Part 1: Chapter 2
Warning: Brief mentions of past emotional trauma
Friday, June 5, 2020
📍 Homestay Bangkhran
There are three main things that infuriatingly present themselves to be the bane of Arthit’s existence.
One of them is unpleasant surprises.
It doesn’t matter if it’s something as simple as his dying second-hand laptop contracting yet another virus or getting below a 95 on an assignment he thought for sure he’d aced. It’s not that he develops any physical convulsions towards being met with bad news or situations, but his brain has an amusing (read: fucked up) way of connecting the dots between This Bad Thing Happened and This Is All My Fault.
It had started one afternoon in Prathom 3*, when he’d come bursting through the door of the apartment after school, sidling up to Ah Ma at the table and babbled happily about how he’d passed his Thai vocabulary quiz with flying colours. Until she’d cut him off with a curt Oon, small hands curled around a porcelain cup of pu-er as she informed him that his Mae and Por, of whom he saw very little to begin with as they were always ‘busy’ with something or other, wouldn’t be returning for dinner that evening. Or the next. Or ever.
Ah Ma had coughed an angry sigh into her hand, then nodded at the plate of sweet red bean pastry in front of him. Eat your snack, Oon.
He’d been befuddled with the notion at the time, periodically asking Ah Ma if they would at least visit, to which she would sigh and tell him, Maybe if you’re good. A young Arthit had considered that perhaps it had been his punishment for occasionally slacking off to play with his popsicle stick action figures. Or maybe it had been the time he’d added a little water to the near-empty bottle of dark soy sauce to make it last longer, only to have it thrown at his head and narrowly miss, instead shattering against the wall behind him.
And so he’d done his best to never disappoint, watching the front door longingly, until one day he realised that he’d forgotten their faces. He stopped asking Ah Ma questions.
Still, he goes about his days with much trepidation, trying to be Good and doing The Right Thing, because surely, those who do no wrong aren’t admonished with misfortunes, are they?
Except, of course, the gods had giggled in jest and bestowed the persistent annoyance that was Kongpob Sutthiluck upon him, and Arthit has a hard time understanding the joke. At the very least, though, it’s no longer that big of a surprise anymore whenever a smooth, velvety voice creeps up behind him in Lab to passively question and criticise the height at which he’d set the clamp on his ring stand, or when a delicately held fork points at his steel lunch box Ah Ma had packed for him, picking a specific ingredient about which to start an extensive discussion regarding the cultivation, transport, distribution, and nutritional and environmental impact of the consumption of said ingredient.
Every day, he questions himself as to why he doesn’t just up and find himself a new group of friends, preferably one that Kongpob isn’t a part of, but then he remembers that there exist only a small handful of people who can tolerate his decidedly neurotic tendencies. He’s lucky Knot doesn’t even bat an eye every time he goes on a tangential rant about one thing or another, and simply sits next to him, rubbing his hack as he puts his head between his own knees to breathe through the blood pounding in his head.
His gentle giant of a best friend stays with him until he can breathe steadily again and his ruminations drain from him with the excess blood, leaving him in a surreal moment of catharsis, like the relief after sweating out a particularly high fever. Then again, that same best friend had knowingly left him handcuffed to this pain in the neck under the notion that—well, never mind about that. Knot would have hell to pay when Arthit returned.
As such, as Arthit sits back up now after having stared blankly at the ceiling for what had felt like an eternity but was really no more than two minutes, he wonders what he’d done to deserve this clusterfuck of a situation.
He supposes the first matter to tackle should be finding a viable route for him to get back to Bangkok. But even before that, his neck and shoulders are aching with body sores from sleeping in one position for too long, and he needs to stretch.
He pushes the rest of the blanket off of him with his feet, then makes a hurried attempt to scramble out of the bed, only to earn a yelp from Kongpob, whose entire body thuds across the mattress from the harsh tug.
Right. He’d almost forgotten about that particular aspect of their quandary.
Kongpob shakes his head, dismissing the meek apology before clambering over the mattress to Arthit’s side. He rubs at the soreness around his wrist, looking up to meet his cuff mate’s narrowed gaze.
“What do you mean, What? How are you getting us out of this mess?”
“Why is it automatically my problem to fix? I didn’t handcuff us together!”
“Aren’t you always trying to flex how much you know about the most arbitrary things? Surely you would also know how to pick the lock on a pair of these, wouldn’t you?” Arthit’s being unfoundedly petty and acerbic, but he’s too annoyed to care.
“Not exactly. I’ve must’ve misplaced my copy of Accidents in Sexual Bondage 101, clearly,” Kongpob doesn’t miss a beat, but he does miss the sudden flush in Arthit’s cheeks. He’d never been one to shy away from Arthit’s bark. “Is there not a key somewhere?”
