Part 1: Chapter 6

Friday, June 5th, 2020
15:57

📍 Chumpon Archipelago, Koh Samui

Arthit can count on one hand the number of times he’s travelled by boat. Two of those occurrences had been taken up by the trip to and from somewhere to Phuket (he’d been too small to remember) for his grandfather’s burial in his hometown. He has barely any recollection of his time on the island, having spent most of it in the confines of a dusty bedroom in a distant relative’s home.

 What he does remember, though, is Ah Ma clutching at his wriggly legs to hold him still as he bounced animatedly at the sight of the foamy white trail forming at the back of the boat, squealing in delight every time the boat would traverse over a particularly large wave. 

His parents had also been there, decidedly less enthused, although whether or not it had been because of Ah Gong’s death, he doesn’t know.

Every so often, he dreams of them, of their faces. They change every time, a few variations sporting blinding white smiles with rosy lipstick and a five o’clock shadow, and on other occasions, terse frowns and stress-worn, acne-ridden skin, vexed sighs puffing out hazy smoke rings. Any of these variants could have been closest to their true form, but in none of his reveries does Arthit glimpse their faces in their entirety. 

Ah Ma says it doesn’t matter, because clearly, he’d gotten his good looks and boyish charm from her and Ah Gong. Arthit always laughs and agrees, if only because he knows that it’s a sore subject for her, too. 

You’re a good boy, Oon. You never disappoint me.

He doesn’t know if that’s true, but he certainly tries his damnedest to be the dignified son she’d always wanted. The smart one, the one who finished school, and respected his elders. After all, who else does he have to make himself worthy for? Who else would he have to make proud? Even now, staring out at white water sloshing among the blue-green expanse, he thinks of freckled skin across bony knuckles of a small hand, and dimples in soft, round cheeks. 

He’d made a choice. The right one, he thinks.

Another of his experiences with boat rides had been in his freshman year, when the entire faculty had been bussed out to Hua Hin as part of the final step in the hazing process. There, they’d paddled out in dragon boats to the beat of Tutah’s drum until their triceps and hamstrings burned with fatigue under the scorching sun. Their boat had won, not least owing to many of the team’s paddlers being naturally athletic. That, and the other team’s boat had toppled sideways after paddling less than ten meters out from the shore. 

Arthit can still feel the burning in his nose after Bright had unceremoniously tossed him into the water after the race in his pure excitement, not to mention getting a nasal passage full of salt water that he’d spent the next ten minutes trying aggressively to snuff out of his nostrils. 

He also has a vivid recollection of eventually climbing out of the water to be met with deep brown eyes staring unabashedly from a distance at the way his wet shirt clung to pale, goose-bumped, skin, watching with profound captivation before tearing themselves away from the sight. 

He daydreams about that stare between thoughts, teeth tugging at his bottom lip.

The most recent of Arthit’s encounters with boat rides had, of course, been the outbound trip to Koh Samui, the very path they’re currently tracing in the opposite direction. He’d sat with Bright and Tutah, shaking his head at their brainless banter, and playing with his maze after the sun had sunk below the horizon, leaving him with little to stare at. Aside from alternative views, that is.

Speaking of which, Kongpob had so easily charmed his way through buying them the right tickets, a skill that Arthit has yet to succeed in. He’d once gotten so nervous and stuttered his way so badly through the simple task of making an appointment at the dentist that he’d had Tutah pretend to be his parent and book the damned time slot on his behalf. 

That’s one thing Kongpob had always had over him as a point of prowess — speaking; both conversationally and publicly. He always had just the right intonation, the perfectly crafted magnetism to his presentation, and a timbre so inviting that he could sell pet rocks to the masses if he so felt inclined. 

Arthit, too, had once been enraptured by the same voice whispering sweet nothings and warm presses of skin into the shell of his ear.

In its absence, he’s able to regain his rationale. 

It’s quiet now, save for the roaring wind against his ears. 

Kongpob sits facing slightly away from him, eyes focused on the opening of his backpack, as he’d done since the ferry had departed from the pier. 

He’s not sulking, Arthit doesn’t think, but there’s certainly an element of discomfort to his stature. Or perhaps it’s just seasickness. 

In any case, Arthit considers himself to be at least partly at fault. How could he have forgotten something so crucial, carelessly tearing open old wounds that he’d thought had scarred over? Or perhaps he’d shoved the memory so far down that he’d almost depleted the image of leaving the boy with a thousand questions unanswered.

“Kong,” he finally says, after almost an hour of silence and several inches between them, save for where their knuckles brush together. 

When Kongpob looks up, Arthit takes in his features. Brows creased in distress, eyes weary, complexion ghastly pale. Still, his expression glimmers with something unreadable. 

“Yes?”

“I, uh,” Arthit starts, then thinks better of it. Instead, he reaches into his backpack, pulling out a herbal inhalant and holds it out to Kongpob. “Here.”

He blinks at it a few times before taking the small bottle and unscrewing the cap to hold it to his nose, breathing deeply. The familiar scent seems to alleviate the nausea at least a little, earning Arthit a small but grateful smile. 

“Um…I’ve also heard that keeping your eyes on the horizon helps. Something about your brain needing to associate the movement with seeing movement as well so that it doesn’t confuse it for your organs acting up…or something.”

Kongpob nods, then turns slightly in his direction to look out at the water, easy enough because they’re sitting in the very back row on the top deck. Arthit simply toys with the hem of his shirt. 

“It’s a great view.”

“Mm,” he agrees, because what else is there to say? 

Until he looks up, and Kongpob isn’t gazing at the horizon at all.

“Don’t,” he says feebly, shifting in his seat. 

“Sorry.”

Arthit doesn’t respond, instead releasing the day’s chaos in his sigh. 

“Really, though, it’s not every day we get to see the water like this.” Kongpob rests his elbow on the back of the seat and allows the persistent wind to slick his hair off his forehead. Indeed, there’s a bright, almost golden glimmer coating the water’s expanse like liquid diamonds, light bouncing off into a warm glow on their faces. “Don’t you want to take photos?”

“Of the water?”

He’d taken plenty of pictures back at the beach, enough to fill up half his camera roll with glowing sun-yolks and silly group shots of his friends covered in sand to varying degrees. 

