I’ve ever met, and just to top it all off, you’re good at basically everything you try! I don’t even understand why the fuck someone like you bothers to put up with my sorry ass!”
Arthit is full on yelling now, drawing the attention of a few nosy passersby. Kongpob’s expression softens slightly.
“P’Arthit, that is not how I—”
“No! Nothing I do ever makes me feel like I can ever be on your level. I’m only average-looking, I’m stubborn, and I’m moody, and I fuss and worry over the dumbest shit! I’m not rich, my family is weird as fuck, and maybe it’s because I’m the only child but I don’t know how to care for other people or talk about how I feel like you do.
“Don’t you get it? Everyone who meets you, falls madly in love with you, myself included, and you literally could have anyone in the world. And yet here you are, shackling yourself to the shitshow of a human being that I am. Why? You’re constantly taking care of me and doing all these amazing things to make sure I feel loved and yet I can’t do a damn thing in return because I don’t know how and fucking hell, Kong, why the fuck are you even still with me?!”
His face is streaming with tears, and he’s heaving through shallow breaths now. Kongpob just stares at him, tears welling in the corners of his own eyes. He swallows painfully, restraining a sob that threatens to escape.
“What are you trying to say, P’Arthit?” His voice is strained and he’s not really sure if he’s ready to hear the answer. He fears that it will be exactly what he’s been suspecting.
As Arthit ponders his next words, a very large, very tall man in a crop top and denim shorts running one of the many water toy vendors starts dancing behind his table. He’s been pumping a particularly grating dubstep track throughout the afternoon, and he’s waving his arms in delight as nearby pedestrians spray at him with their guns.
It’s completely ridiculous, Arthit realises.
But with everything that’s happened, and Knot’s words swimming through the hurricane of self-loathing thoughts that is his brain, he just doesn’t care anymore. For once, he knows exactly what he wants and he doesn’t want to waste anymore time planning or thinking.
“You deserve happiness, do you hear me?!”
He’s exhausted from all the running and dodging.
“What I’m trying to say is…” he starts.
Crop Top guy, however, takes this as his opportunity to crank his subwoofers up to full volume, climbing onto a chair, drawing the attention of those nearby to his animated dancing. Arthit can no longer tell the difference between his pounding heartbeat and the low, steady roll of the bass.
Kongpob is thrown off, squinting as though it might help him hear better.
“What I mean is,” he tries again, louder this time. “that I want to—ow!”
The top of Arthit’s head is met with a soaking wet sponge thrown from the bridge above them, cutting him off mid-sentence and drenching his entire upper body. Arthit ruffles his hair, trying to shake the water out of it, rubbing the excess moisture out of his eyes. The speakers emit sound waves so reverberant that they can feel the ground quaking beneath their sandals.
Kongpob leans in slightly, cupping his ear.
“What?! I can’t hear you!” he yells back.
“I said, I want—”
The crowd around them seems to gravitate towards the music now, pushing and shoving past, between and behind them to get closer to the vendor’s table.
Arthit is rapidly losing his cool, and by some miracle, manages to grab a hold of Kongpob’s arm before he becomes interwoven with the swarm of dancing bodies around them.
All it takes is one more clumsy bump from a slightly tipsy and heedless celebrant into Arthit’s shoulder, and
“Oh for FUCK’S sake! Will you FUCKING MARRY ME, KONG?!!!”
He hasn’t taken on this level of volume or projection since he was a hazer, and yet instead of pushing back with a witty comeback, Kong freezes, mouth hanging open in bewilderment.
“What did you say?” he says, barely breathing as the question sinks in.
Crop Top guy seems to have caught on to their comparatively inconspicuous moment in the raging sea of coloured shirts and sporadic fountains, and turns the music back down, pausing his movements to watch. Even pockets of the immediate crowd around them have stilled their actions, breaths held in curious anticipation as the two stare fixedly at each other.
“I said,” Arthit huffs out a sigh, pushing wet hair out of his face. “Will you marry me, Kong? Because I’ve been hiding the damn ring for —what is it?—six fucking months now, and trust me, I really tried,” he snorts at his own affliction. “At least three times. But every time I tried to plan for it and make it happen, something would get in the way and even now, I’m being interrupted by shitty nightclub music,” he pointedly gestures at the vendor, who looks mildly offended.
“And I’m standing here in the middle of fucking Silom Road of all places, I’m soaked from head to toe, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops and I have chalk all over my face, but I don’t give a shit anymore, okay? All I wanted was to for once do something romantic for you and make you understand just how much I love you – alright, Kong? I fucking love you so much that it’s eating me alive, so go ahead and make me your damn wife, because—”
Arthit halts his tirade, staring into deep brown eyes that gradually crinkle at the sides with how hard Kongpob is smiling. The thudding in his chest reaches his ears, and his breathing is shaky.
“I said yes. A thousand times, yes, Arthit. I’ll marry you.”
Kong is still crying, but his tears are falling over his beaming grin now, and Arthit feels months of congested tension leaving his body. My beautiful Kong, he thinks. Mine.
His water gun falls abandoned on the street next to his feet as he pulls Kongpob’s face in to meet for a fervent kiss, picking him up by the legs and twirling him around.
He hasn’t felt this alive in years.
The hundreds of people above and around them erupt into applause and cheers, and the water fights resume, some spraying the kissing couple as they laugh into each other’s mouths, water mixing with the taste of salty tears.
“I can’t believe it,” Arthit slowly lowers his boyfriend – no, fiancé – to the ground. “All this planning and sneaking around and this, this is how it happens. I’m so fucking -“
Kong silences him with another kiss, rubbing away some of the blue chalk on his cheek.
“You know, for someone who claims they’re bad at showing how they feel, you sure talk a lot.”
“I hate you,” he shoves at him slightly, but he’s smiling.
“Well you’re stuck with me for life now, hubby.”
“Gross. No pet names.”
Kongpob just laughs and wraps his arms around Arthit’s neck, holding their foreheads together. They smile so hard that their cheeks hurt, but they don’t care.
“This is going to be all over the internet, isn’t it?”
“Now the whole world knows you’re mine.”
And if this were a movie or TV episode, the camera would slow pan out from them, giving an aerial view of the entire of Silom Road, vibrant with colour and laughter, water splashing to wash away past troubles and welcome a new era.
Ahh, it’s been an emotional rollercoaster for both myself and these two dummies in love, but I hope you’ve enjoyed following me on this journey with them. I hope I did them justice, even though I know have the tendency to wax poetic. Arthit will always have mental battles that he has to overcome, but I have no doubts that each of them will build each other up each step of the way. After all, they now have the rest of their lives ahead of them.
Don’t forget to read the epilogue! Thank you for the very eye-opening discussions about the previous chapter. Mental illness is a very real thing that so many people struggle with to different degrees, and doesn’t always manifest itself in the ways we think. I’m glad that for some of you, my Arthit has been someone you could relate to, but I also hope that his struggles serve as a reminder to look after ourselves, too.