Day 2: “Why am I in your bed?”
“Can we talk about this, please?”
He pants a little, speed-walking after Arthit as they approach their apartment.
Kongpob, I think we should break up.
His mouth had fallen open, and then Arthit had said nothing more, making a beeline for the parking lot exit and not stopping to hear anything Kongpob had to say about the matter. The man had even made such a point of avoiding him that he’d bounded the six flights of stairs up to the apartment in his stiff leather work shoes, not at all discouraged by the evening’s fatigue.
The name falls on deaf ears, Arthit busying himself with toeing his loafers off and fidgeting with various buttons on the remote control for the air-conditioning.
Kongpob finally says, loudly. The other man pauses in his agitated bustle, running a hand over his face as he turns around in the middle of their living room.
“What, Kongpob? What is there to talk about?”
“Um, let’s start with why? Why, all of a sudden, do you want to call it quits?” Kongpob climbs out of his own shoes to walk towards the living room. “I thought we were good.”
“We are good. I just think…it’s time to end this, don’t you think?”
He hates the look on Kongpob’s face as he murmurs his lame response. It’s the same expression he’d drawn when he’d begged for Arthit not to ignore the elephant in the room, three years ago, legs cornered against the arm of the couch and their faces a little too close.
Kongpob — if he asked nicely enough — could have anything he wanted from Arthit, everything fibre of his being oozing persuasion. But not this time around.
“If it’s good, then there’s no reason end it,” the persistent man comes closer, directly facing Arthit in the dim of the living room. His hair is dishevelled from sleep and his work shirt creased with the day’s movement, and yet Kongpob has never looked less at home.
“Kong, it was going to end one day anyhow,” he says, exasperated.
It’s bewildering to him that Kongpob would put up this much of a fight or even question it. Hadn’t he always been the one to say that it was all a clever ruse? An arrangement of convenience?
And yet, his faux boyfriend blinks at him with glassy eyes, stunned and like he’s lost his footing.
“D-did you…P’Arthit, did you meet someone? Someone you like?”
Arthit’s head snaps up.
“Huh? No, that’s not it. I don’t go anywhere other than to work or with you. Where would I even be meeting anyone?”
“I don’t know!” Kongpob runs a hand through his hair, clearly distraught. “I just…I thought we were happy with this arrangement. Nobody bothers us at bars anymore and my parents haven’t pestered me about ‘eligible bachelorettes’ in four years. They love you, and I thought your family liked me, too—”
“Kong, don’t you get it?” Arthit cuts him off, standing up and laughing, almost bitterly. “That’s the entire problem. My family…Kaofang…Mae…they do love you. Too much. She’s basically just waiting for us to announce our engagement. I can’t…I can’t keep lying to my mother like this, Kong.”
He sighs laboriously, then slumps down onto the couch. Somehow, the unexpected resistance makes the entire matter feel infinitely worse than a real breakup.
It’s eerily quiet now, the room inflating twice as large and dwindling ten times smaller all at once.
The silence stretches thin…
…and then snaps.
“Then…then let’s get married, P’Arthit.”
It takes several moments for his words to register, no less because he’s hearing them in person rather in a feverish dream. But after the syncopated heartbeat missed, he laughs—scoffs at the idea.
“I said, let’s get married.”
Kongpob’s eyes are wide and shining as he firmly makes his declaration, and Arthit has to search them for a moment for any hint of jest. When he finds none, he shakes his head in disbelief.
“We can’t get married, Kong. That’s completely absurd.”
Indeed, about as ridiculous as how he’d oftentimes constructed elaborate fantasies of a domestic life with him, having their own place and running errands together, laughing at a bad movie on TV while piled on the sofa with a bag of crispy pork rinds. In essence, not so different to the way things are now, but with the distinct presence of good morning kisses and marking relationship milestones with love bites across each other’s skin.
“Is it, though?”
“Yes! Kong, what if my mother finds out?”
“Well, that’s the issue, isn’t it? You said that that’s what she wants, and I’m pretty sure it’s what my parents want, too. So let’s just do it! Why not?”
“Why not? What about what I want? Seriously, Kongpob, are you out of your mind? I don’t know about you, but I do want to meet someone and get married one day, preferably someone who actually loves me!” It comes out louder and angrier than he’d intended, and when he sees his friend flinch, he softens his features into a look of mere listlessness. “Besides, I thought you always said you were against marriage.”
Kongpob’s brows pinch together at his comment. For the most fleeting of milliseconds, Arthit thinks he’s about to say something, but when nothing follows, he simply shuts his eyes.
“I’m sorry that I’m bringing it up so suddenly. I just…I didn’t think there was a good time to do it.”