“And you,” Kongpob gently pries his phone from his hands, opening up the camera app. 

“Hey! Give that back!” he reaches out with his free hand.

“Come on, just a few,” Kongpob laughs, leaning back slightly to pull the phone out of reach. 

“Kongpob,” he says sternly, holding a hand up in front of the camera, only to have it held down by none other than the damned cuffs. He rolls his eyes, glaring at Kongpob through the lens as the latter snaps a few photos.

“You don’t even want a few nice pictures of yourself?”

“What for?”

“I don’t know. Social media? Your Facebook profile picture is still the same one for as long as I’ve known you. As adorable as it is, it’s rather misleading, given that you’re not twelve anymore, and you didn’t just win a national chess competition for your age class.” 

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” he grumbles, somewhat protective of the grainy image Ah Ma had taken with his first camera phone.

“I’m just saying—”

 “Are you two brothers?”

They’re suddenly interrupted by a small voice, to which they turn their attention amidst their bickering. A small child leans over the back of her seat, watching them curiously with wide eyes under straight-cut bangs. She can’t be more than five or six. 

Arthit’s features soften into a smile upon her seemingly genuine question.

“No, we’re not brothers. See?” he points between them in amusement. “We don’t even look anything alike!” 

“Oh. Okay,” she clambers to kneel on her seat so she’s at eye level with them now. “You have a leash, so I thought you were brothers.”

He exchanges a brief look with Kongpob, who raises an eyebrow, equally confused. 

“Um…what do you mean?”

“My Phi puts me on a leash when we go to the supermarket. He says I’m a monkey on the loose. You have a leash, too.” She points at the fuzzy mechanism on their wrists. “Mine isn’t as pretty as yours, though.”

Kongpob lets out a chuckle despite himself, no less because the tips of Arthit’s ears have turned a bright shade of red at her remark about the very un-child-friendly contraption. Then, Arthit wonders which one of them is supposed to be the monkey in this scenario. 

“So if you’re not brothers, then are you boyfriends?” she asks, not at all keeping her voice down, despite the boat being relatively packed. It’s a relief that nobody looks their way.

Still, Arthit contemplates throwing himself overboard. If he doesn’t drown, he can at least cool his burning face.

“N-no,” he stammers. Unfortunately. “We’re not.”

Kongpob grows quiet again, pulling his lips into a tight smile as she tugs gently at one of her pigtails. 

“My Phi has a boyfriend,” she goes on, grabbing onto the back of the seat to rock herself back and forth, clearly heedless to the stiffness in Arthit’s response. “He’s very tall. He’s nineteen and a half. He has a huuuuuge mole on his arm. It looks like a chicken wing, but Phi says I can’t eat it.”

“Ha…” Arthit can’t help but chortle at these revelations he’s almost certain this little girl should not be sharing so openly, much less with two complete strangers. He eyes the guy next to her and concludes that this must be her chicken wing-boyfriended, leash-wielding, brother. At the moment, the boy, probably in his late teens, us otherwise preoccupied by the phone in his hands, tending to something of relative importance, he supposes.

“So if you’re not brothers, and you’re not boyfriends, then you must be friends.”

She comes this conclusion with far more conviction than either of them have of their own. Kongpob remains silent, eyeing Arthit sideways for confirmation. Arthit chews at his lip. 

Are they friends? Whenever Arthit refers to their general circle of friends, sure, he supposes that includes Kongpob, but friends don’t rile each other up the way they do. Friends would not react so allergically to being handcuffed together. Friends certainly don’t…well.

If he’s being honest, it doesn’t really matter what he tells her; she’s a stranger after all, and a child at that. But she’s not the primary audience to his response, and so whatever he says next could dramatically change the course of their journey.

Fourteen hours. And then he could forget everything and start over. What harm could fourteen hours of friendship possibly do? And even so, at least it would all be over soon.

Right. It would all be over soon.

“Yes, he’s my friend,” he replies gently, to which she nods once, satisfied with the results of her investigation.

He can feel Kongpob’s eyes on the side of his head, stunned by the response and with his mouth falling open slightly, before curving up into a smile. 

“Oh, yeesh, sorry about her,” the guy in front of them finally turns around, pulling the little girl down into her seat, then bows his head in apology. 

“Aw, P’Rain, I was just talking to them!”

“Yes, I know. Less of that, please.”

“It’s fine,” Kongpob says. “She’s cute.”

“He said I’m cute!” she grins proudly.

“Yeah, I guess, when you’re not running off somewhere or spilling all my secrets!” he huffs, pushing his glasses up his nose. Then, he eyes the phone in Kongpob’s hand. “Do you want me to help you guys take a photo?”

“Oh. Uh, that’s o—”

“Yes, please,” Kongpob cuts Arthit off, handing the phone — his phone! — to the younger guy, who happily holds it up sideways to point it at them. 

In any other circumstance, Arthit would snatch his phone back, but in the presence of polite company, a smile and a few pictures aren’t out of his realm of capability. At the end of the day, he tells himself, he could always just delete them if they turn out horrible.

And then Kongpob is shuffling closer, and Arthit’s entire right side is warm from the contact, and he can smell his skin, musky and familiar and perfect, the way he remembers. Arthit stills with sheer abandonment of all his other previously disgruntled senses for several seconds, before remembering where he is.

“Smile!” 

He does, but not before sneaking a quick glance at Kongpob, who’s looking right back at him, completely nonchalant. 

Friends.

The word leaves an arid taste in his mouth.

“The camera’s over there,” Kongpob says just loud enough for him to hear. Arthit sheepishly withdraws his gaze, pasting a tight-lipped smile on to mask his blush. 

“Aaaand done.” Rain hands the phone back with a grin. 

“Um. Thanks,” Arthit nods, hands still slightly numb. 

“No problem. Sorry again about my sister.”

Kongpob leans closer yet, peering at the pictures. He’s taken about twenty-odd pictures in quick succession, including a few in which they’re still looking at each other. They’re good; there’s very little glare from the sun’s backlighting, and both their faces can be seen quite clearly. Arthit makes a mental note to transfer them to the hidden album later on. 

“Send me those,” Kongpob says quietly, a mnemonic trace of intimacy sending goosebumps down Arthit’s neck…

Fourteen hours. 

Perhaps for just fourteen hours, he would allow himself to fall again. 

