## The Middle Years

A special chapter that peers into the early days before Kongpob met Arthit.

December 12th, 2011

Arthit has a favourite cubicle in the third floor bathroom.

Granted, every cubicle in that particular bathroom is an apt choice, but in his opinion, the one at the far end with the frosted window is the best, being slightly roomier and with ample lighting to read his newest Snoopy comic. Not exactly a bench at the park, but still a far cry from the hazardous school cafeteria nonetheless.

According to some silly myth that had been borne of theories following the release of some popular wizard movie Arthit had never seen, school bathrooms are prime real estate for crying ghosts.

It’s funny, because the only one who regularly occupies the stale, cold space at the end of the corridor is none other than Arthit himself, and he’s certainly alive and breathing.

It’s also not funny at all, because as far as his classmates are concerned, he may as well not be.

He’d taken to bringing his packed lunch in here each day ever since one of the ninth graders had unceremoniously flipped his lunch tray with a loud smack and a delighted cackle, decorating the front of Arthit’s shirt with watery brown stains.

Look, Porky shat himself!

In front of his sceptical mother and to the apathetic teacher on duty, he’d claimed it was a mere accident, that he’d been walking from the lunch line to his table and tripped on his shoelace. She’d pursed her lips in suspicion when he’d asked to pack his lunch instead, but reluctantly agreed on the basis that it was more cost efficient for them.

When Prae had wrangled the truth out of him, however, he’d insisted he was fine, begging her to not to tell Por, lest he cause a scene at the school, or worse, take it out on Mae again. The last thing he needs is to draw any more attention to himself, as if the tightness of his shorts around his thighs and the hole in the toe of his shoe isn’t enough to set off a wave of snickers across his entire class.

Well, except for him.

The boy stumbles into Arthit’s peripheral attention one day when a spontaneous racket rumbles from outside the frosted window of his lunchtime dwelling. While it’s not at all out of the ordinary for him to hear the odd peal of laughter or smack of a ball against the backboard  of a hoop, the desolate bathroom overlooks only the school pond, hardly a spot for anyone to loiter unless they have a particular affinity with turtles and lily pads.

“W-what are you doing?”

“A little bird tells me that you’ve done some…growing over the school break.”

It’s a sinister, unchaste voice Arthit knows and fears well, the same one that mocks his mere existence as soon as he enters the school grounds, and peering over the ledge of the windowsill, the sight of the burly ninth-grader confirms his suspicions.

Tum.

The tyrannical, skin-headed bully is surrounded by a posse of decidedly smaller boys, a vicious hyena leading its pathetic pack. They crowd around the pond — or rather, a girl who Arthit recognises to be from his own class. Fang (he thinks her name is) has her arms clutched around the front of her shirt, gripping her shoulders and arching further and further back in a fearful tremble as the domineering cluster of boys surround her, cornering her until she’s just a sudden yelp away from falling into the mossy water.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Excuse m—”

“What are you so shy for? You were so eager to show your friends earlier,” one of them sneers at the trembling girl. “Surely, you don’t mind showing us, too.”

Arthit gulps hard, not wanting to assume, but dreading their intentions. From his own run-ins with liquids and white shirts, he can’t foresee poor Fang being backed towards the tiny pond turning out any way other than — well, Arthit would rather not think about what that would mean for his classmate.

“I-I don’t—please, I need to go now,” Fang’s meek reply has Arthit’s own heart thudding in his ears from the sheer stress of witnessing the scene.

He momentarily contemplates fetching one of the teachers, but if his own fruitless attempts at seeking assistance from the school had been any indication, little is likely to come of it.

If I could find a way to distract them, then she could get away.

The pond is about a twenty-foot drop from the window, and Fang’s foot had been treading the pebbled edge, threatening at any moment to slip from beneath her.

Arthit backs away from the window, clambering down as quietly as possible from the toilet lid. Being in a toilet, there’s not a whole lot at his disposal for him to conveniently plonk down into the water. A roll of toilet paper? A bar of soap?

No, it would be a blatant giveaway as to where the disruption had come from, not to mention that he doesn’t want to accidentally kill the turtles in the unfortunate case that they swallow either of those things.

It’s a scramble of a scavenge as his eyes rummage the entirety of his immediate surroundings in pursuit of anything he can sacrifice, before they land on his lunch box, perched open on top of the water closet.

He grimaces. If his father were here, he’d get an earful about how wasteful it is to play with food. But there isn’t much other choice. Carefully, he plucks a warm piece of look chin moo out the container between two chubby fingers, and to nobody but himself, Arthit decides that the circumstances justify themselves enough to be exempt from horseplay.

The narrow gap of the open window that he’d been peering through is just wide enough for him to stick his fingers out. And then he waits, for the perfect moment.

“No! Please, just leave me alone!”

Fang is in tears now, and Arthit can make out her desperate whimper for help just loud enough that he almost lets go of the meatball right then and there.

“Oh, I’ll let you go, as soon as you show us what you’re hiding,” Tum edges nearer, pulling at Fang’s wrists to remove them from her chest as she struggles in his grasp. “I’ll show you mine if you show me—”

Plop!

The spherical pork lands in the water with a quiet splash. So quiet, in fact, that the boys below don’t even notice that it’s happened. The interruption to Tum’s taunting instead comes from one of his minions, who taps him on the shoulder with panicked urgency.

“What’s going on here?”

Arthit, who’d ducked down as soon as he’d dropped the meatball, as though bracing for an explosion, clamours back to the windowsill at the sound of the familiar voice.

“Kongpob!”

Fang immediately slips away in the other boys’ distraction, scrambling behind this other boy for protection. The boy — Kongpob — furrows his brow at the gaggle of gobsmacked boys, who, if previously contemptuous in their stance, are now tucking their proverbial tails between their legs.

“Fang, Kru Pat is looking for you,” he turns calmly to the girl, who is all but grateful to slip away.

“Yes, I’ll get going!”

And then she’s scurrying back towards the main courtyard, her short bob flapping with necessity from the sheer speed at which she’s moving.

“Everything okay here?”

Arthit knows where he’s heard that voice before. From his seat in the corner of the school auditorium, every third Monday, the soothing timbre of Kongpob’s voice lulls him into a soothed slumber, no less because English is not exactly Arthit’s forte.

Kongpob, Arthit decides, sounds cosmically more captivating when speaking Thai. He’d never seen anyone carry themselves with such quiet command, especially in the face of the likes of Tum and his pack of violently insecure bootlickers, and especially for an eight-grader.

The boy even has politely drawn features and broad shoulders to match his impressive demeanour, and Kongpob now pulls a tight smile.

“In that case, there’s no reason to be hanging around the girls’ bathroom then, is there?”

“N-no.”

“Right.”

There passes a few seconds during which a flurry of exchanged glances wash over Tum and his squires, and then, without a word, they dodge past Kongpob, leaving with a hurriedness to match a house gecko across the ceiling.

And then there remains only Kongpob, who watches the boys leaving for a few moments before surveying the area one last time, and, when Arthit least expects it, looking straight up at the window.

He gasps, then scrambles back to the floor again, the tiles on the wall cool against the prickling moisture down his neck and back. His heart hasn’t raced this much since he was small enough to fit under the dining chair as a hiding spot, and the nervous sweat accumulating in his pits only exacerbates the rush.

He waits.

And waits.

Ten achingly long seconds, until he can no longer hear the echoes of his own hyperventilating in the empty bathroom.

When he finally dares peer his large, wary eyes back over the tiled windowsill, the coast is clear leaving only the inhabitants of the pond to feast on the only evidence of his presence. Kongpob has left.

And so, too, has Arthit’s breath been taken.

“You don’t understand, Prae, he was like a superhero!”

Prae snorts, tucking her pencil behind her ear, huffing as she loosens the bow around her collar. “How are any of the boys in at your school superheroes? I thought they were all horrible to you.”

“They are, but Kongpob is just…he’s different.”

Arthit bites into a stick of moo ping, eagerly recounting that day’s events to his best and only friend as they lay out their homework on the wooden dining table. He starts with Maths, working through the problems with swift ease as he rambles about his particularly eventful day to his best and only friend.

“Yeah.”

“I’ve never heard you mention him before.”

“There are like, fifty other kids in my class. I don’t mention them. What’s your point?”

Prae watches the boy chew on his afternoon snack, his plump, rosy cheeks holding the food inside them for longer than seems absolutely necessary. True enough, he’s never brought up any of his schoolmates, other than the ones who give him a hard time, but Arthit isn’t the type to speak excitedly of anyone, either. She frowns at him in thought, observing his atypical chirpiness.

“Nothing, I guess,” she shrugs after a while. “Just be careful.”

“He was so cool,” Arthit continues, brushing off her warning. “He was all like, There’s no reason to be hanging around the girls’ bathroom then, is there?” He exaggerates a hair flip, tilting his chin up in mock confidence to mimic Kongpob’s supposed machismo. Prae chuckles, entertained by the theatrical imitation. “And then Tum and those other boys just scuttled away like cockroaches! I would never want to be on Kongpob’s bad side.”

“Have you ever even spoken to him?”

Arthit scratches the side of his face, pausing in the middle of a problem, suddenly stuck.

“No.”

And truthfully, he doesn’t know if he ever wants to. You should never meet your heroes, Por always tells him. What if, in the moment’s bravery, Arthit decides to actually talk to Kongpob, and it turns out that he is, in fact, just like all the others? What if he’d merely witnessed a single act of kindness?

“It’s better that way anyhow,” he tells Prae. “He would never notice me in a million years.”

But even superheroes need guardians, Arthit decides, and if he can’t fight alongside him, then he’ll happily cheer form him on the sidelines.

Of course, Arthit very soon comes to learn that his newfound hero is somewhat the object of affection in the eyes of a signifiant portion of the student body.

As with many other things, he seems to always be the last one to be in the loop on all things that his peers have been buzzing about for some weeks, or even months. Sometimes, it’s a video game for a console that Arthit doesn’t own, or a TV series that can only be streamed illegally on some website that 100Mbps just can’t handle (and in any case, he doesn’t have time to watch).

Other times, it’s gossip about their teachers, like how their art teacher had divorced her husband and started a relationship with their maths teacher, only to abruptly leave the school two months before the summer break. Or when one of the seventh graders had dared open their homeroom teacher’s desk drawer in search of a pack of chalk, only to find dozens of pair of white plimsoll shoes (all worn and of different sizes) stuffed to the brim.

The former, he’d overhead by mere chance when he’d been in the toilet of the boys’ changing room, where he’d planned to stay throughout the entire P.E. Lesson. The latter had been announced in assembly, their principal warning students of the consequences of such pranks (although nobody owned up to it, only stirring up further curiosity).

But when it comes to his classmates, Arthit admits that he mostly returns their lack of heed towards him, content to fade into the background. Despite his conspicuously round frame, he manages to remain relatively unspectacular, escaping comments about himself as he waits to be the last to leave the classroom at lunch, and rushes to be the first to return.

He knows they still talk. But that doesn’t mean he has to subject himself to hearing of it.

Nevertheless, his newfound favourite pastime has brought him to the conclusion that he isn’t the sole constituent of Kongpob’s support network.

From the other side of the classroom, Arthit watches as he chats calmly with another boy in their class, another person that whose name he doesn’t particularly recall, if only for the fact that he’s never stuck his fist or insult in Arthit’s face before.

Arthit only has one real friend, but as far as he can tell, Kongpob is far more relaxed around this boy than most others, otherwise pasting on bewilderment when someone (usually a girl) stops by his desk, interjecting themselves into the conversation to ask him something or to hand him a well-meaning gift.

Most times, it’s sleek, brand-name stationery, all of which Kongpob accepts with a polite smile and a bow of his head. Other times, his desk is piled with barbecue-flavoured corn puffs from the convenience store down the road (Arthit knows exactly which one; it’s the only one along Yaowarat Road that sells the specific flavour). The word that it was Kongpob’s favourite had somehow gotten around when he was seen nicking a few kernels from a classmate’s portion during recess one day. Kongpob doesn’t eat any of the gifted snacks, though, Arthit observes, instead pushing them over to his friend when he thinks nobody is looking anymore.

Arthit frowns as he turns away, staring out of the window again. He has nothing to offer the boy, what with how he doesn’t receive any allowance, and he’s afraid to ask, lest he see the anguished crease between his mother’s brows again.

Besides, what would even be the point? What would someone like Kongpob ever want anything to do with the likes of him? Forget being friends, Arthit doesn’t think that the boy would even be able to recognise him outside of the school grounds.

Nobody does. After all, he’s just the ghost in the third floor bathroom.

Kongpob is rich, Arthit learns several weeks later. Or, well, his family is wealthy.

For once, he pays full attention at the monthly assembly, nodding in agreement with Kongpob’s scripted speech, which he delivers with sheer sincerity and gusto that Arthit believes and concurs with every word, even if he only understands a handful of them.

If only he could possess such an air of confidence and poise.

Of course, though, one quick glance down at his waistline and a gravy stain from months ago that hasn’t quite faded suggests to Arthit that, as his classmates frequently remind him, he isn’t built for that sort of presentation. Despite having skipped lunch, accidentally on purpose leaving his lunch in the fridge before leaving for school, he’s still full from yesterday’s street binge.

Por had been in a mood again, and drawn the eyes of the entire student body as he’d boomed out  My son! at the front gates as he’d been leaving school. Today, we feast like kings! Arthit had groaned, but forced a tight smile as his father pushed him along by the shoulder blades, practically skimming bowls of soup out of stirring pots and snatching skewered meats off of grills as they zoomed past the regular stalls.