“Not that I can see,” Arthit scans the room again, lifting the thin covers off of the empty bed for good measure. Much to his disappointment, nothing clatters to the floor. “Also, I don’t think Bright’s little practical joke would be quite as amusing to him if he’d given us an easy out.”
“How do you know it’s Bright who did this?”
Arthit stops mid-search and looks at Kongpob pointedly.
“You’re right. Stupid question.”
An agitated hand goes back up to Arthit’s hair to twirl at a strand. He sighs for what feels like the hundredth time since he’d woken up.
“Well, what now?” he finally says, generally uncomfortable in his own skin. He’d obviously not had the chance to shower the previous night, and what with how he’s literally chained to another person—this one in particular—he’s not sure he’s keen on that happening any time soon.
“Well,” Kongpob rubs at his chin, mild stubble forming at the point. “We’ll have to find our own way back. I only have my wallet and phone on me, though. You?”
“I’ve got my day bag,” he says slowly, then mutters, “I…uh, I don’t have much money left, though.”
He’d taken on extra tutoring jobs every day for the last three months just to save up for this trip, and while it had been enough to cover the cost of the trip plus a little extra, he’d not exactly anticipated having to pay double the amount required for the return trip.
In fact, he’d not been eager to go in the first place, and honestly wouldn’t have come if not at Knot’s (and Ah Ma’s) insistence that he needed to let loose at least once in his life. It had probably been his own fault this entire thing had happened, when he’d decided to down the bitter, fizzy drinks he’d never touched before like they were cans of soda.
In any case, he’d been so frugal with his spendings that even when his stomach would perform a dragon’s mating call at the cafeteria table, he would refuse to buy himself an extra bite beyond his three very basic meals. He despises when his friends eye him with pity.
Kongpob never does. Then again, Kongpob isn’t his friend.
“I’ll cover it, don’t worry about that.”
Arthit’s head snaps up, brows furrowed at this suspiciously generous offer out of the blue. He also hates that he has to take him up on it, what with how he only has a meagre ฿400 in his own shabby wallet. He doesn’t even own a credit card yet, strongly believing that it’s a one-way ticket to incurring endless debt.
Instead, he keeps his savings stowed away in a steel cash box behind a tile in the bathroom at home, a hollow space he’d found when he was ten in his attempt to kill a mosquito by smacking it against the wall.
“I’ll pay you back when we’re back on campus.”
“It’s fine, you don’t have to—”
“I don’t take handouts.”
Kongpob pauses, then nods once. “Okay. You can pay me back,” he says, not unkindly. It unnerves Arthit, as it occasionally does. It’s in these instances that he sometimes thinks that maybe, just maybe—
“You know, I wonder if anything actually happened last night.” A smug grin creeps its way onto Kongpob’s face.
Never mind. He’s the worst, Arthit confirms.
“I’m not that desperate,” he says, rolling his eyes. He is, but Kongpob doesn’t need to know that. “I…have to pee.”
His glance darts from side to side, and eventually falls on the short metal chain between them, blurred by thick tufts of fuchsia. He doesn’t wait for Kongpob’s response, pulling them towards the bathroom despite the latter’s protests as he stumbles over his own bare feet. The bathroom has a sliding plastic accordion door, and Arthit jams the damn thing between them as far as it will go, leaving only a gap where the chain of the cuffs are.
He hears Kongpob’s chuckle from the other side, practically feels the vibrations through the chain, his own wrist uncomfortably dangling on the other end. It’s irritating to him, and he pulls the door back again.
“Keep your eyes shut.” He points a finger at Kongpob.
“The door was shut, Arthit. I can’t see through walls, as cool as that would be.”
“Well, I can’t lock it, and I don’t trust you. Keep your fucking eyes shut!” he protests, at which Kongpob stifles a giggle. “Don’t laugh!”
“Okay, okay, no laughing,” Kongpob mashes his lips together in a futile attempt to straighten his face. “I’m not looking, promise.”
He makes an exaggerated show of squeezing his eyes shut, then digs his face into the crook of his elbow right over his eyes, still trying not to laugh.
Arthit slowly pulls the door shut again, his eyes never leaving the minuscule gap. He hesitates for a few moments longer before cautiously pushing his shorts and boxers down his legs, angling himself slightly so that his nether regions are out of view from the door.
When he finally relieves himself, he grimaces a little at the strong smell and the slight murkiness, and then briefly worries if Kongpob can smell it, too. It feels like an endless stream, and Arthit wonders just how much he’d had to drink. Enough to have woken up handcuffed next to Kongpob, apparently.
The toilet flushes with a loud gurgle, and Arthit struggles to pull his shorts back up with his only free hand. Once he does, though, he pulls the door back, allowing Kongpob’s arm to stray into the bathroom while he washes he hands.