After all, he has a lifetime ahead of him to heal. 

Part 1: Chapter 5

Content Warning: Non-graphic mature content

Arthit might be perplexed by Kongpob’s insistence on making everything infinitely more complicated at every turn, but he isn’t totally dense. He knows very well what the core of Kongpob’s intentions are, behind all the teasing and the constant vying for his annoyed attention.

Every so often, especially when he’s toed the line a little too far and Arthit’s irritated scowl distorts itself into a pained expression of genuine hurt, Kongpob steps back. And then there’s tenderness in his apology that squeezes at Arthit’s chest and thrums in his ears…then a single dimpled smirk or a seemingly harmless flirtation with some poor, unassuming girl who tucks her hair behind the rosy shell of an ear, and Arthit’s spirit turns sour like forgotten milk.

If only it were jealousy. Arthit thinks that if he could explain his vacillating disappointment away with something as simple as that, he might spare himself hours of lying awake at night and scrolling through old messages until his eyes turn red trying to hypothesise a cohesive train of different meanings from a single emoji after a simple correspondence, or a supposed hidden message in an ominous set of ellipses that has no succeeding message.

There are days on which the subtext presents a moment’s careless slip of concealed infatuation that feed into Arthit’s lucid fantasies, and others when an angry tear slips into the pillowcase because obviously, the blushing yellow smiley face with hearts is silently mocking him.

Some nights, if Kongpob hasn’t somehow managed to tick him off that day, he allows his heavy lids to slip shut and starved imagination to run frivolous and wild, until the entire surface of his skin is prickling almost painfully with heated frisson followed by washes of cold sweat. If he thinks hard enough, he can almost feel the moist imprint of eager lips against his chin and neck. Once in a while, the urge is so strong that he has to grasp desperately onto the edges of the bed frame to physically restrain himself from reaching past the waistband of his boxers or flipping over to rut into the mattress.

And then there are times when his attempts prove unsuccessful, and he ends up with both his fingers and stomach sticky with release and his breath rasp and heavy against the quiet of the dark living room. Then the soft thrum of Ah Ma’s snoring from the bedroom rapidly replaces his greedy fantasy with muffled tears of panic and shame. He frantically wipes and cleans and scrubs away any evidence of his moment of weakness, then turns away from a photo frame of four faded faces on the windowsill, trembling under his quilt until he’s physically too tired to stay awake any longer.

No, jealousy would be easy to understand. What he struggles with is the question of the boy’s sincerity, even if it makes little difference to how Arthit chooses to go about his days, cementing in every brick in his endlessly unfinished wall to replace the ones that Kongpob so effortlessly removes.

It’s better he keep his distance anyhow.

Except now, of course, the source of his torment is in such dangerously close proximity, and Arthit can feel his palm growing clammy in Kongpob’s firm clasp, a hold on both his hand and his foolish, foolish heart.

They’d been walking for almost ten minutes, mostly aimlessly, since they’d left the police station. Neither of them had spoken, Arthit’s attention hyper-fixated on their joined hands (and the complementary hypothetical scenarios in which the handcuffs aren’t present), and Kongpob pausing every so often to contemplate an interesting sign or readjust his backpack.

Holding hands had actually proven fairly effective in reducing the amount of friction and bruising from the handcuffs, although the synthetic fuzz is still itchy against his sweat-slick wrist. Just as Kongpob had hypothesised, however cheekily, they’d received significantly less wide-eyed stares since they’d linked hands, aside from the occasional smile meant as some sort of performative act of approval at the implied relationship.

There isn’t one, of course. Arthit reminds himself of this as he finally pulls his hand out of Kongpob’s, the hard metal once again clanking against his bony arm. He can still feel the imprint of a warm hand in his palm.

“What’s wrong?” Kongpob turns to face him, brows furrowed at the sudden separation.

“I’m…” Arthit peers into the small restaurant they’ve stopped outside, mouth watering slightly as he eyes the diners’ dishes. He hadn’t had anything to eat since dinner the previous night, and his hunger and dehydration only serves to exacerbate his dull, thudding headache. “Can we…get some food?”

Kongpob nods, his own stomach grumbling.


Friday, June 5th, 2020
13:02 PM
📍 Gluay Maai Si Daeng, Koh Samui

“One kai jeow moo sab, please,” Kongpob flashes a polite smile at the waitress, who takes the menu from him.

“Alright…” she says, scribbling Kongpob’s order on her notepad. “And you, Nong?”

“Uh…a pad kra pow,” he nods a timid thanks. It’s what he always orders the first time he visits any of these canteen-style places; his universal point of criteria for determining whether or not he likes a restaurant’s food. Still, he always reads through the entire menu, just for good measure (and to complain about the prices). 

For as long as he remembers, Kongpob had always had a habit of eating the same few things almost every meal, too. Always plain, boring, food that one could easily make on their own at home, with an iced coffee, or the grape-flavoured drink with aloe chunks that they have at every vending machine on campus. Not that Arthit had paid special attention or something. He knows what Tutah eats and drinks on the regular, too…curried fried rice and…lime soda?

Okay, so maybe he doesn’t know, but then again, Tutah eats most things.

“Anything to drink?” the waitress shoves her pen and notepad in her apron pocket.

“Water is fine for me,” Kongpob tells her, holding up the jug on the table with his free hand.

Arthit had been perusing the drinks page (and mentally shaking his head at the ten-odd layers of stickers that each read a larger number than the one beneath it), but quickly closes it upon hearing Kongpob’s response. After all, it would seem rather rude to order a drink with his food if the person paying doesn’t get one, too. Everything on the menu is stupidly expensive for what it serves anyhow, he decides, what with the restaurant being smack in front of the ferry pier and packed with tourists in the peak season.

“And a nomyen for him,” he hears Kongpob add, to which he’s unable to protest before the waitress is walking away with their order.

“Why’d you do that?!” Arthit says, incredulous.

“Well, you wanted one, didn’t you? I saw you looking at it in the menu.”

“If I wanted one, I would order it myself.”

“But you didn’t.”