As far as parents go, Arthit hates to admit that he feels a little safer around his mother, although he’d witnessed her fair share of wrath when Por had left a scatter of Chang bottles under the bed. He doesn’t talk about their fights even to Prae, although he’s certain that she can hear (and feel) every word from across the hallway. In fact, it’s almost inevitable that the entire building can hear his father’s thunderous voice, even when he’s not shouting.

Arthit isn’t embarrassed, no. More like apologetic.

Kongpob’s mother, on the other hand, is far from anything that anyone would have to apologise for. It’s clear from whom the boy inherits his grace. Arthit watches with wonder as the pretty, blue-blazered woman is introduced onto the stage as the chairperson of the PTA.

Khun Malee Sutthiluck will now present the awards to the students with the highest-earning stalls from our Spring Fair

Large, embroidered ribbons alternating in navy and amber to match the school’s colours passed over with a gentle handshake and a warm smile for the student photographer, the next image to surely make the latest feature on the homepage of the school website. Her kind eyes crinkle at the edges the way Kongpob’s do, each with their own matching dimple at the point of their chin.

Only those with money and power become board members, Arthit knows. Por had told him such plenty of times whenever he would come home with the latest edition of the school newsletter, tutting something rich, bored housewives and property hoarders

“Kongpob is different,” he blurts in spontaneous defense what he’d told Prae to his own mother when she recounts stories of PTA members at other school using their positions to their children’s advantage. She pauses, putting down the skewer in her hand.

“Who’s Kongpob?”

Arthit’s ears tinge red at the shells, and he looks away and straight down at his homework, the tip of the pencil snapping in surprise. He’d never intended for her to find out about his newfound admiration. What if Por found out?

“Um…just someone at school.”

“Oh? Did you make a friend?”

“He doesn’t know me,” he says, twisting the pencil into his Snoopy sharpener, determined to drill a hole through the back of the dog’s head. “But he’s nice.”

“You haven’t talked to him?”

“No. He’s very popular.”

His mother smiles gently, wiping her hands and placing one on top of his to put an end to his aggressive skull puncturing.

“Oon?”

“Mm?”

“Do you want to be this boy’s friend?”

Arthit fidgets with the eraser on the end of his pencil, turning it over to draw a small circle of pink dust on the page and pondering the possibilities. How nice it would be, to laugh with him at recess, to share a bag of corn puffs in the courtyard, to learn about his secrets and tell some of his own. How nice it would be to be a loyal confidante to the respectable SuperKong, to be the hero’s trusty sidekick, to never have another hot lunch tray flipped down the front of his shirt again.

How nice it would be, if he turned out to be right.

He nods in response to his mother’s question.

“Then you should let him know.”

February, 2012

Contrary to his mother and Prae’s advice, Arthit makes no move to progress the state of his hypothetical, purely one-sided friendship. He’s pretty sure that Kongpob doesn’t even know of his existence within the class, let alone his name. And if he did, it would more than likely be some vulgar iteration of Porky, or the fat kid with the fat dad.

Make no mistake; he mentally rehearses hypothetical dialogue between the two of them every spare moment he gets, almost so he can hear Kongpob’s voice and see his friendly face standing before him in his own room. Kongpob is the imaginary friend he never made up in his early childhood, and the closest thing he has to social acceptance at school.

And yet the mere sight of the person he bases his illusions on fastens the chain on any pseudo-confidence he exhibits when whispering his secrets to his bedroom wall and reading his comics aloud in hushed tones to the jacket draped on the back of his chair.

Because there’s security in isolation and imagination, isn’t there?

When one has nobody to celebrate with, holidays pass with an uneventful blur, and Arthit finds himself scraping red-stained rice paper off the door that blesses the home with peaceful entrance and harmonious exits a few weeks after the Lunar New Year celebrations have desaturated Yaowarat Road of the sweeping washes of red lanterns and golden dragon costumes.

He’d peeked into the little crimson envelope that Mae had given him the morning of the first day, then hurriedly stuffed it into the shoebox at the back of his wardrobe. There’s nothing he’s really saving the money for, but…just in case. In case things happen, or he has something he needs to buy.

But the folded banknote is forgotten as quickly as it’s hidden, only to resurface in Arthit’s consciousness when he looks up from his desk one morning to find a small crowd clustered around a desk near the middle of the classroom — namely, Kongpob’s desk.

It piques his curiosity, but any attempt to peer at what’s happening would just draw unwanted attention to himself, and so he waits for the group to disperse, watching out the row of windows in the corridor for their teacher. When the astute woman does eventually arrive, dozens of pairs of shoes shuffle with urgency back to their respective desks, some darting apologetically out of the classroom to return to their own.

Good morning, Kru Paga.

Pretty paper, boxes of expensive, assorted candy, and chocolate roses form a small hill on top of Kongpob’s desk, and a few scatter the tabletops of some others in the class. It resembles what Arthit imagines to be Cupid’s crimson-and-fuscia upchuck, and certainly brings an uncomfortable grimace to Kongpob’s face. He flashes Kru Paga a wry smile before opening his briefcase to quietly tractor the gifts into its open mouth.

Arthit suppresses a grin when one of the foil-wrapped chocolates clatters to the ground, leaving Kongpob with an slightly embarrassed grin that reaches his eyes as he crouches to pick it up.

As expected, Kongpob eats none of the treats, choosing a quiet corner of the playground to sit with his best friend, who scarfs down sweet after sweet, laughing about something Arthit can’t hear clearly from the third floor corridor.

And after lunch, as Arthit has just settled back into his seat, being the first to return, he hears their voices wafting from outside the window.

“Any plans for next week?”

“Probably the same as every year. Dinner with my grandparents, P’Gift will come over for cake, and then I will go to bed just like any other day. You’re welcome to come over the day after, though. Mae will definitely cook enough to feed an orchestra, so—”

“I accept.”

Kongpob’s gentle laughter strikes up a warmth in Arthit’s chest, and he wishes he were the one making him smile. How nice it must be, he thinks, to have birthday rituals.

Birthdays had always been much of quiet observation for him, too, the only gifts he receives being another Peanuts edition from Prae’s parents. Por had fired up the home grill on year and made an extortionate assortment of honeyed meats and spiced seafood, which had then made a daily appearance in both his and Prae’s lunchboxes over the course of the following week or so. Never again, though. The man had never been much for words, emitting a simple You’ve grown, son with a single nod, before proceeding to fill his mouth with rice so he doesn’t have to elaborate.

Of the rituals he does partake in, though, he only looks forward to one.

Not that anyone at school knows, but his own birthday precedes Kongpob’s by a mere four days. He likes the thought, wondering what it would be like to hear Kongpob call him P’Arthit. It’s silly, given that it’s barely even a week apart, and so he dismisses the brief musing.

At home, as the clock strikes midnight, there’s a quiet knock on his bedroom door, followed by a familiar shuffle of his mother’s slippers and a slow dip in the side of his mattress.

“Hi, Mae.” He shifts himself to sit up and then makes space for her to sit beside him. She cosies up against his pillow and brings his head to rest on her shoulder, playing with his hair.

“How are you?” she says, because it doesn’t get asked often enough.

“I’m…”

I’m fine. He’s about to give his default response, but in a moment’s impulse, stops himself. Instead, he looks up, meeting his mother’s curious gaze.

They could talk, couldn’t they? She’s the wisest person he knows, even if he doesn’t like worrying her with his troubles.

“Hmm? What is it?”

“I’ve been…thinking about something,” he starts, taking his time to consider his succeeding words. His gaze dances about the room, looking something to adhere to until it’s enticed by the warm glow of the street light just outside his window. “About how…some people have, like…a spotlight.”

“A spotlight?”

“Like, they’re the centre of attention. Everyone likes them and, I don’t know, throws flowers at their feet or something.”

“I see…” she raises an eyebrow, intrigued. “What about them?”

Arthit rubs his nose in thought.

“Most of us don’t have spotlights. We’re just…in the audience.”

“I suppose so, yes,” she says after a moment. There’s more to her son’s spontaneous analogy, though, she thinks.

“So…like…do you think those people notice things…outside of that spotlight? I don’t…I don’t know if they would just see their audience as…like, a dark blur. Sorry, I know I’m not making much sense.”

“No, no,” she smiles. “Like everyone is part of the same mass. And you want to be noticed?”

Yes. Wait, no. Maybe? Arthit debates his answer, pulling his sleep shirt a little lower over his belly.

“Not…not really. No. I just—I have things that I want them to know. Even if it’s not from me.”

“All nice things, I hope.”

He nods fervently. “Of course.”

“Then,” his mother takes his round face into her hands. “You just have to trust that they can feel it. Because you know what shines brighter than a spotlight, Oon?”

Arthit blushes, pulling his face away and rolling his eyes at the cliché, but nods.

“Spotlights always find a new person to shine on, and the curtain falls on even the most dazzling of stars. But the sun…the sun shines on everyone, every day,” she ruffles his hair. “It shines especially hard on Yaowarat Road, around three in the afternoon, to be precise.”

He lets out a chuckle at her attempt at a joke, and cosies back into the round of her shoulder.

“Yeah? Alright then,” she sniffs the top of his head briefly. “I can’t believe you still want to hear this story after so many years. But I hope I have many more years to wish you goodnight on your birthday.”

“I’d like that, Mae.”

She smiles as he shimmies back down under the covers, then takes a deep breath, reciting a tale she’s told thirteen times since she’d brought her tiny bundle of sunlight home in her arms.

“Well, it all started fourteen years ago. Actually, it was potentially one of the worst times to have a child, your grandmother would tell you if she were still here. The Thai baht was at an all-time low, people were losing their jobs left and right, and the entire population was struggling under the collapsing economy. Business was slowing down by almost a half, and your Lung Dear lost his job after the elevated road project was scrapped the previous year. He lived with your father and I until he moved abroad when you were four.”

“I remember that.”

“You were still so young back then. Anyway, he told me we were absolutely mad for trying to have a child in such trying times. And he was right, but I was already nine weeks pregnant when the crisis hit. We made do with savings for months, but by December, we were almost rattling the remains of the piggy bank. You weren’t a very active baby in my tummy, but I talked to you every day. One day, your father came home and he was so tired, Oon. He’d picked up part-time work at the Lotus in Seacon Square. I won’t ever let our son go hungry, he promised me. He was so excited to be a father, you know?”

Her voice is tinged with nostalgia as she pulls the quilt up to his shoulders with fondness.

“I went to the temple that day. I prayed. Not for money. Not for a miracle. I prayed that we would overcome whatever obstacles stood in our way, and that you would always have someone to love you. But then, just as I’d finished my prayer…my water broke. I was taken to the hospital, where a very sexy nurse—”

“Mae…” Arthit whines softly, trailing off with drowsiness.

“What? He was! Anyway, he took very good care of me and made sure I was comfortable the entire time. Your father, on the other hand, was in such a panic when he arrived, that the doctors suggested he wait outside the delivery room lest he fainted. He still did, of course. And seven hours later, life gave me my miracle.”

She finishes with a light scratch to the crown of her son’s hair, gazing towards the orange glow in the window.

“Any wishes for your fourteenth birthday?”

But as she looks back at her now-fourteen year-old son, he’s already fast asleep, each breath deep and heavy with peace. His mother sighs, the corners of her mouth upturned as she brushes his too-long hair out of his eyes.

“Good night, my warmest sun.”

When Prae walks into the Rojnapat apartment with her briefcase full of that day’s homework tucked under her arm, Arthit is frowning at his open notebook, not having written a single thing.

“You can pout all you want but the homework won’t complete itself,” she remarks, sliding into the chair adjacent to him.

“I know,” he grumbles, picking up his pencil and tapping the page with the eraser. “I just can’t focus.”

His neighbour looks at him sideways, then tilts her head.

“Did something happen at school?”

“No,” he replies sullenly. “Never mind, let’s just do homework.”

“Okay,” she says simply, arranging her various notebooks on the table, careful not to mix them up with Arthit’s near-identical ones. “Anything new with SuperKong today?”

“Not really,” although he brightens at the mention of Kongpob, something that doesn’t go unnoticed by his friend. He doodles a small stick figure at the corner of the page, pencilling in a cape that he’s become accustomed to drawing in his spare time. “It’s his birthday tomorrow, though.”

“Oh,” Prae pauses, about to write the date on a fresh page. “Are you going to get him anything?”

“I don’t have anything to give him. It’s mostly girls who give him stuff, anyway.”

Arthit twitches his nose, now adorning the cape with a large K.

“So? Boys can give each other presents. It doesn’t have to mean anything.”

“Por says that only girls give each other gifts as friends. If they give a boy a gift, it means they want to marry them…or date them, or something.”

“I give you gifts ever year. I don’t want to marry you, Arthit,” she says plainly, copying out the word refuse over and over down the page in loopy handwriting.

Arthit lets out a snort, deeply amused.

“I don’t want to marry you, either.”

She knows this already, of course, but Arthit still thinks it necessary to say aloud, as if to affirm that Por’s incessant teasing about Prae becoming his future wife is just that — a joke. He returns to his sketch, adding in few fluffy clouds and several rays of a sun peeking from behind them.

“I…think I want to marry a girl one day,” she cuts through the quiet with just a whisper. The look she sends him when she lifts her head from her notebook is one that Arthit is unfamiliar with, but he, of all people, knows fear when he sees it. It hasn’t occurred to him before, given that they hadn’t really talked about crushes up to this point in time. Then again, as Prae so often put it, people at school suck. He holds her watery stare for a few more moments, then slowly nods with a small smile of reassurance.

