Part 1: Chapter 1
Friday, June 5, 2020
📍 Homestay Bangkhran
Most hangovers are preceded by a night of raucous laughter, stupid friends, one too many drinks, and possibly an amusing stumble or two before climbing into the back of a taxi to lull off some of the adrenaline.
They happen the morning after collapsing face down onto a cold mattress with your clothes still clinging to your back with the night’s sweat, possibly with your shoes still dangling from weary feet, and if you’re lucky enough, a considerably less disoriented friend who turns you onto your side before you slip away into unconsciousness, so you don’t choke on your own tongue or vomit while you sleep.
Some hangovers follow waking from long hours of drowning your sorrows in a pack of cheap beer, only to feel twice as empty as you did when you decided to open the fridge and cry among empty cans strewn across your sofa while you watched infomercials on television.
Oftentimes, you wake up alone and disoriented, your entire mouth sore with dehydration, head heavy as bricks and your heart throbbing painfully in your head. You take a painkiller and down as much water as you can stomach, order the greasiest pizza that will deliver to your door, and stick your head under a cold shower until it arrives.
Arthit’s type of hangover falls under none of the above.
Indeed, it starts like most. He grimaces at the harsh daylight flooding the room and groans with each painful breath he takes, his throat burning with desiccation, and the rustling of the bed sheets louder than his intrusive migraine can handle. But when he finally rubs away enough morning stars crusting the outline of his eyes to open them properly, he immediately senses that something is different.
He’s not in his own home, of course. He knows at least that much. Aside from the fact that he can’t smell his grandmother’s breakfast congee and steaming china pot of pu-er tea wafting in from the other side of the old curtain that divides his bed from the rest of the shoebox apartment, there’s also the distinct absence of her reprimanding him for sleeping in and dragging the covers off of his body so that his skin prickles with goosebumps the cool morning air.
No, he’s certainly not at home.
There’s always something mildly disorienting about waking up in a hotel room. Although, he can hardly call where they’re staying a hotel. Really, it’s more like a mostly clean for-rent room with someone who changes the bedsheets and maybe sweeps the floor after each visit.
Trust Bright to have booked what he’d thought was a steal with an incredible view. The twelve of them had ended up having to share four rooms among them, and while, indeed, the view of the beach itself had been a sight for sore eyes, the rooms were an entirely different matter.
The room Arthit had ended up staying in had supposedly been ‘one of the best’ out of the four, a joke if Arthit had ever heard one. A curved grey plastic tube as a curtain rod barely holds up a musty off-white drape, stiff cushions with a shockingly yellow cartoon duck print and a faded pink bolster are carefully arranged on one bed, what he’s sure is his grandmother’s scratchy, floral heirloom tablecloth strewn across the other, and the bathroom more like a Porta-Potty with a shower head comprised of a dripping pipe hung on the wall by a piece of steel wire, water to drain out through a hole in the floor.
Hardly the ideal picture of holiday accommodation.
Bright had given the room a once-over and, sensing scornful eyes on his severe misjudgement, had said, “At least you get this nice big sofa…and an air-conditioner! There’s even an electric kettle in case you get cold and want some hot tea!”
“It’s 38 degrees Celsius, Bright,” Knot had rolled his eyes before stalking off to take a look at his own ‘room’—a straw hut with two queen-sized mattresses on the floor, and a ceiling fan that pointed towards the opposite wall. Arthit hadn’t complained, simply relieved that Bright had at least not gotten them into any legal trouble. And that the bedding is clean…he thinks.
He tries to recall the previous night’s events, having no clear memory of coming back to the room, which he’d shared with Prem and Bright, but he does vaguely remember being angry about something and drinking himself into oblivion on the beach the previous night, as the lot of them had crowded around a bonfire, singing their favourite karaoke hits out of tune, laughing about everything and nothing, and clanking icy beer cans together to mark the end of an era.
The other bed is empty, which means Bright has probably already gone out for breakfast and brought his luggage with him, having, at Knot’s insistence, packed the night before. What time is it, anyway?
Squeezing his eyes shut once more in an attempt to conjure tears to soothe the soreness, Arthit shuffles himself up into a seated position, and the lumpy mattress squeaks underneath him.
He reaches to stretch his arms above his head with a yawn, only to have his right arm harshly tugged straight back downwards by something cold and hard against his wrist, and a harsh weight like being painfully pulled by a leash.
And then…mild warmth against his knuckles. He stills, turning to look down at his arm.
Or, two arms.