“Well, I didn’t want one!” he says, a little louder than necessary, drawing in a couple of stares from neighbouring tables. Arthit feels his face flush, and groans, reaching for the jug and pouring the water over the single chunk of ice in his glass. Trust Kongpob to look for any way to tease or blackmail him with some sort of incriminating piece of information, in this case his affinity for the sickly-sweet beverage that Bright often calls a “Pink Cassis for children”.

“Okay…” Kongpob’s grin fades, and he scratches his nose awkwardly. “I’ll ask her to cancel the order, then.”

“What? No, they’ve probably already made it.”

“So you’re going to drink it?”

“No, you ordered it, so you’re going to drink it.”

Kongpob pauses, narrowing his eyes slightly. “I’m not drinking it, Arthit. Don’t be ridiculous,” he says after a moment.

“Well, I’m not drinking it, either, so—”

“Pad kra pow, kai jeow moo sab, and a nomyen,” their waitress returns with both plates on one arm, and the icy pink drink in the other hand, placing them one by one on the table in front of them.

“Thank you,” Arthit’s voice shrinks again in her presence, and he politely gives her a wai.

It’s quiet again as she returns to the cashier, leaving both boys staring at the condensation dripping off the side of the glass and darkening against the bright yellow paper placemat. 

“Just have it, Arthit,” Kongpob finally says, sounding tired. “Please? If it’s the money you’re worried about, I don’t care. See it as, I don’t know…compensation for having to be stuck with me in this mess.”

And then he picks his fork and spoon up, breaking off a piece of the omelette to scoop up with his rice. Arthit watches him for a moment, trying to detect any hint of jest in his voice, but leans back in his chair when he finds none.

He doesn’t mean to be difficult; he really doesn’t.

After all, he’d been the one to set the endless guessing game in motion, more often than not setting himself up for embarrassed frustration when he’s wrong.

Unnerved by Kongpob’s unusual silence, he gingerly reaches for the glass, slowly bringing the straw to his lips. The sweet fragrance is comforting, quelling some of the dehydrating fatigue he’d been feeling since they’d woken up.

Aside from their turn-taking urination debacle and an awkward several minutes of avoiding each other’s stare in the mirror as they brushed their teeth with the last drop of cheap toothpaste in the homestay’s bathroom, neither of them had had much opportunity to go about their morning the way they normally would. The drink, though, brings Arthit a sense of calm and normality, the first since they’d woken up next to each other.

Their arms dangle between them as they sit adjacently at the small, square table, the pink fluff conveniently hidden under the plastic tablecloth.

Arthit picks up his own spoon, mixing in the spicy pork and string beans in with the rice. It’s a bit dry, and there isn’t anywhere near enough basil for his liking. They’d not been away for more than a few days, but suddenly, he already misses Ah Ma’s cooking. He notices that Kongpob seems more relaxed now, his ever-present polite smile faintly evident even as he chews slowly.

“Why didn’t you get a drink, though?”

Kongpob swallows his bite, then pushes some rice around his plate.

“I don’t order drinks other than water if I’m not familiar with the place,” he explains.

“That…makes no sense.”

There’s a pause, then Kongpob looks right at him, so suddenly that it almost takes Arthit aback. His gaze falls back on his food again before he speaks.

“A lot of places, especially in tourist spots like this, use food colouring in their drinks. It’s usually not a big deal, but…I don’t risk it anymore.”

Arthit pales. It takes him a few seconds, but when Kongpob’s explanation sinks in, it effectively numbs him into silence as his mind pulls out a sobering chill of a memory from an archive he thought he’d locked away for years now.

Of Tew.

Of a cash box stuffed to the brim with bills.

Of an argument echoing down an empty hallway.

Of a pile of paper wrappers.

He remembers now, why he’d walked away, why he’d added a thousand more rigid layers to the wall, over which he now only peeks over with a periscope. The sweetness of his favourite drink quickly sours on his tongue, no longer bringing him satisfaction.

Kongpob watches him process all of this, and forces a small smile, before returning to his food. Arthit’s breath feels tight in his throat.

“Oh,” is all he manages to squeak out, before he begins stuffing his mouth with rice and spicy pork, chewing for the sake of something to do other than continue this particular line of conversation. It seems that his unspoken apology is quietly understood, but his six-year-old guilt sprouts afresh. He tries to push it down with another loaded spoonful, this time biting straight into a chilli seed.

It tastes like pink milk.

Part 1: Chapter 4

Friday, June 5th, 2020
12:15 PM

📍 Nathon Pier, Koh Samui

The third and perhaps the most infuriating blight to Arthit’s rapidly deteriorating sanity has been a constant in every single day of his life since two months into tenth grade.

He’d been halfway through giving an elaborate presentation on the various molecular structures of different hydrocarbons, a project he’d spent a stupid amount of time preparing for. He’d made a rather impressive 3D model out of bamboo takeout chopsticks and balls of newspaper mâché-d into perfect spheres, each one carefully hand-painted to represent a different element. The structures had taken over half of Ah Ma’s fold-out table until she would tut and shoo at him to move them elsewhere until after dinner.

In every sense, it had been a laborious endeavour, and the last thing he’d anticipated or hoped for was the new transfer student, of all people, sauntering into his Chemistry class and raising his hand, eyes seemingly innocent, and pointing out in front of the entire cohort of the Gifted program that, he’d “…painted one of the molecules the wrong colour. The branch of the isobutane structure should all be carbon, but that one would make it hydrogen, which would make the link unnecessary, because that would make the equation—sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt. It’s a great model, otherwise.”

This, followed up with an aggravating smirk pasted on a boyishly handsome face, had made Arthit’s blood pump thickly in his ears. He’d stared for ten uncomfortable seconds at the offending mis-coloured molecule before, upon their teacher’s eventual prompting, monotonously continued the rest of his presentation, eyes never leaving his cue cards, and a twitching hand in his hair twirling at a strand near the crown.

Occasionally, Arthit still seethes with resentment from the humiliating experience and the innumerable subsequent attempts that Kongpob had made to upstage him in front of their peers at every turn, in every subject, in every examination, in applying for university scholarships, and all throughout their college lives.

He never lets Arthit forget his presence, not even in an empty corridor, or in a crowded cafeteria, or when he’s at home with Ah Ma, the poltergeist of an unsolicited remark over his shoulder as he attempts to concentrate on his homework.