“Okay. I guess I should tell Mae to make Por stop joking about us, then.”

“Thanks,” she sucks in a sharp breath, as though relieved, and smirks as he colours in the cape in faint strokes of his pencil. “Do you want to marry Kongpob?”

He near-chokes on his own spit.

“Wh-what?”

“Well, you like him, right?”

Arthit sputters, struggling to form anything coherent for several seconds. Is that what Prae had thought all this time? Granted, to his knowledge, he’s never had romantic (?) feelings for anyone before, but it all seems rather unlikely to him.

“Don’t be ridiculous. H-he…doesn’t even know me. How could I like someone I’ve never even spoken to?”

“Just asking,” she shrugs, as if she’d merely asked him what the time was.

“I just think he’s cool and he’s not mean like the other kids,” he clarifies, although she hasn’t pressed further. “Besides…even if I did, Por would never allow it, anyway. You know he doesn’t like it when boys like other boys,” he says this last part in a low mutter.

Prae blinks, then peers at the drawing that now has two eyes faintly dotted onto the sun.

“You should write him a card. It’s not really a gift, but you can still wish him. It’s friendly.”

He considers this for a moment, then bites his bottom lip. It’s not a bad idea, although he’s not really one for words, and has no idea where to start.

“I’ve never written anyone a card before.”

“Not even your Mae?” She raises an eyebrow incredulously.

“Por doesn’t believe in spending money on trivial things like cards.”

Prae frowns at this, but shakes off whatever comment she might have been thinking to make with a loose wave of her hand.

“Here, I’ll help you. Get some better paper first. Just plain paper will do, but not notebook paper.”

He’s enthused now, dashing to the side table near the front door and opening the slim drawer to retrieve one of several plain notepads and bringing it back with the eagerness of a puppy.

“I…never mind, this will do,” she says, tapping the page with her own pencil. “Start with a greeting.”

Dear Kongpob, he writes, carefully and tidily as possible.

“Alright. Now, he doesn’t know you, right?” He shakes his head, waiting for further instruction. “So you probably want to write something that lets him know who you are.”

“Uh…” he chews at his lip. “Do I have to write my name?”

“Well, no. But you should at least tell him how you know him.”

His lips purse in contemplation, and as Prae observes him, he begins writing.

“Is this okay?” he rotates the page to face Prae, who immediately runs a hand over her face in secondhand mortification. “What? What’s wrong with it?”

“Arthit, you sound like a stalker.”

“I do?!”

“What would you think if someone sent you a note saying I’ve been watching you?” she mimics a thwack to the air above his head. “Start over. Try something, I don’t know. Less creepy.”

Arthit sighs, but shoves his first attempt to the side.

“Don’t say you’re a ‘fan’! He’s not a celebrity with a Wikipedia page,” Prae interjects immediately before he can write any further. “Okay. How about something more…profound or refined? Isn’t there anything nice you can think of from reading all those Snoopy comics?”

“Ooh! I know just the thing!” he beams excitedly, becoming bolder with the size of his handwriting now.

“…”

“What?”

“…”

“Prae, just say it.”

“What is this quote supposed to mean? Friends come in all shapes and sizes?”

“You said to use something from the Peanuts comics!”

“I meant a general sentiment related to birthdays, not this!”

“Fine! What do you suggest then?”

“I guess…just keep it simple and straightforward.”

“I said straightforward, not boring.”

“Is this not straightforward?”

“At least make it look like you put in some effort!”

“Why’ve you squished the last two letters on the side?”

“I ran out of space.”

“It looks really wonky. The smiley face is cute, though. Maybe you could do a proper drawing?”

“Uh…”

“What now?”

“It’s…cute.”

“But…?”

“Are you sure you’re okay with him knowing you call him SuperKong?”

“Oh. Right.”

“Do you even want him to know it’s you?”

“…not really?”

“Hmm. Maybe you could make it sound like you’re already friends with him so he doesn’t suspect anything?”

“I—never mind.”

“I give up,” Arthit groans, letting the pencil fall from his grip. “This is hopeless. He’ll probably never even look at it anyway.”

“No, come on,” Prae shakes his arm gently, pouting for forgiveness. “I’m sorry. I just want you to write something nice.” She eyes her friend’s sulky expression and sighs. “What is it that you want him to know? Aside from Happy Birthday?”

Many things, if Arthit’s being honest. To share his most mundane of thoughts, ranging from a funny poster he’d seen outside the local theatre, to how he notices that water sprinklers are always no more than three metres apart in even the dinkiest of indoor restaurants. Or to ask him his favourite colour, and whether he puts the left shoe or right shoe on first.

But if he narrows it down to the very bare essence, he knows exactly what he would say.

“I just…I think he’s awesome. And I wish we were friends, even if it’s not possible.”

Prae smiles at this, pushing the blank page back towards him.

“Then tell him that. Just write what you mean.”

Arthit exhales noisily, then tiredly picks up the pencil again, quietly scrawling out a message. Prae tries to peer over his hand, but he very quickly pulls the paper towards him. In a moment’s brainwave, he plucks a yellow highlighter from Prae’s open pencil case, make round, raspy strokes before replacing the cap.

“Can I see?”

Slowly, he removes his hand from obstruction of her view, and pushes the page towards her. To his utter surprise, she grins, nodding her evident validation.

“Arthit, it’s perfect. He’ll love it.”

“You think so?”

“If he’s as good as you say he is, I know so.”

He grins, pleased with his work, then folds it into quarters and tucks it into the front pocket of his briefcase. Even if Kongpob never knows it’s from him, Arthit is content with the thought that it may bring him the slightest warmth from a distance.

Besides, only fools fly straight towards the sun.

## 第十五章：余额: ฿580

Kongpob醒来的时候发现了一个……问题。

Arthit ☀️ ：我妈妈说我可以过来

Kong ☕️ ：太好了！那等我们训练完给你发讯息。

“好了，同学们，休息十分钟。” Pak教练吹了几次哨子后大声喊道。

M和Kongpob一起坐在座位上，咕噜咕噜的喝下了一大半的水，然后M才注意到他朋友似乎有些心事的样子，这从他坐立不安的样子反映出来了。

“你没事吧？”他说着，轻轻推了推Kongpob的胳膊，他从包里拿出一根能量棒，然后贪婪地嚼着，一只脚放在下一级的台阶上休息着。

“M ，你和May之间发生了什么？”

“啊？什么？你为什么突然问这个问题？”

Kongpob想起在放完暑假开学后的某一天，M向他吹嘘说他在图书馆认识了一个女孩子，他正和那个女孩约会呢，他说她非常漂亮、善良、有礼貌，而且非常有智慧。

“我……我就只是好奇。”

M斜眼看着Kongpob ，有些弄不明白他的意思，但也点了点头。

“嗯……好吧，我想大概都是我的错吧，她真的很好，有的时候我发现有其他的男生会盯着她看，然后我就会变得没有安全感。所以我就会让她不要穿某类衣服之类的，然后我会试着让她吃更多食物，这样她就在别人眼中会变得没那么有吸引力。但我现在才意识到那时我对她是有多么的不尊重，我几乎把她的价值定义为她的外貌。”

Kongpob点了点头，试着理解M所说的意思。

“所以……你没有——抱歉，没有——只是因为她的外表而喜欢她。”

“当然不只是因为她的外表，我给你说过，对吧？因为我们在图书馆看同样的书，所以我们就开始进行交谈，她对作者和故事深入的了解让我印象深刻，她也很有趣，很聪明，但不是你想像的那样。然后我开始慢慢发现她的外表也很迷人。比如，我会想像着亲吻她，她的脸会一直浮现在我的脑海里，然后—— “

Kongpob脱口而出，语速极快，几乎快要听不清楚他说了些什么，但M还是听清楚了他说的话，他几乎忘记呼吸了，眼睛睁的大大的，被刚才的话惊到了。

Kongpob现在正盯着M ，用手捂住了他的嘴巴，他不敢相信自己刚才大声的告诉别人他晨勃了。

“我……呃……好了？” M不知道该说些什么，仍然有些懵，眼睛都不知道看哪里好。

Kongpob立即摇了摇头，然后用手捋了捋被汗水浸湿的头发。

“抱歉，只是……这是之前从来没有发生过的事。”他解释道，尽管这里仍然很安静，但他意识到可能会被其他队友听到。”我今天早上醒来，它就已经……那样了。”

M只是点着头，不知道该说些什么。

“嗯……呃……那你有做什么……有趣的梦吗？”

“什么意思？” Kongpob皱着问道。

“比如……春梦。”他小声咕哝着，对于他们在学校操场上讨论春梦，他感到有些尴尬。

Kongpob似乎在思考着，他试着回想着在他熟睡时出现过的任何画面。

“呃……接吻算吗？”

“大概吧，我想……你在吻谁？我的意思是在梦里面。”

Kongpob的呼吸停在了喉咙那里，他犹豫着，是否真的要告诉M这件事。是的，这是他最好的朋友，这是他第一次在对话中要和朋友分享秘密，而不是M兴奋的向他谈论他在图书馆里的迷恋物件。

“ Arthit 。”他说，声音比蚊子声还小，他的整个身体在变得更热，现在出的汗也并不是因为训练而出的汗。

“啊？抱歉，我没有听见。” M眯着眼睛看了一会儿，然后向Kongpob挪的更近了，以免其他队友打闹玩笑的声音盖过Kongpob的声音而让他听不见。

“我—我说……我在梦里亲吻…… Arthit 。”

“噢，天啦，M ！我喜欢Arthit ！”他的声音被他膝盖上的毛巾盖住了有些闷闷的，他用手绞着头发。

“是的……我知道……”

Kongpob猛地抬起头来，目光呆滞的盯着他朋友扭曲的脸。

“这是什么意思？”

M重重的叹了口气，拧开了水瓶的盖子。

“我的意思是，好吧，直到你这样说我才确定，但是之前我一直是这样怀疑的。自从你和他成为朋友以来，你一直不停地谈论他，而且，你会关注和他相关的每一件事。”

”如果这能让你感觉好点的话，我之所以注意到你是因为你一直在问我关于他的事，而且，你每天训练完后都着急走，大概是因为要去见他吧，还有就是…你每次一提到他你都很开心。”

Kongpob脸红了，他不知怎么地就让他的暗恋表现得很明显。然后，他突然想到了一件事。

“M ，等会儿下午他要来和我们一起聚餐。”他突然说道，一边又在包里翻来翻去地找手机，”我应该告诉他聚餐取消了。”

“呀呀呀呀呀，你在做什么？停停停。” M把手机从他手里抢了过去，举过头顶，用另一只手指着他的朋友，”伙计，这有什么问题吗？如果你喜欢他，他又会来和我们一起玩，那你就会有更多的时间和他在一起了呀。你为什么取消呢？”

“我……我不能喜欢他，M.” Kongpob急忙摇头，”我不可以。”

“为什么不可以？”

“他……我配不上他，M 。”

“到底什么意思？”

“他非常聪明，非常努力，他也很有抱负，他很有天赋，我知道有一天他会成为某个天才发明家，他也非常有趣，M 。他拥有让人开心的能力，你甚至都不知道这一点，噢，天啦，他的笑容是最棒的，还有——”

“好了好了，这很好，但这些都不能告诉我你为什么觉得你配不上他。”

Kongpob重重的出了一口气，开始绞起手上的毛巾，直到指关节失去血色变得苍白。

“他是那么的美好，而我只是…… Kerkkrai Sutthiluck的儿子，我要学习我一点也不感兴趣的东西，我的未来从来就是被安排好了的。我什至没有足够棒的爱好，不能认真追求其他的东西，他是一个有实际意义的人，而我只是……一个空壳，M 。”

“Kong ，” M摇摇头，用胳膊揽住他的肩膀，”你也拥有许多东西，冲动，有点固执，有点太高尚—”

“嘿！”

“我只是说虽然你的确不是完美的，但你绝对不是一个空壳，再说，也许他也喜欢你呢。”

“不要乱说，我十分确定他不喜欢男生。”

“我认识你这么久，你也没有喜欢过男生，据我回忆，你也不喜欢女生。”

“那不重要，我十分确定他和Prae是一对。”

M竟然笑出了声，还假装擦了擦眼泪。

“相信我，他和Prae没有事。”

“你怎么知道？”

” Prae和我有时也会聊聊天。”他耸了耸肩，看到朋友好奇的表情，他又补充道：”不要乱想。”

Kongpob又叹了口气，用毛巾擦脖子后面的汗，轻哼了一声。

“好了，同学们，最后一场训练，今天就结束了！” Pak教练一边喊着一边鼓掌以引起他们的注意。

M站了起来，把手机还给了Kongpob 。

“不要想太多，不要取消对他的邀请。”他指着Kongpob ，语气中有一丝警告的味道。

Kong ☕ ：嗨！我们马上就要结束了

Kong ☕ ：有几个人要先回家换衣服，所以Shin会先接我、M和Tew 。

Kong ☕️ ：我十分钟后去摊位那里等你？还是我应该直接去你家？

Arthit ☀️ ：呃，摊位那里就可以了

Arthit ☀️ ：我先换个衣服

Kong ☕️ ：哈哈，你回家睡觉了吗？

Arthit ☀️ ：这个星期六我不用工作

Arthit ☀️ ：十分钟后见

Arthit ☀️ ：等等，谁是Tew

Kong ☕️ ：他是篮球队的一员，你会喜欢他的，他人很好。

Arthit ☀️ ：每个人你都觉得很好

Kong ☕️ ：并没有！

Arthit ☀️ ：随便你，等会见。

Arthit把电话放在床头柜上，与他告诉Kongpob的相反，他整个早上都非常清醒，在自己的小衣橱前来回踱步，他一直在考虑，是该穿一件更时髦的蓝色纽扣衬衫，搭配一条更漂亮、更新的牛仔裤，还是应该选择他平时穿的衣服。