“Is it my turn, then?” Kongpob meets his gaze in the mirror with a smirk, then leans in a little, breath tickling Arthit’s ear. “Keep your eyes shut,” he mimics Arthit’s earlier warning mockingly.
Arthit shoves him away immediately, his hands still wet. Kongpob just laughs.
“I’m not a perv, Kongpob.”
“Neither am I, but if you’re going to order me around as such, I think I deserve the same courtesy.”
The sliding door clatters shut again, this time with Arthit standing outside the tiny cubicle. He hears some prolonged shuffling, then…the shower running?
“Are you…seriously taking a shower right now?” he calls incredulously over the sound of trickling water. “You know, I wanted to shower, too, but I just think it’s kind of inconsiderate to make me stand here and wait for however long, when I only took a piss and—oh, for fuck’s sake!”
He’s interrupted when the bathroom door opens, and Arthit immediately screws his eyes shut. The last thing he needs to see right now is Kongpob naked, even if—
“The toilet faces the opposite direction,” Kongpob shoves Arthit’s arm away from his face, revealing that he’s still fully decent. “I couldn’t reach it with the chain wedged in the door, so I just peed down the shower drain.”
“But thank you,” he leans against the shower door with smirk. “For being so considerate. We could shower together, if that’s what you’d like.”
“What? No! Fuck off.”
“Why?” Kongpob grins, clearly amused. “You already thought I’d just been naked. Or are you scared to see another man’s body, Arthit? Is that it? That can’t be it. I still recall that delightful cross section model you made of the male reproductive system in…Mathayom 4*, was it? You had Teacher Earth absolutely blushing when you—”
“Enough. I am not in the mood for your shit right now.”
With a huff, he turns away, dragging Kongpob with him as he plods back into the room, searching for his shoes, finding them strewn under the bed with yesterday’s socks still tucked into each sneaker. Gross. But he doesn’t really have another choice.
Kongpob watches him struggle to tug his socks on with one hand, tilting his head in sheer marvel when Arthit misses a toe and has to wriggle it in, his mouth forming a frustrated pout as he tries again. With much difficulty, he manages to get both socks on, then stares at his shoes with a sigh.
“Need any help there?”
“I’m not a child, Kongpob. I know how to tie my laces.”
“I just meant that I could crouch down if you need me to.” He almost sounds annoyed, and Arthit minutely regrets snapping. Minutely. “Here,” he takes Arthit’s foot delicately in one hand.
Kongpob ignores him and pulls the upper and tongue of the sneaker up and over it so it fits nicely, then pulls the laces taut, just enough so the shoe is snug but not too tight.
Arthit goes quiet, suddenly entranced with this otherwise annoying piece of shit, now helping him tie his shoe with such care. He almost looks…kind. The fact alone that he’s willingly handling his feet casts an aura of humility over him, and—
He looks down. Never mind.
“I’m going to fucking murder you!”
Kongpob shrieks with laughter as Arthit jumps up, hopping around on both feet, the laces of both shoes tied to each other in a complex knot. He’s fuming, face as red as sunburn, especially at the tips of his ears. The hand attached to Arthit’s cuffed wrist reaching out to pull at Kongpob’s earlobe, and the latter relents, grabbing at Arthit’s forearm to stop him.
“Okay, okay, okay! I’ll undo them.”
“I hate you!”
“So you keep saying. Come on, let me—”
“No, stay exactly where you are,” Arthit warns with a cautioning finger as he sits back on the bed, unravelling the knot with his free hand and a disgruntled frown. “Where are your own shoes, anyway?”
Only then does Kongpob glance down at his own feet with a pause. He bares his perfect teeth in a grimace as he meets Arthit’s exasperated gaze.
“Uh…time to go shoe shopping, I guess?”
Hello! Here’s Chapter 2. Thanks for all the feedback and thoughts on the opening chapter! I thought I’d just clarify a few things regarding the nature of this story. I know it’s tagged on AO3 as “Revealing of the Past”, but I don’t mean that so much in the form of mystery and suspense. A lot of things will, in fact, be told quite plainly, or are actually fairly easy to piece together without too much thought, and it’s not at all my intention to make things vague and suspenseful this time around. You’ll also find that a lot of the openings of each chapter will be quite narration-heavy (from Arthit’s perspective, anyway), which I do have a purpose for.
I guess this is more a story of…self-discovery. So if you’re thinking that you have theories about their past and the nature of Arthit’s thoughts, you’re almost certainly right, but that’s really not the point here. Anyway, I won’t say much more than that, or there really won’t be much of this story to tell. Thanks for reading, and please do leave comments! 🥺