Kongpob was to Arthit like a leech to a blood bag, draining him of every last drop of his livelihood and infesting every last corner of his mind until Arthit strongly believes he must have done something wrong in a past life to a previous reincarnation of Kongpob’s soul.

And yet Kongpob would make the suffering all the more confusing with his undeniable charm and wit, all with the nauseating façade of a pearly white smile that had the most sociable girls across several grades giggling behind their hands with excited chatter every time he passed by.

Arthit hates it.

Many times, he’s found himself staring from a distance, angry, annoyed…curious. He stares so intensely at him sometimes, memorising the line that forms in his cheek when he smiles, the curve of his back as he picks his bag up off of the floor, the stretch of the material in his shirt as he replaces a book on a high shelf in the library.

And it’s as though Kongpob can almost feel its presence, turning to look straight back at him, eyes full of ineffable questions, none of which Arthit is ready to answer. He would quickly walk away, or pretend he’d been looking at someone else.

It’s too dangerous to look.

His face might explode.

And so, he doesn’t meet his eyes, not even as Kongpob’s trying to get his attention now, blabbering on about something to do with picking locks and some questionable article he’d read online one time about zip ties. Arthit merely shrugs in response, earning him an exasperated huff.

“Well, do you have a solution, then?”

They’d just come off the tuk-tuk, and Arthit is already feeling his skin itch and prickle uncomfortably from the residual sand and the previous night’s grime that he hadn’t had the opportunity to wash off in the wake of their predicament.

“No, but I don’t think you’re going to get these handcuffs off of us with a zip tie,” Arthit rolls his eyes, running his finger along the minuscule text on the display board showing the ferry schedule. He stops, finding the time slot they’re supposed to take. There are still a few hours before it arrives. “Besides, where would we even find one? Don’t people generally use those in place of handcuffs? People generally don’t end up in handcuffs unless they’re a criminal or…wait…that’s it!”

Kongpob straightens his posture, tilting his head. Arthit steps back, nodding repeatedly to himself with excited realisation.

“What’s…it?”

“Criminals.”

“Criminals?”

Kongpob smiles, amused, although Arthit still isn’t looking at him.

“If there’s anyone who can get us out of a pair of handcuffs, it would be people who deal with criminals,” he says, as if it’s obvious. He eagerly pats his pockets in search of his phone at his genius solution. “Where’s the nearest police station?”

“Oh,” Kongpob’s smile fades and he blinks a few times. “I…think I saw one down the road on the way here. It’s not that far, so we can probably walk.”

“Let’s go then,” Arthit adjusts his bag strap over his shoulder, and, roughly grabbing Kongpob’s hand, pulls him along. “Can’t wait to get these damn things off.”

Kongpob’s feet move, but his eyes, and very much every tingling inch of his skin, are focused on their joined hands.

📍 Tourist Police Station 7, Operation Division 5

Arthit has never been inside a police station.

He’d certainly walked past one before; there’s one down the road from their high school that he’d passed every day on his way home. He would find himself sucking in his stomach and staring straight ahead as he would do so, although he doesn’t know why. There’s really no good reason for his level of apprehension, what with how he’s never even downloaded music illegally, or snuck into an NC-17 movie, let alone other pettier crimes that might have earned him a light slap on the wrist at the most. 

In his six years of secondary education, he’d never even so much as had detention, although he’s certainly found himself in situations that might otherwise land him there. But that’s an anecdote for another time.

Somehow, he’d imagined police stations to be far seedier, with various drunken troublemakers pushed up against the wall and under harsh lighting by a police officer questioning their alibi in a low, menacing growl. Maybe a display board full of roughly sketched WANTED posters in dark ink, like one would see billowing through the desert in an American cowboy film.

Then again, this is more of a travel security centre for tourists rather than a proper police station, but Arthit thinks there should be an air of serious authority nonetheless.

What he doesn’t expect, though, is to be sat in an otherwise empty and dimly lit waiting room, perched on a squeaky orange plastic chair with a number ticket in his hand, as though waiting for his order of khao man gai and pink milk at the bustling campus cafeteria.

It’s been fifteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds since they’d been told to press the button for a number, then vaguely pointed in the direction of the empty common area.

Arthit had briefly considered passing the time by playing with his maze, but he doesn’t need Kongpob backseat driving and figuring it out before he does. Instead, he stares at the clock on the wall, watching the thin red hand tick and wobble into place with each passing second.

There’s something almost clinical and cold about the place, although with how Kongpob keeps shuffling in his seat next to him, the inch or so of space between their shoulders warming from proximity, Arthit feels anything but cold. That, and there’s no air conditioning in the place, the only cooling system a rickety fan on the wall that never seems to rotate far enough to blow in their direction.

At the very least, Kongpob isn’t talking as incessantly as he usually does, which is good, because every time he opens his mouth, something comes out of it that ultimately gets on Arthit’s nerves.

A joke he doesn’t find funny.

A piece of trivia that Arthit is annoyed at not having known.

A backhanded compliment he wishes were a real one.

Never mind.

He stares down at the slip in his hand for what seems like the fiftieth time. 001, it reads. Arthit stares a hole through the glass of the reception counter, where an officer is sat slouched in a wheelie chair, scrolling through his phone and occasionally pausing to loudly chuckle at something to the tune of a chipmunk-voiced remix of a popular song. If one listens closely enough, they could hear the grinding of Arthit’s molars, fine enough to pulverise grains of rice into a fine powder.

“Don’t tense too hard,” Kongpob watches him, carding a hand through his own messy hair. “You’re going to burst the vein in your forehead like that.”

“He’s not even doing anything! There’s nobody else even here!” Arthit whispers at the top of his voice, livid. He taps his foot impatiently, still glaring towards the counter.

“What’s the rush…”

Kongpob mumbles mostly to himself, although if Arthit hears it, he pays it no mind.

“I’m going over there,” he decides, reaching for his bag and gesturing for Kongpob to do the same. “Grab your shit.”

“But he hasn’t even called our num—”

“By the time they call our number we could’ve reached Bangkok. I want out of this torture device. Now. I’m going over there.”

He stands abruptly, eyes flared with determination, leaving Kongpob no other choice than to follow him as he haughtily stalks over to the counter, rapping on the wired glass window.

“Excuse me, Khun?”