“暖暖，你打扮的真帅！”他的母亲一边说一边翻转着烤架上的烤串，脸上露出满意的笑容。

“什么啊？我一直这样穿的呀。”他耸了耸肩，然后转向其他人，”你们要买东西吃的吗？”

“是啊，刚训练完，可饿坏了，既然我们都来这里了，不如就在这里吃点吧。”

Kongpob有些异常的安静，畏缩在M身后，不过还是对Arthit微微一笑，Arthit也对回了他一个笑容。

“呃……那是谁在照看饮料摊呢？”他问他的母亲，他盯着母亲应该常在的那个位置上。

” Maprang ，我想我今天还是应该让她和Prae一起交往。”

Arthit不由自主的笑了起来，Prae应该很开心，换个角度，他也可以取笑Prae的暗恋。

“拜，Mae 。”他漫不经心地说，跟着其他人就走了。

“暖暖，手机要保持通畅哦，好吗？”

“嗯，会的。”

“如果你想离开了，就马上打电话给我。”

Arthit盯着母亲看了一会儿，然后慢慢点了点头。

Kongpob虽然在点头，但他的目光紧紧盯着Arthit抓着他胳膊，柔软白皙的手指轻轻环绕在他晒黑的手臂上，他微微咽了一口口水，只是微笑着，没有抬起头来。

“嗯，好的。”

06/09/2014 — ฿43

## 第十三章：余额: ฿653

“你也才刚刚收工？”

Prae把她那卷卷的长发挽成一个凌乱的发髻，穿着人字拖露出脚趾的的双脚跨立在楼梯上。

“没错，“ Arthit叹了口气，然后重重的在她脚边的台阶上坐了下来，“我快狗带了。”

“所以……今天是非常棒的一天，对吗？” Prae漫不经心的拨弄着她的手指，“你玩得开心吗？”

“我……我想是吧。”

“你觉得Kongpob玩得开心吗？”她坏坏的挑眉问道。

“我不知道。”他耸了耸肩，手指拨弄着牛仔裤上一根脱开了的线。很明显，Prae在调戏他，但现在他已经没什么精力去因为提到Kongpob的名字而感到尴尬了。

“哇！”Prae对着Arthit竖起了眉毛，“你竟然不和我争辩？”

Arthit缓慢的呼吸着，他选择不回应，他只是用手指缠绕着脱开的线，用力地拉紧，线紧紧的缠绕在手指上使手指失去血色而发白。

Prae盯着Arthit看了一会儿，她有一个很想问的问题，这使得她的眉毛拧成了一个麻花。

“你…喜不喜欢他？”

Arthit认为他以前从来没有喜欢过别人，特别是因为直到最近，他同龄的人（除了Prae）几乎都认为他一生中的大部分时间都毫无价值。他也不认为他过去对谁有过短暂的迷恋，更不用说真正成熟的感情了，他也不会妄自揣测第一个对他很好的同学对他到底是什么样的感情。

“我……不知道。” 他诚实的回答道，“而且这也没有什么关系吧。”

“为什么？因为他是个男孩子？”

“Prae，你一向都知道这种事我是最不介意的。”

“那怎么了？”

“你明明知道这是什么意思，Prae，”他喃喃自语说道，瞥了一眼看见Prae歪着头一脸好奇的盯着他，“是他的妈妈特别要求让我要转班的。”

Kongpob的妈妈——曼谷最富有商人之一的妻子，她非常的强势。

Prae叹了一口气，然后盘起腿席地而坐。

“这就是为什么今天你看见她像被吓坏了的原因吗？”

“ 她不记得我就好了。”Arthit将他的手指解放出来，看着血液倒流回去，“而且他也不需要知道，这只会……吓跑他的。”

“其实你都不清楚这是否他让她这么做的，”Prae翻了个白眼，“但据我所知，他根本不知道发生了什么，你不是说他最近才发现你的贺卡吗？”

Arthit点了点头，意识到可能是他想太多了。

“所以可能只是他的母亲太偏执了，这不代表着你就没有机会和Kong在一起。”

“那也一样很糟糕，Prae。”Arthit气急败坏的吼道，然后把他的头埋在了手里，“听着，我不是说我喜欢他，但 假设 一下， 如果 他的妈妈已经因为我 可能 是个gay而讨厌我了，那我又能怎样办呢？而且，我也十分的确定他就只是把我当做朋友。”

Prae听了这句话忍不住的大笑了起来。

“好吧，我愿意拿我爸的餐车打赌，Kongpob不只是想做朋友。”她故意的挑了挑眉毛。

“说真的，他对每个人都很好——”

“我可没看见他在比赛的时候向其他人招过手，”她坏笑着，躲开了来自旁边的攻击，“但……我明白你对他母亲的看法，要一直躲着，那可太糟糕了。”

“ 对喔。”

“所以……那么你的确是喜欢他的，”她说着，这不是一个疑问句，是一个陈述句，“否则你根本不会想这些。”

“我……我不知道，好吗？！” 他站了起来，眉毛皱着，耳朵却是红红的，“我很累了，我要去睡觉了。”

Arthit在星期天睡到了中午，在摊位上工作了几个小时，然后又回到他的房间里坐立不安，又拿起他五本漫画书里其中的一本假装看起来。

Kong ☕️ ： !

Kong☕️ ： 我很抱歉呀😩😩😩

Kong ☕️：昨田一整田我都在写业结果导致我现在水过头了

Kong ☕️：我会竟快赶到

Arthit ☀️：……

Arthit ☀️：好吧 不用担心了

Arthit ☀️：我也睡过头了 🤦🏻‍♂️

Arthit ☀️：也许我们可以重新安排在其他时间？

Arthit ☀️：或者可以取消

Kong ☕️：不要！这样，我们重新安排一下！

Kong ☕️：明天怎么样？

Arthit ☀️：我会在多设置一个闹钟的 😑

“一起吃午餐？”M在走廊上用手拍了拍Kongpob的肩膀。

Kongpob也满怀期待的望着Arthit，Arthit有些犹豫的指了指自己。

“是的，Arthit，你也是。”

Kongpob看着他的两个朋友，当然，他们都一起吃过饭，不过那是在校外。

“我，呃……也许，我以后再——”

“好吧，没问题” Arthit话锋一转突然就答应了下来，Kongpob转过身来惊讶的看着Arthit。

“真的吗？”

Arthit耸了耸肩，脸上没有任何表情，只是用手指指着楼梯。

“我们可以一起在楼顶上吃饭。”

…

Kongpob有些犹豫是否要欢迎第三个人进入他们两个的地盘（他可以说这是他们两个的吗？），但他不想对他的朋友无礼，但如果Arthit同意的话，那他就没有理由阻止了。

“当然，没问题。”他点了点头，转身看向M。

“在楼顶上？”他们一起上楼时M问道，“那上面有什么？”

“这里太棒了！我怎么不知道有这样的地方呢？！”

“我也是因为学生会才知道这里的。”Kongpob笑着说道，然后坐在了Arthit对面的长凳上。

M没有回应，他忙着运球，投了几次篮，不过并没有把篮球从楼顶上扔下去。

Arthit笑了起来，又啪的一声打开了餐盒的盖子。他瞥了一眼Kongpob，他正啜饮着一勺乳白色的菜汤。

“那是什么？”

“椰奶鱼汤。”Kongpob又舀满了一勺鱼汤，递到了Arthit面前。

“要尝一下吗？”

Arthit看着他面前的勺子，他不确定Kongpob是否是真的要喂他，还是他应该把勺子拿过来。

“呃……不用了，”他说着，一边又把Kongpob的手轻轻推开，这样汤才不会洒出来。

“就尝一点点，这个味道真的不错，我保证！”Kongpob又再一次的把勺子递到了Arthit的面前。

M仍然还在那里投篮，每次投篮的的时候都会打起万分的精神。

Arthit用余光瞟了一眼M，然后又看了看充满期待的Kongpob。

“这真的很不错，” 他满意地点了点头，当Kongpob对他微笑时，他又低下了头。

“你的妈妈为你做的午餐？”

“她总是喜欢尝试做一些不一样的食谱。”Kongpob笑着说道，他的脸在被晒黑的皮肤下微微发红，他小心翼翼的把刚才送到Arthit嘴里的勺子送进他的嘴里，“M也总是想让她收养他自己。”

“你会自己做饭吗？”Arthit问道，他主要是想把他们之间的谈话继续下去。

“不，”Kongpob有些惭愧的笑了起来，“妈妈有时候会教我做一些最基本的食物，但我甚至都不能煎好鸡蛋，我会把它们煎糊掉。”

“你都不会煎鸡蛋？”

“我真的没救了，好吗？这根本就不是我能学会的。我想你的厨艺应该很棒，除非烤肉是你唯一会做食物。”

“我会做饭啊，“Arthit点点头，一边嚼着腰果一边说道：“我小时候我爸爸就教会了我很多。”

“哇，那你可以准备结婚了。”Kongpob开玩笑的说道，但Arthit的脸却微微变红了。“呃……如果你不介意我问……你的爸爸发生了什么……？”Kongpob有些结结巴巴的说道。

“在我九年级的时候他因为心脏病去世了，他……还有严重的肥胖症和糖尿病，这让他的情况变得更加的复杂。”

Kongpob只是点点头，想说些什么却又什么都说不出来。

“没关系的，你什么都不用说。”Arthit打断了Kongpob的思绪。“那是很久以前的事了，而且我最后因此下磅。”

“我在年鉴里发现了你。”Kongpob突然想起来，也试着转移话题，“你当时真的非常非常可爱~”他调侃道，伸手去捏了捏Arthit右边的脸颊，但随即手就被打了回去，并且Arthit傲娇的哼哼了两声。

“我妈妈说我依然非常可爱。”Arthit狡猾的说道，并用勺子指着Kongpob。皮肤黑黑的男孩笑了起来，他被他朋友的话给逗乐了。

“对，你依然非常可爱。”

Arthit悄悄地把一只手放到他的耳朵上，以试图掩饰他发红的耳尖。这只是一句夸奖，他只是出于好意，这是朋友该做的。

“Kong!” M大声喊道，缓解了他们之间尴尬的气氛，“我要下去了，这里非常棒，但就是太安静了，你们两个玩得开心呀！”他小跑过去拿起他的背包，然后向Arthit点了点头，朝门口走过去了。

Arthit放下勺子然后看着Kongpob。

“嘿，呃……抱歉……我是说……邀请M来这里，我知道这里是你的秘密地点。”

“噢，没关系，这也不是什么秘密，而且就只是M而已，我觉得他也不会到处去和别人说。”

“我只是……还没有准备好。”

“我明白。”

Prae 🍐：卡萨诺瓦 * 又来找 Arthit 了

🎯 ：他经常去吗？

Prae 🍐：几乎每天都会来

Prae 🍐：除了周末

Prae 🍐：你那边有什么消息吗？

🎯：我今天算是和他们一起吃了午饭吧

🎯：你知道他们会一起吃饭吗？

M 🎯：在教学楼的楼顶花园里？？？？单独一起！！！！

Prae 🍐 ：什么？？？

Prae 🍐：听起来有点浪漫呢🤭

Prae 🍐：还有其他吗？？？

🎯：我发誓他们肯定在打情骂俏

M 🎯：我记得我听见 Kong 说他 “ 可爱 ”

Prae 🍐： asdfjkahlsgj

🎯：我知道，船会有的，潜艇也会有的!!!

M 🎯：他们几乎忘了我还在那儿

Prae 🍐：哇哦，加油 Kong ！

Prae 🍐：还有吗？？

🎯：然后我想 Arthit 他自己也不知道说些什么，所以他们之间似乎有些尴尬

Prae 🍐： 🤦🏻‍♀️

Prae 🍐：这当然会了

M 🎯：你从 Arthit 呢，一点儿消息都没有听到或者一点端倪都没看见？

Prae 🍐：这才过了两天

Prae 🍐：前几天的晚上我确实有和他谈过

Prae 🍐：我就直接问他喜不喜欢 Kong

Prae 🍐 ：他就只说他不知道，还说不管怎么样这件事都很糟糕

🎯：什么?!! 为什么?

Prae 🍐 ：我不知道你或者 Kong 知道多少

Prae 🍐 ： Arthit 在八年级的时候不得不换班

🎯： ……Kong 的妈妈 …… 当然

🎯：我们的船还没来得及起航就沉下去了吗 🙁

Prae 🍐：我不知道 🙁

Prae 🍐：所以那是真的？她要求他换班的

M 🎯：是的

🎯 ：不过 Kong 并不知道这件事

M 🎯：不知道她到底为什么要这样做

M 🎯：据我妈妈告诉我，她当时还非常努力地争取让那些混蛋停学

M 🎯：不过她和我妈妈的投票都被否决了，因为那些混蛋的父母也是家长会 的成员

Prae 🍐：这太奇怪了

Prae 🍐：那她知道送给 Kong 的那张生日贺卡吗？

M 🎯：我也不清楚

Prae 🍐：我好希望我们可以知道更多

Prae 🍐： 他们太可爱了

M 🎯：他们在说些什么???