Someone else’s arm—a familiar-looking one, at that. But that’s not the part that abruptly snaps Arthit out of his post-drunken haze.
There, on his own wrist, is one end of what look like…handcuffs?
Not just any handcuffs, either. Fuzzy, pink ones, with the other person’s arm cuffed on the other end! What the fuck had happened last night?
Panic courses through him briefly before he attempts to steady his ragged breath.What if he’d accidentally slept with one of his friends? Or worse, a stranger. He isn’t entirely sure how he feels about that notion. Eyes wide with confused horror, he looks down again and sighs heavily when he realises that he’s still fully clothed in last night’s T-shirt and beach shorts, his boxers are still fully intact, and seemingly without any mysterious fluids on his body.
Okay. So he could probably rule out drunken sex. A relief for sure, given that it would have been Arthit’s first time, and to drunkenly be handcuffed to someone whose face he can’t recall is hardly the most glamorous of ways to lose his virginity. Not that he’d imagined anything particularly special in mind—he’s not sentimental in that way—but he’d at least wanted to be sober to experience it.
Or maybe he’d kissed someone, which would be equally awkward a notion to have to deal with if it had happened with one of his friends, but at least now that they’d all graduated, he could feasibly pretend it had never happened and distance himself from his peers for the rest of time, change his name to something generically foreign, and…that…would be a tad dramatic, he admits.
It would depend on who it was.
There’s a tremor in his fingers as he slowly tugs back the covers off his bed-mate’s head, and with every inch of the person’s face that’s revealed, the more rapidly the sense of dread drains the blood from Arthit’s face.
What the fuck?
There are questions enough to fill up a semester’s worth of exam papers, but that one just about sums up the gist of his thoughts.
This isn’t even his room!
Who did this?
Why is he here?
What the fuck!
Whose handcuffs are these?
Did we kiss?
…Was it good?
Where’s the key?
Not only is he literally chained to another living, breathing person, but of all the damned people he could’ve been handcuffed to on this trip, the heavens had suppressed a laugh and bestowed him with the one person he’d been eager to never see again as soon as the trip was over.
His first thought is that he could attempt to pry the cuffs off without waking him. With the determination he’d adopted in the face of every exam and assignment he’s ever done, he pushes down firmly on his end of the cuff, his efforts fuelled mostly by desperation and partially by animosity towards the culprit.
The pain cuts into his flesh as he tries to maneuver the cuff over the first joint of his thumb until he hisses from the alarmingly red mark that marrs the surface of his skin and bone.
Eventually, even the sheer force of his tugging proves futile. There’s no possible way to wring the damn thing off right now without breaking any bones. His entire body is still weak with his hangover and the muscles in his less dominant arm shaking with fatigue. Admitting defeat, he turns to look at the sleeping figure.
Kongpob is still completely unconscious, unjustly handsome and peaceful-looking, a perfect lie in pretty packaging encasing what Arthit knows the truth of.
He pinches the bridge of his nose, lost for all other options now.
“Wake up, asshole!” he shoves Kongpob in the shoulder with his free hand.
A deep crease forms between Kongpob’s brows. “Nyrnngh….five more minutes,” mutters the drowsy figure, voice scratchy with sleep.
“No. Wake the fuck up. Now!” Arthit shakes him again, causing Kongpob to squint through his own sore eyelids, slowly, painfully blinking himself awake.
“Arthit?” he finally says, once he turns to look at the furious guy next to him. “What are you doing in my room? Or my bed?
“Me? This is my room, what are you doing here?”
“I…” Kongpob heaves another difficult, aching breath before sitting up and craning his neck side to side. “I don’t know.”
“And this?” Arthit angrily holds up their joined wrists, shaking the metal contraption between them. It takes a few moments, but when Kongpob finally registers what he’s seeing, he stills, then looks around in confusion. Oddly, he doesn’t seem as disturbed by the discovery as Arthit had been.
“I…how did that happen?”
Arthit scoffs. “Please, you’re telling me this isn’t your doing?”
“Why would I handcuff us together?” he groans weakly, rubbing at this brow. “Also, could you please stop shouting? My head really hurts. Do you have any painkillers?”
“You expect me to believe that you didn’t do this?”
The little shit had had it out for him since the day he’d transferred to their high school, and even in the final days before graduating university, he still couldn’t leave without making Arthit’s life a torturous misery.
“I swear to you, Arthit, I did not handcuff us together. I wouldn’t even know where to get…something like that,” Kongpob grumbles, cheeks reddening suddenly. “I need water.”
Arthit grimaces in agony.