His tone, while polite, is laced with aggression as he forces a smile. The officer, uniform shirt stretched over his belly, doesn’t even look up from his phone.

“Please take a number and wait to be—”

“We already have a number. We’re the only ones with a number,” he holds up the offending piece of paper, now creased into dozens of little rectangles from how he’d folded it over so many times. “Surely it won’t take more than a minute to help us?”

A grunt follows, and the officer finally sits up in his chair, pushing his phone to one side to look between the two boys.

“Yes, how can I help you? You lost a passport? A phone? Accidentally joined a cult?”

“No, nothing like that,” Kongpob raises an eyebrow.

“We—” Arthit pauses, suddenly reddening in his cheeks. He hadn’t really thought as far as trying to explain the situation they’re in. “We need some assistance getting out of…”

He trails off, instead tearing his gaze away as he hesitantly lifts their wrists, still with the chain dangling between tufts of pink. There’s a faint, greenish-yellow bruise forming on his lightly tanned wrist bone from how the cuff has been knocking against it repeatedly, and he hasn’t allowed himself to look, but he’s sure that Kongpob has one of his own to match.

“Honeymoon, huh?”

“What? N-no!” Arthit stammers. It’d barely been an hour since they’d had the assumption shouted at them by the homestay host. “We’re not—”

“Hey, no judgement! I’ve seen plenty of the likes in my time,” the officer muses with a smirk, shaking his head. “Newlyweds or couples celebrating anniversaries; they decide that a weekend getaway is the time to try something new. Then they lose the key. Happens all the time.”

The remark is amiss with Arthit, and he’d much rather have the man go back to ignoring them right now.

“We are not a—”

“Sir, can you help us or not?” Kongpob interjects, more softly. “You said so yourself; you see this all the time. Surely this is common enough that it shouldn’t take very long to handle?”

 The man sighs, plucking a clipboard off a rusty hook on the wall behind him and flipping through a few pages of a chart before raising his eyebrows.

“Well, unfortunately for you, the guy who usually breaks the cuffs isn’t on duty today. You can try tomorrow, though.”

“Tomorrow?!” Arthit squeaks. “We don’t have until tomorrow! I need to get away from him—” he jabs a thumb towards Kongpob. “Right now!”

Kongpob says nothing, pushing his tongue against the inside of his cheek.

“Well, it’s that, or you’ll have to pick at it yourselves,” the officer shrugs, then holds a hand out. “May I?”

Arthit pulls their wrists up onto the counter and through the slot in the glass, where the officer brushes aside some of the pink fluff to examine the lock.

“Hmm,” he makes a noise of contemplation. “These aren’t regular handcuff locks. Usually, we have a universal key for police grade handcuffs, but it seems that you’ve bought the kind that require a specific key, like you would find on a door or a padlock.”

“We didn’t buy thes—”

“So you can’t undo them?” Kongpob cuts Arthit’s circumlocutory protest off. “Nobody here can pick a lock?”

“Kid, I just work the reception,” the officer holds his hands up in mock surrender. Kongpob rolls his eyes at the irony. “Either come back tomorrow or you’ll have to figure it out on your own.”

Sixteen hours. Arthit thinks he might sooner have chosen to owe Kongpob money for another year if it meant they wouldn’t have to be cuffed together for sixteen hours. At least he wouldn’t have to see him anymore. Then he could put him out of his mind forever.

“Thank you, Sir,” Kongpob says, although he’s eyeing Arthit’s strange expression, likely conjuring up seven ways to murder Bright. It’s another few seconds of silent contemplation in the room and volumes in the mind before the Arthit is finally able to move his feet, following Kongpob out of the station and out into street.

It’s half past noon now, and the sticky heat is wearing them out from dehydration in addition to their respective hangovers. They walk slowly to the station’s iron gate, Arthit’s eyes never leaving the ground, seemingly in search of one singular thought to focus on.

“Arthit?”

Kongpob pauses in his steps, turning back when he notices that Arthit is trailing even more slowly behind him. Arthit looks up, but only to Kongpob’s shoulder.

“What?”

The boy says nothing, chewing his lip for a moment before simply holding his hand out.

Asking.

Begging.

Pleading.

Arthit stares at the outstretched hand. He could punish himself for it later, but the heavy chain clanking against his knuckles and the matted fibres against his wrist are clinging to sweat-slicked skin. He exhales through his nose, then, still not looking at Kongpob, cautiously slips his own hand into the other’s warm one.

It feels better and worse all at once.

heart: babe it’s time to yearn!
me: yes honey 😩

Part 1: Chapter 2

Warning: Brief mentions of past emotional trauma

Friday, June 5, 2020
11:20 AM
📍 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.

“Ow!”

Right. He’d almost forgotten about that particular aspect of their quandary.

“Sorry.”

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?”

“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.”

“You—!”

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.”

“…Oh.”

“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.

“I—”

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! 🥺

Part 1: Chapter 3

Friday, June 5, 2020
11:45 AM

📍 Homestay Bangkhran

The second thing that plagues much of Arthit’s well-being with anxiety is encountering a problem he can’t solve.

Apart from his tumultuous revulsion (read: obsession) with Kongpob’s oddly specific brand of mental torture, Arthit is of the belief that with enough sheer determination, he can find a solution to any problem, and if he can’t find a solution yet, it’s only a matter of time. 

It’s why he’d always tied for the top academic ranking every year, been a three-time national chess champion for his age group, and would’ve been a top-notch swimmer had he been able to afford the fees required for training and competitions with the school team. It’s why when Ah Ma mentions to him in passing that the stove, or the fan, or the clunky old radio in the kitchen is malfunctioning, he’ll sit cross-legged on the hard, tiled floor with plyers, screws, resistor replacements and electrical tape strewn around him for hours until they’re all in working condition again. 

Despite his determination, though, there are two major puzzles that Arthit still has yet to work out. One of them, as we’ve previously discussed, is Kongpob and his insatiable need to humiliate, annoy, and infest his every waking (and sometimes unconscious) thought. He realises he could probably just ask the asshole what his deal is, but firstly, it seems highly unlikely that Kongpob wouldn’t try to dodge the subject and impart further untoward disturbance to Arthit’s well-being, and…well, where’s the fun in puzzle-solving if you already have the answer key right at your fingertips?