🎯：可以拍张照过来吗??? 🤪

Prae 🍐：……我不是狗仔队🤨

Prae 🍐：而且我离他们有十多米远

Prae 🍐 ：但是他们都好可爱呀，满脸的笑容，还都脸红了

M 🎯：  ~~ 随时告诉我最新的消息

Prae 🍐：你也一样!!

Prae 🍐 ：好吧， Kong 现在要离开摊位了

01/09/2014 – ฿33

## 第十四章：余额: ฿620

Arthit的父亲，他的身材比一般普通人的要庞大许多，他也经常开他俩的玩笑说他们将来是要结婚的，这让他们都感到十分的不爽。

“ 我不想嫁给你，Arthit 。”某天她直截了当的这样告诉Arthit，他正在划一个木棍人的披风，披风背面有一个大大的K字母。

“ 我也不想娶你呀 。”Arthit回答道，对于Prae突然说出来的话感到有些好笑。

“ 我……想某天我会和一个女孩结婚 。”她说的声音刚好只能让Arthit听到，她盯着Arthit，想看看他的反应，Arthit停了下来，随即便明白了她的意思，便微笑着点了点头。

“  我想我应该去告诉我妈让我爸不要再开我们的玩笑了 。”

“ 谢谢呐 ”她笑着说，然后她看着他用画笔把斗篷的边缘修饰了一下，“ 你想和Kongpob结婚吗？ ”

“ 什——什么鬼 ？！”他被吓到了。

“ 你喜欢他，不是吗 ？”

“ 他……都不认识我。而且我怎么会喜欢上一个从来没有和我说过话的人呢？ ”

“ 我只是随便说说啦 。”Prae耸耸肩道。

“ 我只是觉得他很酷，而且他和别人很不一样 。”Arthit澄清道：“ 还有……爸爸也绝不会允许我这样做，你知道他不接受男孩子喜欢上男孩子 …… ”他说话的声音越来越小，到最后几乎没有了声音。

Prae点了点头，想起了有一天夜里Arthit的父母大吵了一架，因为他的父亲拒绝卖东西给两个男人，因为他们牵着手。

Prae只能假装没有听到他的恶言恶语，试着到厨房帮她的父亲切几百根大葱，却又无法集中精力，只能默默地为Arthit流泪，她的朋友可能在枕头上哭的更凶。

Prae认为这是命运，Kongpob再次进入了Arthit的生活，就像Arthit忍受了过去糟糕的生活之后得到的奖励。虽然她不会说很开心Arthit的父亲走了，但这起码是Arthit不需要的阻碍。

Arthit在过去的两年里，他肩上的压力减少了，他的体重也很明显的减少了，但他还是不愿意去信任新朋友。

Prae看到一件熟悉的粉白相间的运动衫出现了，这让她朋友眼中的光芒再次出现了，这让她感到十分的欣慰。

“我觉得我好像有一个世纪没有见到你了。”Kongpob假装撅起嘴，把他的健身包靠到了背后。

“我们七个小时之前才一起吃过午餐。”

“是啊，但我浪费了来这里和你交谈的时间。”他说着，同时眼睛扫视了一圈烤架，吸入了大量食物散发出来的香气，这让他的肚子发出非常大声的咕噜声，即使背后就有熙熙攘攘的车流，但依然可以听见他肚子里传出来的声音。

“我想你的意思是你的胃想念我的烤串了。”Arthit扬起了眉毛，脸上带着一些得意的笑容。

“怎么说呢？要想得到一个人的心，就得先征服他的胃。”Kongpob半开玩笑的回怼了过去。

“拜托，把这些话留给你上大学以后那些追求你的女孩子吧。”Arthit摇了摇头，然后用下巴指了指烤架“你想吃什么？”

“我想要五串牛肉的，我需要很多的铁和蛋白质。”

“很累，嗯？”Arthit把烤串摆好，看着Kongpob将双手把交叉在胸前，一只手拉着另一只手做着拉伸放松运动，舒展他还在微微出汗的肩膀和三头肌。

Arthit吞咽了一口口水，强迫自己转移了视线，去看了看其他客人点的烤串情况怎么样了。

“因为总决赛就在下周周末，所以Pak教练最近对我们要求特别严格。”Kongpob一边说着，一边左右转着肩膀以缓解酸痛的肌肉，“我还得熬夜做作业。”

Arthit点点头，接过其他客人写的订单，然后客人向摊位后面空地走了过去，那里有折叠桌和塑料凳，Kongpob继续说着。

“不过今晚我会尽量多做一些作业。”

“你不是说比赛在下周周末吗？”

“是啊，但是我们明天早上还要做一个小训练。”他深深地叹了一口气，不过立马又振作了起来，又忽然想起了什么事，“其实，明天结束训练后队员们要一起去聚一聚，你……想来吗？我们只会点个披萨吃，然后玩一下电玩游戏。”

“呃……”他有些犹豫的咬着嘴唇，他的母亲可能不会介意他再请几个小时的假，但想到要和那么多不认识的人在一起玩，他可能会感到不舒服，“不用了，反正我不认识他们。”

“我们只有六个人，而且我和M你都认识的。”

Kongpob踌躇的说道，他知道这没什么说服力。他意识到要求像Arthit这样在情感上非常保守的人去结交更多的朋友是一个巨大的挑战，但是这样做没有坏处。

“我，呃……”Arthit慢慢的搅拌着腌料，浓稠的腌料在桶里形成了一个小漩涡，“我会问问Mae，然后回覆你。”

“耶！太好了！”Kongpob笑着，重重的点了点头，大概太高兴了。

“嗯……你的父母不会在家吗？”Arthit心不在焉的问道，又在Kongpob点的烤串上加了一些腌料，他还不确定自己是否还能面对Kongpob的母亲。

“不在，我的父母一般会在星期六去参加高档的商务性聚会，但Shin应该会在。”

Arthit点了点头，看了看烤肉，烤的不错很满意，他把五根烤串一起装进了已打开的纸袋里。

“给你。”他说着，然后回头一看，Kongpob已经在他的面前吃了起来。

“你不回家吗？几乎都已经8点了。”

“噢！开市！”Kongpob把一根解决完了的签子放回了纸袋里，“你说得对。”

Arthit忍不住的笑了起来，并笑出了声。

“什么？什么事这么好笑？”Kongpob抬起头来看着Arthit，也跟着露出了笑脸。

“我们已经不在学校里了，Kongpob，你可以说‘该死’。”

Kongpob摸了摸后颈，有点尴尬，不好意思的笑了笑。

“我只是不习惯，好吗？”

“来吧，说出来，你知道你也很想说。”

“什么？”

“说‘该死’。”Arthit夸张的说出了这个词。

“不，我不想——”

“说！”Arthit咧嘴笑着，很明显的在整蛊他。

“我……”Kongpob用手捂住了脸并叹了口气，闭上了眼睛。“好吧……该死。”

“好了好了，这有什么难的嘛。”

“P’Arth iii t！ ”Kongpob微微有些抱怨，“我要走了。”

“下一次，我会努力的让你说‘操’”

“再见了，P’Arthit。”Kongpob直接无视了刚才的话，挥了挥手，径直的就走了。

Arthit在后面看着他，他正要把注意力转移到摊位上时，他看见了Prae对他不怀好意的挑着眉和不怀好意的笑着，他翻了翻白眼，然后对着她竖起了中指。

05/09/2014 – ฿40

## Chapter 5: Balance: ฿856

Kongpob doesn’t think he’s ever been at school this early, especially on a Monday. As Arthit had told him they would be, the gates are already open, but the entire campus is still with the grey morning, the only movement coming from a few dragonflies circling the garden pond.

It’s almost 7:00 as Kongpob enters the equally silent library. The librarian herself isn’t at her desk yet, and the only person guarding the place is a rather reluctantly breathing member of custodial staff.

Most of the library isn’t even lit, many rows of bookcases stand in the relative darkness, the only light coming from the windows.

One corner, however, towards the cluster of tables in the study area, is illuminated. Kongpob sees Arthit already there, although his head rests on his backpack on the table, and he’s asleep. He moves closer and looks at his friend, who looks oddly at peace, a contrast to his usual tense and slightly agitated demeanour.

Kongpob doesn’t know if it’s normal to feel this, but he finds himself staring at the boy and admiring his soft features – snowy white skin, a strong, pronounced nose, long lashes and small, pink lips hanging slightly open. He smiles to himself and tries to push down the foreign fluttering in his stomach as he sits adjacent to Arthit, wondering if he should wake him up or not.

His decision is made for him, though, when Arthit’s phone alarm goes off, buzzing on the table to jolt both Arthit awake and Kongpob out of his daze. Arthit rubs at his eyes and stretches like a cat, tilting his head side to side to work out the cricks in his neck, before noticing Kongpob, at which he startles a little.

“How long have you been there?” he says, his cheeks slightly flushed.

“Just a few minutes.”

“Should’ve woken me up…” he mutters, unzipping his backpack to take out his pencil case and maths textbook.

“You seemed tired. Not an early riser?”

“Not exactly.”

Kongpob smiles, taking out his own things and placing them on the table. He also pulls out a linen bag and sets it on the table, taking out a large thermos.

“Mae made breakfast for us when I told her you were tutoring me.”

Arthit eyes the blue thermos for a moment before biting his lip and absentmindedly flipping through the pages of his book to find the right chapter.

“Uh…that’s okay. I already ate at home.”

“Come on, just have some. My mother makes really good congee,” Kongpob unscrews the lid, and Arthit can already smell the fragrant waft of soupy comfort food, which awakens his empty insides. It does look very appetising.

“It’s fine,” he says. “I’m still full. Maybe later.”

He clears his throat loudly over the sound of his growling stomach. Kongpob eyes him strangely, but nods and screws the lid back on.

“So…algebra.”

“Yeah, I didn’t do so well on the last homework.”

Arthit nods and writes something on a blank page of his open notebook, then slides it over to Kongpob.

“Okay, have a look at this question.”

$\left(2x+3\right)\left(x-2\right)$

Kongpob nods, waiting for him to go on.

“So in order to find the answer, we need to multiply whatever is in the first set of brackets with whatever is in the second set of brackets. He takes a highlighter out of his pencil case and highlights 2x, 3, x, and -2 separately.

“But you don’t multiply within the same set of brackets. So we multiply the first number in the first set with the first number in the second set. What is 2x times x?”

Arthit taps the blank space below the question, gesturing for Kongpob to write his answer. Kongpob thinks for a second before he writes 2x².

“Right. Then you multiply 2x with -2, which is…?”

4x, Kongpob writes. Arthit draws an invisible circle with the back of his pencil around the minus sign in the question.

“When you multiply a positive number with a negative number, the answer becomes negative, so the answer wouldn’t be 4x, but…”

-4x?” Kongpob raises an eyebrow.

“Exactly.”

As Arthit continues explaining the question, Kongpob just stares at the boy in front of him, watching as he speaks with ease about the question, explaining it step by step. It’s probably the most at ease that he’s ever seen Arthit be in his presence, and Kongpob is slightly in awe of the way his voice is quite animated, clarifying his points with his hands and circling different parts of the question as he speaks.

“Do…I have something on my face?”

Kongpob is jolted out of his thoughts, and realises he’s been staring at Arthit for the past minute or two. Suddenly, he feels slightly embarrassed and shakes his head rapidly.

“No,” he says. “I was just thinking.”

“Um…okay. So the final answer would be…?”

Kongpob ponders Arthit’s arrows and scribbles for a moment, before putting all the different parts of the equation together.

2x² – x – 6, he writes.

Arthit nods.

“Good,” he says, before flipping the textbook around and pointing to a set of exercises. “Now try these.”

Kongpob gets through about four questions before his attention is drawn back to Arthit, who’s just…watching him work. He suddenly feels slightly self-conscious and puts his pencil down, pondering his next words.

“Arthit,” he starts. “Do you want to have lunch together today?”

Arthit just looks at him, eyes narrowed.

“I mean like, not with just me. With M and Oak as well,” Kongpob feels the need to clarify.

“I told you, I’m busy during lunch.”

“Doing what?”

“Why do you want to know?

“I’m just asking. Who do you usually eat with, then?”

Arthit sighs through his nostrils, pressing his lips together into a tight line.

“But—”

“What is this? Studying or interrogation?” Arthit snaps, and looks anywhere but at Kongpob. “Finish the set and I’ll have a look.”

Kongpob relents with a sigh and works through the remaining questions before sliding the notebook over to Arthit, who is noticeably stiffer than before. Arthit scans each of his answers with his pencil and nods, circling one or two parts.

“Two negative numbers multiplied make a positive number, so this should be a plus sign instead,” he points to one of Kongpob’s answers. “Otherwise, you seem to have the idea.”

“You explained it well,” Kongpob smiles softly, at which Arthit grimaces a little, closing the book.

“Anyway, we should get back to the classroom.” he says, hurriedly packing his things, as though he wants to get away as quickly as possible. Which makes no sense, of course, seeing as they’re in the same class and therefore heading to the same classroom.

Kongpob just nods, putting his own things away as Arthit practically bolts out of the library and past the sleeping custodian.

“And then she gave me detention again because she said the homework I turned in wasn’t ‘up to standard’! Are teachers allowed to punish us for being bad at English now?”

Oak is complaining yet again about his supposedly unfair treatment. Kongpob just shakes his head and tries to open his lunchbox, struggling a little with the lid as the suction on the air-tight container is particularly strong. Today’s lunch consists of flat rice noodles with a chicken gravy and gai lan.