If it wasn’t Kongpob, then…well, he has some idea of who in their right mind would bring furry handcuffs on a graduation trip with friends.
He grabs at his phone, which is plugged into the wall above the bedside table, although he has absolutely no recollection of doing so. There are about ten messages from Knot, and a missed call from Prem, but otherwise, the number of notifications aren’t too out of the ordinary.
Bright picks up after five rings.
“Heyyy, Arthit. How’s the upper deck?”
“The upper deck? Isn’t that where you’re sitting? Why don’t you come down and sit here with the rest of us?”
“What are you talking about?” Arthit pulls the phone away from his ear and puts the phone on speaker.
“Come on, Arthit,” Bright whines in the unnecessarily loud way that he does. “I’m so bored. Everyone else is just sleeping, and Knot won’t let me walk to the front of the boat. I swear, every time…”
Anything else Bright might be saying fades into a high-pitched ringing in Arthit’s ears as he turns to look at Kongpob, who glances at his watch before meeting Arthit’s stunned expression in sobering realisation.
They’d left without them.
“…or are you sitting with—oooooh, I get it. You finally stopped being so uptight and got freaky with—“
“Bright!” Arthit yelps, suddenly struggling to find the button to take his loud-mouthed friend off of speaker. His ears grow warm, and he puts the phone back to one of them, turning away as much as possible from Kongpob.
“What? Isn’t that why you’re not sitting with us?”
“No, Bright…I…” he sighs into his hand. “We…missed the boat. We’re still at the beach.”
“Wait…what? But Knot said you went out to breakfast!”
“Fuck you, asshole. Like you weren’t responsible for this mess!”
“It’s my fault you didn’t wake up in time?”
“No, but it’s your fault that I’m handcuffed to Kongpob!”
There’s silence on the other end of the line, then a snort, then guffaws of unabashed laughter.
“I’m sorry, what? You’re handcuffed to who? Hey Knot, ‘thit says he’s handcuffed to Ko—I can’t!”
“Give me the phone,” Arthit hears in the background as he continues seething, occasionally stealing a glance at Kongpob, who seems to be frantically typing on his own phone with his free hand, and frowning in disdain at the chain between their joined wrists. “Hello? Arthit?”
“Knot, what the fuck? How did this happen?”
“I don’t know. I got up early this morning and when I came by your room I figured I’d grab your stuff as well because you looked like you were done packi—“
“You took my stuff, too?!” he hurriedly scans the floor around him. Sure enough, his suitcase is nowhere to be seen. “Shit!”
“Sorry…I was just trying to help. I left your day bag, though.”
“Wait, so you…you saw me this morning…in bed.”
“Which means you saw—“
“Look, what you get up to isn’t for me to question, so I just—“
“Bright fucking—he handcuffed us together! Why did he even have handcuffs on him?” he cries. His fingers reach for a spot at the back of his crown to twirl at the hairs. “No, you know what? Don’t answer that. Just…how the fuck am I supposed to get back to Bangkok now?!”
“I…don’t know,” Knot says slowly, as though hesitant. “But I don’t think we can wait for you at the ferry terminal. Our bus from Donsak leaves fifteen minutes after we arrive.”
“Great! This is just…great.”
“I’ll take your stuff back to mine and Bright’s place. Do you need money?”
Arthit shuts his eyes, trying simply to breathe and to process the entire situation. No, he couldn’t possibly borrow any more. He’d already promised Ah Ma that he’d cleared any debts before graduation, and wouldn’t build up any more. “It’s fine. I’ll manage somehow.”
“Are you sure that nothing happened with you and—”
“I’m sure. I think. I don’t know. Just—I’ll let you know once we have travel arrangements.”
“Okay. See you, then.”
Another sigh, and then Arthit turns back around to face his cuff mate, who mashes his lips together into a thin line.
“So what happened to your stuff?”
Kongpob forces a meek smile, holding up his own phone.
“M…loaded it into the van because he thought I’d gotten up early for breakfast.”
A fogginess shrouds his head with the remnants of his drunkenness, and it feels heavy. So heavy.
With a sharp exhale, Arthit flops back onto the bed to stare at the ceiling, the blank white slate a manifestation of their next steps.
This trip couldn’t get any worse.
Here we go; the first chapter of what I hope will be at least twenty. I’m going to try my best to update around my work schedule, but you know how these things go. Life gets in the way, and I suppose that’s what pushes things along, isn’t it? In any case, please do let me know what you think or where you think the story is headed! I really do appreciate feedback 🙂