The other, by relative contrast, comes in the form of an intricately designed rolling ball maze. As if Arthit doesn’t already stick out among his peers like a sore thumb for his other behavioural eccentricities, the maze serves as an peculiar source of entertainment for him next to his peers’ online phone games and endless scrolling through social media. But a problem is a problem, and Arthit will be darned if he can’t figure it out. 

It’s a rectangular teak box about the size of a small novel, with a clear acrylic window over the top and a tiny figure of a sun seared into one of the side panels, which leads Arthit to believe that it’s probably custom-made. 

The wooden toy had been a rather unusual birthday gift back when he was in Mathayom 5*, and not a single day had passed when he wouldn’t tilt the damn thing back, forth, left and right with near-mechanical precision until the ball would unfailingly drop into the hole at the end of the path and roll back to the start. Over time, the edges and corners of the frame have softened under the hours spent in the grip of warm hands, as he’s rarely without it.

It keeps his restless mind and his equally fidgety hands at peace, giving them something to do to distract from, well, everything else. Knot had once asked him why he’s always repeatedly playing with it at any spare moment, even among the chatter of the cafeteria.

“Have you still not figured out the solution?”

“I have. I figured it out within two days.”

“That…was over two years ago, Arthit. What’s the point now?”

“There’s always more than one path to the same destination, Knot.”

“Is there? I thought these things were designed to only have one solution.”

“It’s…never mind. I’m going to find a second path. There has to be another way.”

Truthfully, he doesn’t know if there really is a second path. He’d only come to this loosely precedented conclusion on the basis that the maze, though unwrapped, had come with an ambiguous note, or rather an embossed printing on an expensive-feeling card of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken

Arthit doesn’t like Frost’s poetry at all—he thinks it’s far too simplistic and presents notions so cliché and obvious that they really don’t require anyone with a special flair for the written word to articulate. 

But for that very reason, he thinks it’s safe to assume that the maze holds a simple message; that every journey, physical or otherwise, holds more than one plausible path you can take, all of which are equally valid. Unlike Frost’s forest metaphor, though, Arthit believes that even when a road has reached its end, there’s no guarantee that they are so vastly different until you’ve taken the other.

And so he will sooner develop permanent muscle strain in his forearms seeking the difference than give up finding a second solution. And after that, perhaps a third.

Nevertheless, while the maze brings him serenity among the three hundred-odd incessantly festering deliberations begging for attention, it simultaneously has him restlessly imagining lines and turns of a tiny iron ball as he lucidly dreams of potential resolves. As if he doesn’t already lose sleep over the gazillions of ways Kongpob seeks to cause him constant distress.

As it turns out, though, Kongpob is at least useful in some ways. Following an unnecessarily agitated bickering session over which route to take and a mutual simultaneous torment over waiting almost five minutes for one section of a webpage to load, Kongpob suggests that they’re better off asking the homestay owner about potential travel arrangements back to Bangkok that won’t tear a bitter hole in Arthit’s savings. 

As much as it pains him, Arthit reluctantly agrees, seeing no better option, and Kongpob plugs his own phone in to charge, after their failed searches and several hours of use from the previous day had drained his battery down to its last 20%. 

The host’s own home is just a little way’s down the beach from the room they’d stayed in, the standalone square, concrete block sitting under a large tree. 

The owner, an older woman with salt and pepper hair slicked back in a low ponytail, is petting a possibly even older dog out on her front step when Kongpob and Arthit approach her. She’s sat in a red plastic picnic chair, a crinkled smile on her sun-freckled face as the elderly pup nuzzles its face into her lap. It’s a few quiet moments before she realises they’re standing in front of her, and she startles a little.

“Oh! I thought all of you had already checked out!”

They wai to her, and Arthit smiles awkwardly in acknowledgement that they had not, in fact, left the premises yet. He elbows Kongpob in the ribs, prompting him to explain their situation.

“Ow! Ah, hmm, yes, well…our…our friends left us here. By accident.”

The woman raises an eyebrow before looking between the two, her gaze eventually falling on their wrists. She bites back any sort of potential reaction, mashing her lips between her teeth, but Arthit can practically smell her sheer entertainment at the notion.

He can feel redness creeping up the back of his neck and into the tips of his ears, but tries to suppress his mortification, pulling his own wrist slightly behind his hip. There would be plenty of time to deal with that particular problem later.

“Anyway,” Kongpob pipes up, his own face slightly pink. “We were wondering if you might know how we can get back to Bangkok.”

“Well,” the woman pulls one leg up onto her chair and tucks her foot under her thigh. “How did your friends get back?”

“They…” Kongpob scratches behind his ear. “They hired a coach from the mainland to take all of us back directly. But, uh, we missed it. So now we have to go back on our own.”

“Wonder how that happened,” she snorts, trying and failing not to take another glance at the alarmingly pink wad of fluff between them. “Anyhow, can’t you boys look it up in those beeping light box phones you love to sink your faces into?”

“Our data service out here is a bit unstable,” Kongpob explains, then flashes a smile that Arthit knows well, and hates to the pit of his stomach. “Besides, it’s said that you can’t believe everything you read online. Better to ask someone trustworthy, who knows the area well and is wise—”

“Flattery won’t get you far with me, child,” she shakes her head, then hooks a leg over one of the chair arms, eyeing them up again.

Arthit pulls his free arm across his chest and holds his other elbow. Despite delighting in how Kongpob’s false charms are, for once, ineffective, he feels like a slab of meat hung up on a large iron hook at the market.

“But you boys are cute, so I’ll relent,” she says with a chuckle. “Your fastest option is a direct flight. It’s only about an hour’s journey, so you might even make it back before your friends.”

“And that would cost…?”

“About…฿6000 or so? But at this time of year, probably twice that. It’s summer, not to mention that you’re booking last minute.”

Kongpob cautiously looks over at Arthit, whose jaw has gone slack at the mere mention of the number. 

“Uh…that’s…not really within our budget.”

“Then, I guess your only other option is pretty much the same route your friends took, but with an extra leg, and probably with a few stops along the way. Can’t get a long-distance bus ticket last minute, especially not in this season. You got a pen? Write this down.”

“I’ll note it down in my phone,” Arthit opens his notes app, nodding eagerly.