“No, but you can be punished for only writing idk lol I don’t get the question when the topic is asking you to write 300 words about a childhood memory,” M rolls his eyes.

“Fine. Kong, you can help me with English homework, right? You got the top score in the grade last year, didn’t you?”

“Knowing you, by ‘help’ you mean ‘let you copy’. Therefore, no — ah, crabsticks!”

He finally gets the lid off of the box, and a splatter of the brown gravy sauce plops onto the front of his crisp white uniform. He tuts and puts down the box.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” he shakes his head, getting up from the table.

All the toilets in the main school building are closed off due to drainage issues on the first floor caused by a group of seniors who’d thought it would be funny to flush an entire roll of toilet paper that morning. As a result, Kongpob has to make his way to the side building, where students usually only go when the school holds community service activities and supplies for annual events are kept. There’s a small toilet with only two stalls and three urinals, and Kongpob can only recall ever having used it once before.

As suspected, the building is whisper quiet and probably the source of many ghost stories told throughout the year, but Kongpob isn’t fazed by such ridiculous tales. As he approaches the washroom, he hears shuffling inside, and the click of a stall door’s lock. Just as he’s about to push open the door, it swings open, and he comes face to face with none other than Arthit, who stumbles back in shock, dropping what looks like an empty food container and some eating utensils.

“Arthit, wha—” Kongpob says in surprise, trying to help pick up his things. Arthit shakes his head and holds a trembling hand out to stop him. His entire face goes pale, and his mouth is gaping open and closed like a stunned fish. His eyes dart around in panic for a moment, before he hurriedly wipes his mouth, grabbing the fallen items and hiding them in his arms before darting out before Kongpob can get another word in.

Kongpob blinks after him, trying to parse what had just happened, his breath caught in his throat. He considers going after Arthit, but the boy seems traumatised enough by Kongpob’s discovery that it probably wouldn’t be wise to bombard him with questions at this precise moment.

“Kids used to pick on him all the time…he almost switched schools…lost all the weight before our freshman year…now he just never talks to anyone…”

Suddenly, M’s comments from last week creep into his thoughts, and his throat clenches. He wouldn’t….would he?

Fearing the worst, Kongpob peers into the large bin next to the sink counter, praying not to find what he suspects, and breathes a sigh of muted relief when he sees only one scrunched up paper towel.

Turning around, he eyes the fallen spoon at the door of one of the stalls. He picks it up – it’s definitely been used, but his mind still reaches into the darkest possibilities. Biting his bottom lip, he slowly pushes open the stall door. Wincing a little, he lifts the lid off of the water closet and finds it still full, an indication that it hasn’t been flushed in a while.

He doesn’t know if he should be relieved or not. He recalls his mother doing all of these things almost eight years ago when his sister had gone through some difficult times with her relationship to food as a teenager.

So why was Arthit eating in the toilets, then? And in such an inconspicuous location, too.

His entire mind is plagued with questions as he works at removing the gravy stain from his shirt. When he returns to the courtyard, M and Oak have already finished eating, and are bickering over their DoTA stats. He rejoins them, quietly eating as they continue talking, but not really enjoying what is usually his favourite dish.

“Hey, M,” Kongpob says, after a while. “Can you tell Coach Pak I can’t make it to practice today?”

“What? Why?”

“I have to handle something at home after school.”

M eyes him suspiciously, but nods.

“Okay. Everything alright?”

“Yeah, just…I have to be there.” he forces a small smile.

Kongpob doesn’t rush after Arthit when his friend scurries from his seat and out the door as soon as their teacher dismisses them. He’d stolen a few glances at Arthit during their afternoon classes, only to see the guy with his head ducked down, refusing to look at anything other than whatever is on his desk. He can’t focus on anything during the lesson, and ends up being scolded by their teacher for spacing out when asked a question.

He sighs, looking over at the empty desk after the bell rings. Tilting his head, he can see that Arthit has left something behind. He goes over to the desk to see what it is, and pauses when he sees that it’s the same eraser he’d lent to Arthit a while back. It has the same tattered paper casing held in place only by a shabby piece of clear tape.

It looks like Arthit has used it religiously, the small pink piece of rubber half the size it was when he’d lent it to him. He almost decides to just keep it, when the casing slips off  and Kongpob notices that the letters “Kongp” are scrawled on the side in blue ball pen, slightly smudged and faded.

That’s strange, he thinks. Why would he write half my name on my eraser? Did he run out of space?

Still, he pockets the eraser and heads straight for the front gate.

Despite his suspicions that Arthit would still be avoiding him, Kongpob sees his friend at the cart as usual, busying himself with grilling and stirring despite the small Monday crowd.

Neither of them say a word when Kongpob approaches the cart, Arthit only looking up briefly before turning his attention back to stirring the bucket of marinade.

Silence hangs between them, both daring the other to speak first. Arthit doesn’t ask what he wants to eat, and Kongpob doesn’t push with his usual playful comments.

Eventually, Kongpob picks up the pen and notepad from the side of the worktop and quickly writes something, filling almost the entire page of the small page. Arthit glances at what he’s doing from the corner of his eye, but says nothing. Kongpob tears the entire page out and carefully tears off the bottom strip, pushing over to Arthit.

Wordlessly, Arthit takes two skewers off the grill and places them in a container before setting it down next to the notepad.

Kongpob picks up the skewers and leaves the remainder of the page he’d written on where the container was, folded up on the worktop. Then, he takes the eraser out of his pocket and places it on top of the paper. Arthit eyes it briefly, but says nothing.

Kongpob just gives him a small smile, before walking down the street towards the bus stop.

As soon as Kongpob is far away enough that Arthit can no longer see the outline of his fading back, Arthit grabs for the eraser and paper, heart beating out of his chest as he unfolds the note.

Arthit,

I just want you to know that you don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to, but I’m here if you do want to talk. I hope you’ll still tutor me and be my friend. By the way, I never gave you my contact information, so here’s my Line ID. Hope I’ll see you tomorrow.

Kongp 🙂

Arthit reads the note over and over, biting his lip in a subtle smile before pocketing both the note and eraser. He pulls out his phone, punching in Kongpob’s Line ID and immediately finding his classmate’s profile picture. He stares at it, finger hovering over the ‘Add friend’ button, but pockets his phone again.

18/08/2014 – ฿10

Balance: ฿846

## Chapter 21: Balance: ฿361

It’s the second time that Kongpob steps foot into Arthit’s apartment, but the first that he’s seeing his room.

Unlike the rest of the place, the walls of the small room are painted an off-white. In the corner, a single bed with faded cartoon-print bedding, worn soft from years of use, and tucked under the bed frame, a collapsible bed tray and a cluster of plastic storage containers. A small wooden desk by a large window that overlooks the inner street that the building is on, although the surface of the table is piled with a variety of seemingly random objects that would make it impossible for one to feasibly spread any work out onto it.

By the door, there’s a chest of six wide drawers, the paint on the metal knobs chipped off in parts, and with sporadic scratches and light dents in the wooden paneling. Kongpob takes in every detail, eyes scanning over the titles among a small stack of Peanuts comics, the corners of certain pages dog eared, and a couple of the covers curving at the edges from being repeatedly being bent backwards. Clearly, they’ve been well-loved over the years, unlike Kongpob’s pristine collection of manga volumes, the spines of which he doesn’t even dare to crease.

“Hey,” Arthit says, stumbling in through the door frame, his jeans and t-shirt in hand. He’d gone to the bathroom to change into something more comfortable, an oversized T-shirt and soft cotton shorts that came down to the knee. He drapes the jeans over his desk chair before sitting on the edge of his mattress. He looks over to where Kongpob is still standing, tilting his head sideways to read each of the titles. “You can sit if you want,” Arthit gestures at the chair.

Instead, Kongpob makes his way over to the bed, sitting himself next to Arthit and leaning his crutches against the wall near the headboard.

A faint echo of his mother’s cheeky comment pops into Arthit’s mind, and he finds himself subconsciously bringing his knees together, his feet overlapping one another.

Realistically, he knows nothing will happen. Not really, anyway. They’re both young and inexperienced, and besides, their game of push and pull will probably see them silently pining for each other for some time to come. Still, the fact that the boy he likes is sitting next to him, on his bed, makes Arthit slightly giddy with excitement, even if it outwardly manifests itself into a look of constipation.

“You’ve got a lot of those comics,” Kongpob remarks, still looking over at the ten or so volumes stacked on top of the furniture.

“Yeah,” Arthit follows his gaze, shrugging lightly. “I’ve had those for a while. Prae’s father gets them for me every year on my birthday.”

“Your families must be close, then.”

“Yeah. Our parents were busy working a lot, so Prae and I kind of looked after each other growing up. Prae’s parents used to run a small bookstore, but then e-readers started getting popular and they had to shut down. Her Por saved a lot of their remaining stock, though, and he gives them to me one by one.”

Kongpob smiles as Arthit looks on fondly at the tattered books.

“Why the Peanuts?”

Arthits pauses for a moment to consider the question seriously. “I relate to every kid in that universe on some level or another. Except maybe Lucy,” he adds jokingly.

“Which one do you feel the most like?”

“Truthfully?” Arthit gives a short laugh, to which Kongpob nods. “Snoopy.”

Kongpob raises his eyebrows, incredulous.

“Out of all the characters, you relate most closely to the dog?”

“He’s a bit lazy, likes his food, gets a bit moody sometimes and…” Arthit sighs, almost whispering his next words. “…he engages in fantasies because…the real world is lonely sometimes.”

Kongpob’s features soften, and they allow the quiet to engulf them for a short while. Eventually, Arthit clears his throat, looking up from his fingers, which he’d been picking at to distract himself.

“So, uh…tomorrow’s the first group session,” he supplies, trying to redirect the topic. “I don’t know if I can really teach three people at once.”

“M is right, though. You’ll get to make three times as much in a third of the time. And you’d be helping us while getting your own homework done, too.”

Arthit suddenly thinks of the conversation he’d had with Kongpob’s mother in the waiting room. He knows a thing or two about trying to be the dutiful son, but Kongpob never talks about his personal struggles. Perhaps he doesn’t think he has any worth speaking of, being the rich, good-looking, popular kid.

“Do you actually even want to go into engineering?”

The question brings Kongpob’s gaze directly towards him, his face crossed with mild confusion, before he looks down again.

“I don’t know,” he says finally. “I’ve never thought about it, I guess. It just always seemed like the most natural option because I have to take over Por’s company one day.”

“Is it because you’re the only son?”

Kongpob laughs briefly. “Actually, Por really wanted my eldest sister to take over, but she’s more of the creative type. She’s one of the curators at the National Museum.”

“I see,” Arthit twists his mouth to one side. He doesn’t think he should ask about his other sister, given that the last time, Kongpob had quickly brushed it off. “But you don’t want to take over?”

“It’s not that I have a problem with it,” he says slowly. “I just don’t really know what I want, but doing what’s already available to me feels too easy. Like I haven’t done anything to earn it.”

Arthit simply watches him quietly. It’s the first time he’s seen Kongpob appear so…vulnerable. Not at all like the kind, heroic boy he’d put on a pedestal when they were younger, nor the annoyingly confident flirt he’s grown accustomed to. He’s just…another kid.

“What about English? You’re pretty good at that, right?”

“I like it,” Kongpob nods. “But only because I’ve had some decent teachers.”

“Teacher Lynn once called me a sausage. I don’t know what that’s about,” Arthit brings his legs up on the  mattress to sit Indian style. “Is it supposed to be a physical comparison?”

“It’s an alliteration,” Kongpob snickers. “Like, silly sausage. It’s just what she says when you’ve done something careless.”

Arthit thinks it sounds strange, and still doesn’t quite get it, but he shrugs in defeat.

“Whatever, she’s weird. I don’t dislike her, though,” he shakes his head, recalling his doodling incident that could have been far more embarrassing. “Anyway,” he turns to look at the boy beside him again. “You still have time. I’m sure whatever you end up deciding, your mae will support you.”

“I know,” Kongpob sighs noisily. “But for now, engineering doesn’t seem like the worst option ever,” he smiles briefly. “We might even end up at the same school.”

Arthit rolls his eyes.

“That’s what it is, isn’t it? You just can’t stand not being around to pester me,” he says teasingly. “Besides, who says I’m applying to same schools as you?”

Kongpob just looks at him, barely reacting. His breath becomes shallow and his brows pinch together, wanting only to appear sincere in his expression. Perhaps this is it, he thinks. Maybe I’ll tell him.

But as a few more agonisingly slow seconds tick by with no words forming in his mouth, he says the next best thing on his mind.

“I just know that I want you in my life after we graduate.”

It’s Arthit’s turn to grow quiet now, gulping as he meets Kongpob’s intense stare, eyes shining with the reflection of sunlight pouring in through the window. For a moment, he almost swears that the boy’s gaze flickers downwards, which sets his heartbeat accelerating like a windmill right before the worst of a storm.

And then Kongpob’s phone rings.

The alarming interruption catapults both boys out of their enraptured game of Don’t Blink. Arthit clears his throat, immediately standing up and pretending to tidy the contents of his never-used desk while he hears a stammered H-hello? behind him.

“Um…yeah. I’ll come down now. Just give me a minute,” Kongpob says emotionlessly into the phone. “Yeah, okay. Bye.”

Arthit rubs his slightly damp palms on the back of his shorts as he turns around to face Kongpob again.

“You leaving now?” he says, eyes darting around the room.

“Yeah, Shin is parked on the main street.”

“Okay,” he nods repeatedly, as though ceasing to do so would force him to acknowledge what he thinks had almost just happened. “Um, I’ll see you out.”