“How long have you been thinking about this?”
Kongpob shoulders slump, and he climbs over Arthit’s legs between the sofa and coffee table so he can plant himself on the seat next to him. He leans back, head tilted back to look at the ceiling, and all his muscles warm the cushions beneath with his tiredness.
Arthit eyes him sideways, then he, too, rests his back against the couch.
Truthfully, he’d already considered ending it within the first week. Kongpob, of course, had been utterly convincing in executing his plan, and had no qualms about getting comfortable in Arthit’s personal space whenever he felt it was necessary. And it had all been quite civil and subtly theatrical, the two of them exchanging amused snickers as soon as nosy or intrigued company would back off, their doubts seemingly dispelled.
Until Kongpob would reach for his hand under the table away from prying eyes, playing with his fingers and tracing the lines along his palm. Until he’d carefully brushed Arthit’s bangs off his forehead and swiped the rainwater off his face with his thumbs after they’d gotten soaked in an unexpected storm after work. Until he’d sat through all twelve seasons of Hamtaro with him the weekend after he’d had to take Guppy to be put down, bringing him glass after glass of pink milk and holding Arthit to his chest to soothe his spontaneous sobs.
How he’d ever thought that he could skim through their set-up without falling ineffably in love, he doesn’t know, but every time he catches himself relishing in a kiss for a stranger’s show or feeling the urge to pull Kongpob close to him by the waist as they lean against their kitchen island with mugs of coffee, there erupts an undeniable pang in his chest that reminds him of how none of this his real, and Kongpob isn’t his to love.
“A while,” he finally replies.
“And it’s really what you want?”
“I think it’s time. I don’t want to lie to Mae anymore.”
A slow, even exhale sounds from next to him, and he hears Kongpob nod rather than seeing it.
Kongpob’s whisper fills the room, a blanket to put their five year act to rest.
Despite the air conditioning being on full blast, Arthit’s skin is prickling with sweat and he’s too restless to fall asleep. A hundred tosses and turns later, he throws the covers off his body and resorts to spreading himself across the entire bed like a starfish.
He’d eventually returned his own room, simply stripping down to his boxers and climbing into bed, too worn out to even bother with a shower. Except that now, even with his eyes being sore and dry, sleep refuses to take him.
He needs to sleep. To forget Kongpob’s furrowed brows and tensed shoulders from just a few hours before. To push all thoughts of the touches and prolonged looks that he’d nailed into a coffin in one fell swoop.
What have I done?
But of course, a thought is not so easily tucked away as a shirt into a drawer, and Arthit’s compartment for his love of Kongpob’s affections spills over and floods his entire headspace.
Let’s get married, P’Arthit.
She even asked me if you’re struggling with money so she can help you buy a ring.
How many times had he passed the jewellers’ on his weekend runs, pausing in the glass to consider his own yearning reflection? One time, he’d gone as far as entering the shop, placing rings onto his own finger and holding them under the light, and snuck a few pictures before solemnly handing the silver bands back to the sales rep.
Embarrassed, he usually ducks out of the shop and buys an iced coffee from a nearby stall, just to have a reason for why he’d taken so long.
You’re the best!
Arthit would watch fondly as perfect pink lips sipped at the straw, and then mumble something about needing a shower, disappearing into the bathroom.
Even in the aftermath of their split, Kongpob still occupies an acre of his thoughts and when a crack of thunder claps outside his window, Arthit feels a sudden surge of lunacy in him that springs him up from the bed, striding to the door and pulling it open.
He’s about to cross the hallway to knock on Kongpob’s door when something catches his eye in the living room.
His friend is still curled up on the couch in fetal position, still in his work clothes, brows tense even in his sleep. Arthit crouches down in front of him, about to tap him awake, when he notes the dark patch on the beige material of the sofa cushions, right in front of Kongpob’s face. He’d been crying.
I’m sorry, he says, but not aloud. I know you were counting on me.
“Come on,” he whispers instead. “Let’s get you to bed.”
And, like he’d done so many times before, he slips his arms under his friend and scoops him up. He almost laughs despite himself, at how he’s nursing Kongpob through their own ‘breakup’. It’s only as he’s placing Kongpob on the bed that it occurs to Arthit that he probably should’ve taken his friend to his own room. There’s no way he would be able to fall asleep now.
Kongpob breathes noisily, rolling over in Arthit’s bed to face the middle. Echoing his sigh, Arthit climbs into the space next to him, watching the other’s shoulder rise and fall until they rise again with the sun.
Arthit is sitting up in bed, leaning against the headboard with his eyes shut, when Kongpob finally stirs. He’d shifted around several times in the night, but despite mindlessly unbuckling his belt and somehow, sloppily, undressing down to his boxers and wife-beater, all while mostly unconscious, he’d been out cold for most of the night.