“First, you’re going to want to take a ferry back to the mainland from Nathon Pier. That’ll be around ฿400. From there, you have to take a bus to the Surat Thani terminal, where you can probably get a long-haul bus back to Bangkok,” she says, chopping at her palm at the mention of each destination. “The first bus is ฿250, and the second one is about ฿800, with a stopover meal included. Now, usually you would have to book a week in advance, but if you want, I can call some people I know to see if they can pull some strings and squeeze you in on the overnight bus. It’s a total of about sixteen hours if there isn’t any traffic, so you should be back by morning.”

Arthit looks up from speed-typing, all the while calculating the sum in his head. He pauses.

“M-morning?” 

Somehow, in his reluctance to even come on this trip, he’d blanked out how long it had taken them to get here in the first place. Then again, he’d slept for most of the journey, waking only when Knot would physically peel his drooling face off of the window so they could board the next bus.

“Well, yes, unless you want to stay another night and set out early tomorrow,” she says teasingly, eyes flickering between them again. “I’m sure you could find a way to…pass the time.”

“No!” Arthit immediately says, a little too loudly, startling the dog, who lets out a high-pitched whine. “Sorry,” he mumbles to the golden retriever, who turns its face away. He begins to question whether seeking help from this woman had been to their benefit or not.

“Uh, well, we’d be really grateful if we could get the overnight bus, thank you,” Kongpob bows with a wai, which the woman brushes off with a laugh, mostly at Arthit’s embarrassment.

“Nong, do you have shoes?” 

Kongpob looks down at his still shoeless feet.

“Um…no. I think my friend left them in our room.”

“Alright,” she stands up with a hefty slap to her thighs, standing no taller than their shoulders. “I’ll let you back in so you can go get them, and then send you boys off to the pier.”

Then, she’s strutting off towards the huts, muttering to herself with amused glee. 

“Thank you!” Kongpob says quickly, thankful that he won’t have to make their way back barefoot. He nudges Arthit in the arm as they follow her.

“Oh, uh, yes. Thank you,” he manages, still eyeing the old dog, who looks at him disapprovingly. “We really…appreciate it.”

“Happy honeymoon!” the woman calls out loudly to them as the tuk tuk pulls away from the side of the road, waving jovially.

“We’re not—” Arthit begins to protest, but it’s no use. It doesn’t matter anyway, given that she can no longer hear them, and they’ll probably never see her again. But now, all the other passengers are staring at them with curiosity. He groans, shifting in his seat in disgruntlement. Kongpob, on the other hand, is absolutely tickled by the entire matter, and as the rickety vehicle makes its way down the road, the two fall into an odd silence.

Arthit scowls, pulling his backpack closer to his chest and turns his head to gaze out at the road. It’s fairly quiet, the sides scattered with holiday home-stays and small cafes and canteens. It had been a long weekend, but as they pass tree after bush after gate after hut, all fading into dots with a blur, he foresees an even longer sixteen hours ahead. 

Shuffling in his seat and bringing his attention back to the open-air vehicle, he catches a sideways glance of Kongpob, who’s looking right at him with a faint smile. His expression is unreadable, and it unnerves Arthit to the core.

He raises an eyebrow, shooting the boy something like a glare before averting his eyes down at his lap, sensing sudden heat in the tips of his ears. There could be a million reasons why Kongpob had been watching him, but he doesn’t have the mental energy to consider any of them at the moment. Or he doesn’t want to, anyway.

Instead, he becomes hyper aware of the other passengers sitting across from them, whose gazes have fallen on the offending cuffs, which frankly, are beginning to make his wrist sore from the sheer amount of movement that causes the metal to dig into his skin. 

One of the passengers is a small child, who stares directly at him with a blank expression, silent judgment even without potentially understanding the function of the handcuffs. Arthit shifts in his seat again. His free hand reaches for the usual strand of hair near his crown, and he begins twisting it into a spiralled knot, trying to avert his gaze from prying eyes.

And as if he can’t get any more uncomfortable, he suddenly feels a warm, bony hand take his own, fingers clasped around his palm. He looks down between them, and immediately pulls his hand away from Kongpob’s tanned one, as if having touched fire.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” he whispers between gritted teeth, heart pulsing a mile a minute, the ghost of the other boy’s warm touch still fresh on his pale skin. He allows it to linger for just a few seconds, then wipes the tickling sensation off on his shorts. Kongpob doesn’t look at him, merely smiling as he replies.

“They’re going to stare either way,” he says in a low but calm, almost sing-song voice. “We can be that couple who holds hands and has eccentric taste in matching bracelets, or we can be the couple who parades their bondage kink out in public. Which would you rather it be?”

“I’d rather not be a couple with you, period!” Arthit snaps, voice almost an octave higher than his usual register. 

Kongpob’s laughter tinkles in his ears all the rest of the way.

Hi! Here’s Chapter 3. Weirdly enough, I think I work better when I actually have a plan of what I’m doing with a story, which is why it’s not taking me ridiculously long to write up this time around.

I hope you’re okay with this somewhat non-linear storytelling that shows flashes of the past before revisiting the present. As I mentioned before, this is not so much a slow burn in the sense that we’re waiting for them to get together, but rather to show glimpses of the past that have had a direct or indirect impact on the present and potentially the future.

Side note, if you’re not familiar with Frosts’ The Road Not Taken, this is the poem:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I actually genuinely don’t like his poetry that much, not because there’s anything starkly wrong with it, but, as Arthit points out, the themes and ideas discussed aren’t particularly interesting (to me) or at least they don’t speak to me on a deeper level. However, it’s a very fitting poem for the purpose I’m trying to use it for, which we’ll figure out as the story develops.

Actually, after talking to some of you, I’ve come to realise that perhaps there are parts that aren’t so predictable or as obvious as I’d thought, but that’s okay. There’s fun in mystery! Anyway, thank you for reading. Please do leave me comments and tell me your thoughts/predictions 🙂

Part 1: Chapter 1

Friday, June 5, 2020
11:13 AM

📍 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.

Kongpob.

Wait, Kongpob?!

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? 

What! 

The! 

Fuck!!!!!!???!?!

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.

It’s hopeless.

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 what?”

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.”

Yeah…?”

“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.”

“Arthit?”

“Yeah?”

“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.”

“Yeah. Bye.”

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 🙂