Then he’s swiftly making his way out of the room, his bare heels hammering in muted thuds on the floor. He stands awkwardly near the front door, and then curses himself when he remembers that Kongpob might need help with his foot.

He makes to go back towards the room, only to almost knock Kongpob over as they collide at the bedroom door. Arthit stumbles backwards, face completely red now.

“Sorry,” he sputters, turning around again, seeing that Kongpob had not, in fact, required his assistance. He pretends to look for his guest’s shoes, before remembering that he’d told Kongpob not to bother, what with it being a hassle with his walking boot and all. Caught in yet another awkward state of fumbling, he fiddles with the lock on the door before finally managing to turn the knob enough times to unlock it, then pulling it open.

“Um…do you need help getting down the stairs?” He still doesn’t look up.

“No, that’s okay,” Kongpob says, almost sullenly. “I can manage with just the banister.”

Arthit goes into another nodding marathon, partially hiding behind the large wooden door now.

“I’ll…see you tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Kongpob looks down at his feet, his shoulders still raised by the crutch pads under his armpits. “I’ll text you?”

“Sure,” Arthit smiles meekly as Kongpob shuffles his way out of the door, met with a tight-lipped smile in return as the boy turns to slowly his shuffle his way down the steps, grabbing onto the banister and lowering himself down each step onto his good foot.

Kongpob doesn’t text him that evening.

Instead, he lies awake for most of the evening, replaying the moment he’d almost confessed his feelings over and over again and mentally berating himself.

One would naturally be anxious about the matter, what with the consequences that could ensue as a result of his recklessness. M had been right – he often acts too impulsively and sticks his nose into places they don’t always belong, mostly because he assumes he knows what he’s doing.

It really isn’t as easy as just having his feelings unrequited. If only it were, Kongpob thinks that he could eventually move past the awkwardness of getting through his final year of high school with them being in the same class and then never have to deal with it again. No, it really isn’t so simple.

To tell Arthit how he feels would almost feel like betrayal, like he’d only gone to the trouble of helping him and gaining his trust because of some silly (but painfully intense) crush that might eventually pass. The thought of breaking Arthit’s trust and unintentionally sending him spiralling back into self-inflicted isolation makes Kongpob’s stomach churn. Trying to be anything more than his friend right now would seem selfish.

But I like him so much, he stares at the ceiling, trying to breathe through the ache in his chest. And he can’t be sure, but even the prospect that his feelings might be returned gives him a whole other world to worry about. Aside from their closest friends, and hopefully their parents, Kongpob doesn’t know if he can bear the idea of having to hide from the rest of the world.

For now, he takes one last look at the ten or so photos of Arthit he’d taken during one of their tutoring sessions, with the excuse that he was taking pictures of notes for reference. Most of them are of Arthit glaring at him and reaching out to try and take the phone from him.

Then he turns his phone off, rolls over in bed to face the window, and stares until the sun comes up.

Arthit finds that M is particularly terrible at algebra.

The four of them—himself, Kongpob, M and Tew—are all seated around the single picnic table on the rooftop, their textbooks and paper spread around them and their various lunch trays and containers wedged in wherever there’s any remaining space.

“Wait, so x multiplied by x isn’t 2x?” M is scratching his head. “No wonder I’ve been getting stuff wrong the entire time…”

Arthit doesn’t comment on this seemingly obvious epiphany, but he’s still biting back a laugh.

“Here, now that you know it’s x², do those first, and I’ll look over them when you’re done,” he points to a set a questions on the open page of their textbook. “If you still don’t get it, you can ask Kongpob. Right?”

Kongpob, who’s been quiet the entire time, faintly colouring in the squares on his grid paper like a chess board, doesn’t respond. M raises an eyebrow expectantly.

“Kong,” M taps his pencil on the table in front of Kongpob, who finally looks up.

“Hmm?”

“You spaced out.”

“Oh, uh…” he puts his pencil down, his face still unreadable. “I’ll be right back, I just need to use the bathroom.”

He picks up his crutches and makes his way towards the steel door

Arthit watches after Kongpob curiously, unsure of how to react. Contrary to what Kongpob had said before he left his apartment on Saturday, he’d not received any word from him, even in the form of asking about homework.

“What’s his deal?” Tew says, his eyebrows pinched.

“Whatever,” M brushes it off, sensing that Arthit has now become quiet, too. He knows that he’ll have to mediate somehow, but not in front of Tew. “Maybe he’s just tired. Walking around with crutches like that is probably exhausting.”

They resume their studying, Tew nodding enthusiastically as Arthit talks him through a question on algebraic functions. It’s actually past what they’re being taught in class, but if Tew is already doing well with the current material, then he should be doing something more challenging. M on the other hand…well, he’s a different story.

“Wow, you’re really good at this, Arthit.” Tew smiles at him as he finishes talking.

“Not really,” he laughs awkwardly, a little self-conscious. “I just like it more than other subjects.”

“Well, still. What else are you interested in?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, like, other stuff you do outside of school and work.”

M keeps his head down, trying to concentrate, but Tew’s unfounded interest in Arthit piques his interest. Still, he doesn’t say anything, choosing instead to listen.

“Um,” Arthit puts his pencil down to pick up his lunch box, mixing the rice around with his spoon. “Reading? And cooking, I guess.”

“What about sports? Or video games? Do you play any?”

Arthit knows Tew’s just being friendly, but he still finds it awkward to explain that he can’t exactly afford either of those hobbies.

“Not really,” he settles on this, scratching at his knee.

“If you ever get some time off work, you should come play with us,” M speaks up now, saving Arthit from combusting with discomfort.

“Yeah, maybe.”

Arthit is silently thankful. They resume working, until M catches a glimpse of his watch.

“Shit,” he mutters, quickly gathering up his things. “I forgot that I was supposed to be on corridor duty for the last quarter of lunch.”

“Wait, you’re a prefect?” Tew scrunches his nose up in disbelief.

“Oh, screw you,” M shoots him a look of disdain. “See you guys later.”

As M disappears down the stairs, Arthit briefly notes that Kongpob still hasn’t returned from the bathroom, leaving him alone with Tew.

“Well, I guess we should pack up, too,” Arthit replaces the lid on his lunchbox and begins gathering his things together as well as Kongpob’s.

“Yeah, thanks for today.”

Tew makes to tidy up his own materials, too, shuffling his papers into a tidy pile.

“Hey, Arthit,” he says, as they stand up from the picnic table.

“Mm?”

“Can I…can I ask you something?”

He pauses in his movements, looking straight at Tew for a moment. He seems nervous, mashing his lips together in a thin line. Arthit nods in response.

“I…uh, I was wondering if…maybe you want to, I don’t know, hang out sometime…just the two of us.”

Arthit’s mouth falls open a little, his heart beating erratically. He’s not sure, but he thinks that Tew might be…asking him out?

“I think you’re great,” Tew says. “And maybe this is weird and you don’t like boys, but I thought I would ask anyway. But if you don’t, and it’s uncomfortable for you, then—”

“We can hang out,” Arthit interrupts him.

“We can?” Tew smiles nervously.

“Yeah, of course,” he scratches at his neck just below the collar. “But, you know…like, as…friends,” he adds slowly, trying to brace himself for any negative reaction from Tew. “I’m flattered…but I just don’t…you know…s-sorry.”

The boy takes a few quiet moments to absorb Arthit’s words, before nodding in acceptance. He looks back up, his smile a little sad.

“It’s Kong, isn’t it?”

“Wh-what?” Arthit sputters, almost choking on his spit. Had he just heard correctly?

“I don’t know, maybe I’m just reading too much into it,” Tew gives a short laugh. “At first I thought you guys were just close friends…but so much makes sense now. I was hoping that John being a dick last time was just that, but…there’s something there.”

“We’re not…he’s—we’re just friends.” Arthit fails to form coherent sentences. His face is hot with embarrassment, and suddenly, his entire face feels numb.

“But you like him.”

“I…” Arthit swallows, looking at the table. “Please don’t tell anyone.”

His voice is quiet, almost a begging whisper.

“Hey, no, of course not,” Tew says quickly, as if it’s the most obvious thing. “I mean, I’m disappointed, but clearly my silly crush is nothing compared to what you guys have.”

“There isn’t anything—”

“But there will be,” he smiles again. “Anyway, thanks for the session. Don’t worry, I’m not going to be weird about it or anything. And don’t feel like you have to avoid me, either.”

The corner of Arthit’s mouth curves up in a small smile, nodding.

“I’m still taking you up on hanging out, though,” Tew chuckles as he picks up his books and turns to walk towards the door. “Oh, hey, Kongpob.”

The aforementioned boy is simply standing in the doorway, brows furrowed as he moves his glance between Arthit and Tew, but he doesn’t say anything.

“I…I’ve got your stuff,” Arthit says, holding the books up, then side stepping past Kong into the stairwell, deliberately avoiding his look of confusion. “Let’s go, class is almost starting.”

As Kongpob and Arthit walk down the inner street that leads to the main road, neither of them say a word. Arthit merely listens to the rhythmic clink of Kongpob’s crutches as the rubber point hits the pavement with each step.

Even as he sets up the grill, tidily distributing the coals under the wire rack and moving the flame gun over each piece, Kongpob makes no move to say anything, simply watching.

“Is everything okay?” Arthit finally says, somewhat embarrassed by being watched so intensely.

“Why wouldn’t it be okay?”

“Because you’ve been really quiet all day, and you said you were going to text me after you left on Saturday, but then you didn’t, and you haven’t said a word the entire way here, and now you’re just staring at me, and I don’t know why.”

Not that he really cares about whether or not Kongpob texts him or not, but he doesn’t like when people don’t follow through on their word, and what with the boy in crutches, he’d at least wanted to know if he’d gotten home safely.

Kongpob sighs, most of his breath coming out through his nose.

“Sorry, I just…” he trails off, eyes looking downwards. Arthit pauses to look at him a moment longer before huffing a sigh of his own and lightly fanning the grill. He pulls a tray of skewers out from the mini fridge behind him and plops it noisily on the worktop.

“What do you want to eat?” he finally says, somewhat indignant.

“Um…five of the beef.” Kongpob’s voice is distant, his mind still elsewhere.

The skewers land on the rack with a loud sizzle, thick marinade dripping onto the coals, emitting small sparks. The two boys simply watch, the aroma of the sweet and savoury flavours wafting between them.

Arthit pulls out the notepad, scribbling in the order.

15/9/2014 – ฿40

Balance: ฿321

As the number of the balance gradually decreases, Arthit can’t help but recall the day that Kongpob had first proposed the ridiculous deal, and everything that had happened between them since then. How much had changed, and how now, he can barely remember what it was like still eating in a bathroom stall, or spending his entire weekend working, or never looking anyone in the eye in case they noticed his presence.

Would that all come back once the bill hit zero? Kongpob would have no reason to keep buying from him so frequently. He could try to convince himself that something more was there, that Kongpob’s friendship thus far, his prolonged stares, and a handful of flirtatious remarks are all the evidence he needs. But a part of him braces himself for the day it all comes to a crashing halt.

“What were you and Tew talking about earlier? On the roof, I mean,” Kongpob suddenly says, finally speaking of his own accord for the first time that day.

Arthit swallows, turning over a few skewers, and flushes slightly upon recalling how Tew had managed to pick up on his well-kept (or so he thought) secret.

“Um, not much. He just wanted to know how I study for tests and that kind of thing,” he says, feigning nonchalance.

“Oh,” comes the quiet response, with a tinge of surprise. “Nothing else?”

Arthit blinks at him a few times, trying to read Kongpob’s expression. He almost looks…relieved? He shakes his head in response before putting his order into a bag and handing it to him.

“So…how are you getting home?” he gestures towards Kongpob’s crutches.

“P’Shin is picking me up.”

Arthit nods, placing a few more skewers down over a particularly fiery patch of coals.

“Are you okay making it there by yourself?”

“Yeah, I should be fine,” Kongpob’s mouth forms a faint smirk. “Why, are you worried about me?”

“Ah, there’s the Kongpob I’m used to. And no, who’s worried? Just don’t want to have to taxi you to the hospital again.”

“Okay, P’Arthit,” he says, and Arthit can’t help but feel a sense of comfort in hearing the teasing tone of his voice return. “I’m going now.”

Arthit nods as Kongpob turns to make his way back up the street slowly pressing forward with his crutches. He watches after him for a few seconds, biting his lip, before calling out.

“Kong,” his voice projects from a couple of meters away. The boy turns his head to look at him, eyes wide in surprise.

“What?”

“N-nothing,” Arthit scratches his ear. “Just…get home safe, I guess.”

And there it is; the wide smile that lights up his entire face with his perfect, sparkling teeth and Arthit knows that if neither of them say anything soon, he might spontaneously implode. He’s truly become the blushing mess around a cute boy that Prae had teased him for acting like.

“I will,” Kongpob calls back. “And I will text you later. Promise.”

As Kongpob rests his elbow on the windowsill of the car seat, he realises that it’s the first time that Arthit has called him Kong.