It takes him several more heavy breaths before he squints his eyes open and slowly taking in his surroundings, flinching at a single streak of light peeking through between the two curtains. It can’t be much past dawn.
“Why am I in your bed?”
Arthit pulls the covers up to his waist before opening his eyes.
“You fell asleep on the couch again.”
But rather than reaching over to playfully cuddle him as he normally would, though, Kongpob simply nods as he sits up, mirroring Arthit’s posture.
“How’re you feeling?” the latter breaks the momentary quiet.
“Kind of shit, to be honest. I just got dumped last night.”
He says this plainly, but then bursts into a low chuckle, at which Arthit lightly elbows him in annoyance.
“I’m sorry,” he says anyway.
“I just wasn’t…expecting it, I guess. You never seemed unhappy with our arrangement.”
“I wasn’t,” Arthit shift in his seat to face him. “But we can’t keep this act up this forever, you know?”
“I—” Kongpob cuts himself off, then considers his next words. “I could. I was ready to.”
“No, listen,” he pushes the blanket off his body now, sitting up with his legs folded. “Do you remember what you said when we started this whole thing?”
Arthit raises an eyebrow, biting his lip in an attempt to recall anything significant.
“You said that if one of us…developed feelings, then we would break it off.”
Kongpob averts his gaze now, wringing the material of the covers in his hands. Arthit’s breath catches in his throat, and his legs stiffen to concrete. Had P’Earth been right all along?
“And I just thought…” Kongpob laughs humourlessly, scratching behind his ear. “I don’t know, when you said we should break up last night, I thought, maybe…you…anyway, it’s stupid. Obviously, you don’t feel that way, and I got my hopes up for nothing. Anyway, I—”
“Kongpob,” Arthit feels all the blood rush to his head. Surely, he doesn’t mean—
“It’s okay,” he goes on. “I just thought I was being pretty clear about how I felt. But I guess after that time, I should’ve tried harder to get over–”
Arthit pulls the covers out of Kongpob’s hands, effectively making his friend look at him. “Kongpob, tell me what you mean, please.”
There’s a tremble in his lip before a hot tear spills down his face, glistening, followed by several more, which leave wet patches on the quilt.
“I-I love you, P’Arthit,” he sputters through a choked sob. “I’m sorry; I should’ve ended it as soon as I realised, but I didn’t want to lose you, and I got so caught up in this act that I started to believe it. And—and I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have done that to you. I sh-shouldn’t have held you back from finding someone you love. That was so selfish of me! I-I’m so-orry, P’Arthit, I—mmph!”
Most of the kisses they’ve shared are brief, harmless pecks for the onlooker’s viewing, or dry presses of the mouth, several seconds too long, just enough to dissuade unwanted flirtations. Arthit kisses him now with his wet face in shaking hands, lips numb and trembling but speaking a thousand words he can’t articualte, pulling Kongpob into his lap and kissing him, soothing him until he can no longer feel the other man’s tears.
When he finally pulls away with a wet sound, he stays close, pulling Kongpob’s hands into his own and resting his forehead against his. There’s a tingling tightness across his chest, every one of his senses overwhelmed.
“Kongpob,” he says, his voice low and raspy. “You said you never wanted to get married.”
“I was twenty-three, P’Arthit,” Kongpob says against his lips. “I didn’t know what I wanted. But I knew I didn’t want to lose you.”
They stay like this for several more moments, before Arthit brings their hands together between them. Kongpob is eyeing him with complete wonder, as if anticipating his next move.
“And what do you want now?”
Kongpob smiles, a grin that reaches his eyes.
“I want to wake up with you every morning,” he starts with sniff, wiping his eyes with the backs of his hands. “I want to bring your mother flowers every birthday. Pink carnations. And I want to show you off at my father’s events as my other half. I want to come home with you after work and watch as many episodes of Hamtaro as you want.”
“I want to kiss you,” he ignores Arthit’s protest, whispering now. “When nobody’s watching.”
“Well, I think we’re alone now.”
Their lips meet softly this time, Kongpob shifting in Arthit’s lap to move closer if possible. They’d only kissed like this once before, before it had become heated, and they’d gasped into each other’s mouths until their stomachs had become sticky with lust. Once, they’d agreed to put it down to just that, never speaking of it again, afraid to label it as anything more.
In the morning glow, free of guilt and with not another soul in sight, they take their time, making up for years lost to pretending and performing.
As the clock strikes six, Arthit presses a kiss right over Kongpob’s fingers. He thinks he’ll go buy that silver band now.