## 第八章：余额: ฿780

Kong☕️ ： 不好意思，今天我来不了啦 😞 ，篮球训练要到很晚，而且我妈妈坚持要亲自来接我。

Arthit☀️ ： 呃……好，其实你不必每天来吃的

Kong☕️ ： 我知道，我只是以防万一，万一你想知道我在哪里呢。

Arthit ☀️： 你又不是我唯一的顾客 🙄

Kong☕️ ： 那我是你最喜欢的那一个吗？ 🥺

Arthit ☀️： 才不是 😒 其他的顾客不需要我手动记录他们的开支 😤

Kong☕️：☹️

Kong☕️： 对了，顺便问一下，你的生日在什么时候呢？

Arthit☀️ ： 为什么想知道？

Kong☕️ ： 我就是想知道嘛。

Arthit☀️ ： 我不过生日的

Kong☕️ ： 为什么不过生日？

[ Arthit☀️正在输入… ]

Kong☕️： 其实可以不用告诉我原因的，但生日在什么时候呢？

Arthit☀️ ： 2.20

Arthit☀️ ： 你想抓住我的把柄吗？你什么也不会发现到的

Kong☕️ ： 哈哈，不是那样的。

Kong☕️ ： 但从现在开始我得叫你P’Arthit了。 🤭

Arthit☀️ ： 我们年龄都一样

Arthit☀️ ： 我只比你大4天

Kong☕️ ： 你知道我的生日吗？

[Arthit☀️正在输入…]

Arthit☀️： 知道，你给我说过一次

Arthit☀️： 上周

Kong☕️ 噢，我一定是忘了 🤔

Kong☕️： 但不管怎样，明天见喔，P’Arthit 。

“你在和谁发消息呀？一个女孩子？”

Kongpob从手机屏幕里抬起头来，突然意识到他刚才一直都在笑。他摇了摇头，然后把手机放进了口袋里。他的妈妈揶偷的笑了笑，她扬了扬眉毛。

“我上的是男校，Mae，我怎么认识女孩子？”

“不是，我没有和女孩子发消息，是Arthit，辅导我代数的朋友。”

“Arthit……这个名字听起来似乎有点熟悉，他也在你的篮球队吗？”

“没有。”他停顿了一会儿，“不过，我们读同一个初中学校。”

“哦？他曾和你在同一个班吗？”

“也许吧，其实，我最近才认识他的。”

“好吧，我很高兴他可以帮你辅导数学，以你现在的成绩，我不确定你能参与这个国家的任何工程项目。”

Kongpob假笑了一下，他知道终有一天他会接管家族的企业，这是不可避免的，但他不愿告诉父母，他更喜欢做一些涉及较少数学的工作。

Kongpob小心翼翼用拇指轻轻的翻开书页，直到看见那些八年级时候的照片。

“呃……但只是在八年级上学期的时候。”

Kongpob翻到下一页，上面是八年级其他班学生的照片。只是因为他在找Arthit，他才能立刻认出他。

“你到底发生了什么事，Arthit……” Kongpob温柔的说着，一边手指抚摸着照片上的Arthit，脸上带着笑容，但同时也透露出一些忧伤。

Kongpob立刻就开始觉得今天有些不同，还好，就只是……有点差别。

Kong☕️ ： 你在哪儿阿？还好吗？

Arthit☀️ ： 没事，我在家

Kong☕️： 噢……今天没有看见你，就只是这样而已。

Arthit☀️ ： 就只是感冒了

Arthit☀️ ： 等等，你在学校里玩手机吗？我以为你不会违反学校的规则呢

Kong☕️ ： 我就只是想知道你还好吗。

Arthit☀️ ： 嗯，我很好，所以不用太担心了

Arthit☀️ ： 但是你今天可能吃不到烤串

Kong☕️ ： 希望你可以快点好起来呀！

Kong☕️： 我得走了，等会儿放学后我再给你发消息喔。

Arthit☀️ ： 随便你

Kongpob笑了笑，然后关掉手机，先老师一步到达了教室。

“抱歉，Lynn老师？”当她把书放在讲桌上时，Kongpob说道。

“嗯，Kongpob，有什么事吗？”她看起来有些疲惫，戴着眼镜，把蓬乱的头发梳成一个发髻。

“Arthit今天生病了，我想知道放学后我可以把他的作业带给他吗?”

“当然可以，我去问其他老师有没有其他作业，放学后我就在教务室旁边。”

“谢谢你，Lynn老师。”

“你知道的，我不知道你们俩是朋友。”

Kongpob有些紧张地笑着，拇指和食指紧张的相互的搓着。

“嗯……是的。”

“很不错，Arthit有你这样的朋友也不错。”

Kongpob没有问她这是什么意思。

“萨瓦迪卡” Kongpob各对她们俩问好。

“噢，N’Kongpob！”当Arthit妈妈看见他，她的表情立马变得明亮欢快起来，“你是来找我们Arthit的吗？他今天生病了。”

“嗯，我知道，我给他把家庭作业带来了。”

Prae和Arthit妈妈什么都没有说，只是交换了一个大大的不明深意的笑容，Kongpob对此十分不解。

“你真是太可爱了！” Arthit妈妈最后说道。

“如果你能把这个交给他，那就太好了。”他把信封递到Arthit妈妈面前。

“你自己拿给他怎么样？”她开始写下看起来像地址一样的东西。 “就在离这儿不远的拐角处。”

“嗷，可以吗? 我不想打扰到他。”他惊讶地说道。

“他几乎睡了一整天，他没事的。来，给你，你想喝点什么？我给你做，我请客。”

“噢，没关系的，你不用—”

“不用客气了！你在帮他的忙，至少我可以请你喝一杯吧。”

“嗯…我想…那我要喝杯冰咖啡。”他轻笑着，发现自己无法和她争论。

“噢，我给你做个葱油饼！” Prae插上烟斗，用两把锅铲在她的煎锅上翻着面皮。

“真的，这——这太多了，我只是给他带家庭作业而来的，不管怎么说，这都太麻烦你了。”

Arthit妈妈给了他两杯饮料——一杯冰咖啡和一杯粉红冻奶。

Kongpob看了一眼另一杯饮料，这不是他点的，也不是他想要的。他上一次喝粉红冻奶还是在小学的时候。

“这是给Arthit的，他就是这么喜欢甜食，不过这可以让他的心情变好，你知道，我儿子有点像一颗榴莲。”

“榴莲？”

“他表现得很坚强，难以接近，但内心却是个温柔的孩子，真的。”

“我明白。” Kongpob笑了，非常同意她的说法，只是这个比喻有些奇怪。

“但要给他一些时间，让他和你熟起来。我看得出来，他把你当做榜样。”

“呃……”他不知道该怎么回答，他为什么会把我当做榜样？

Prae赶来救场，将一个装着新鲜酥脆葱油饼的纸袋递给了他。

“噢，谢谢！但至少让我付钱吧。”他开始伸手去拿他的钱包。

“停，否则我会生气的。” Prae笑着说：“Arthit的朋友就是我的朋友。”

“多好的孩子呀！我很高兴暖暖有他这样的朋友，我喜欢他。”

“Emmmm……” Prae自顾自的笑了笑。

Kongpob想他以前从来没有去过没有电梯的公寓，这的确是一个古老的建筑，但依然保存的很好，楼梯间依然很光亮，瓷砖擦得干净明亮，地面打扫得也很干净。

Kong☕️ ： 感觉好点了吗？

Arthit☀️ ： 嗯，我吃了些药，而且我睡了好久

Kong☕️ ： 太好了！

Kong☕️ ： 你口渴了吗？

Arthit☀️ ： 呃……都口渴的……怎么了？

Kong☕️ ： 我有一杯粉红冻奶，上面写着你的名字，我想你会想 在冰融化之前喝掉它。

Arthit☀️ ：？

Arthit☀️ ： 怎么……？等等，你在哪里？

“呃，嗨？” Kongpob把粉红冻奶递到了Arthit面前。

“你在……这里。”Arthit的声音听起来有些闷闷的，“在我家。”

“是啊……我本来想把你的作业交给你妈妈的，但她给了我你家的地址，还坚持要给我一杯免费的饮料。”

Arthit盯着那杯粉红冻奶，从Kongpob手中接了过来。

“我一般不喝这种饮料的。”他觉得他有必要澄清一下。

“我没有断定你喜欢喝这种饮料喔，” Kongpob咧嘴一笑，“真的很可爱呢。”

Arthit翻了翻白眼，忽视了他脸上越来越高的温度。

“呃……我想你还是先进来吧。” 他走到一旁，打着手势示意让Kongpob进来。

“这……跟你住的地方比起来，可能真的很破旧。” Arthit喃喃自语道。

“不，我很喜欢这里，这里很温暖舒适。” Kongpob对着他笑了笑，耸了耸肩，然后把冰咖啡饮料、葱油饼和信封都放在了桌子上。

“你妈妈不让我为这杯饮料付钱，但是你可以在我们的交易中扣除吗？我觉得我不应该得到这杯免费饮料。” Kongpob说道。

“就只是฿5而已。”

“还有，Prae甚至还给了我一个葱油饼。”

“很好呀。等等， Prae 给了你一个免费的葱油饼?!” Arthit扬了扬眉毛，“我和她认识这么多年，她甚至连一杯水都没有给我喝过！”

“你真的想要吗？你可以吃。” Kongpob笑着说道，然后把纸袋推了过去，Arthit愣了一会，呆呆的看着纸袋，然后摇了摇头。

“不，不用了。”他咬着下唇，眼睛仍然盯着煎饼。

Kongpob细心的观察着Arthit的表情，但什么都没有说。他反而去掰下一小块葱油饼，被其酥脆美味的口感惊讶到。

Arthit眼睛都不眨一下的盯着Kongpob吃东西的样子。

“哇，真的太好吃了！” Kongpob吃完一口说道，“你真的不想要吗？”

Arthit挠挠下巴，盯着葱油饼。

“也许……也许吃一点点。”

Kongpob假装对信封很感兴趣的样子，伸手去解开信封的绳子。

Arthit慢慢的把葱油饼放到嘴里，几乎嚼都不带嚼一下的就咽了下去。

“今星期三前有一个英语阅读练习要完成，跟着是星期二要递交数学，我可能需要你的帮助。泰语没有作业，虽然Yong老师说下周在课堂上需要我们写一篇作文。至于其他的我都另做了笔记给你。”

Kongpob说完，他把文件重新整理一下，对Arthit微笑着。

“谢谢，你真的不用这样做。”

“这没什么大不了的。” Kongpob笑了，又喝了一口咖啡，“还是要我再和你说一次我们是朋友? ”

“是的，是的。” Arthit笑了笑，看着Kongpob给他整理的各种笔记。

Kongpob手机此时响了起来，提醒着他时间到了。

“哎呀，我得赶在我妈妈打电话给警察报失踪人口之前走。”

Arthit笑了起来，Kongpob立刻就注意到了他脸上深深的酒窝。他不确定是要把手指戳进其中一个酒窝，还是把嘴唇贴上去。当他意识到自己在想什么时，他使劲摇了摇头。

“我们……星期一见。”他迅速地收拾起书包，拿起冰咖啡，自顾自地点着头。

Kongpob很感激他的肤色，让人看不出他已经脸红了，他觉得自己现在全身都莫名的燥热了起来。

“好的。” Arthit站了起来，并送他到了门口。

Kongpob穿鞋的时候，Arthit靠在敞开的门上，他注意到那个男孩露在外面的手臂是多么的紧实，系鞋带的时候，手臂上紧密而结实的肌肉在橄榄色的肌肤下挤压着。

Arthit关上了门后，他的身体慢慢的靠着门滑了下来，最后坐到了地板上。

22/08/2014 – ฿5

## Chapter 6: Balance: ฿846

Kongpob spends most of Monday evening conducting thorough research about what he’d unintentionally unearthed (but only after he’s finished his homework, of course).

He knows he needs to give Arthit space to open up and not push the matter, but curiosity still eats at him and he’d be lying if he said he weren’t at all worried. Despite that they’ve only been friends for a week and a half, Kongpob has already developed an intense fascination with his classmate. He narrows it down to feeling guilty for not knowing his name even though they’d gone to school together for so long.

But his discovery at lunch had struck a painful nerve with him.

He remembers clearly the days when his sister would leave the dinner table early and hide for hours, her frame shrinking like plastic around a coat hanger as time went on. He remembers his parents pleading with her, begging her to eat, obsessively checking the water closet and forcing her to stay at the table after meals. He remembers the frustrated crying he’d hear from the next room and the empty candy wrappers he’d find stashed under her bed when looking for his toys.

He remembers screaming and crying when the stretcher had taken her away and he’d visit her after school sometimes, and she’d snap at him for bringing his favourite books and snacks for her. He remembers the tube in her arm and the blank stare in her eyes and the tantrums about getting fat and I’ll show them. He remembers her absence for over a year, and when she’d returned, shy and reserved, but with a hint of the pink her cheeks and the way she’d ruffled his hair and said Love you, kiddo

He remembers it all.

But now, he’s at a loss. All factors pointed to the same thing – the dramatic weight loss, the distancing from anything social, the hiding and sneaking around when it came to eating…and yet Kongpob had found no obvious trace of what he had suspected. Clearly, Arthit had in fact eaten his lunch, if the empty food container and dirty utensils had been any indication. He hadn’t thrown it out in the trash or up into the toilet after eating it. So why would he be eating in a toilet stall?

He knows it’s rudimentary to consult Google rather than a professional but he still wants to get a scope of different possibilities.

Eating in the bathroom, he types into the search bar.

What comes up is surprisingly diverse, ranging from an article about lonely Japanese students, to stories of Alzheimer’s patients avoiding their loved ones, to studies of hygiene analysis for consumption safety in bathrooms.

He clicks on a forum called My friend locks herself in the toilets at lunch.

I have a friend who I’ve known for a few years now. She always used to be really happy and outgoing, but in recent months, she’s been avoiding our friendship group and disappearing at lunch. I recently accidentally found out that she eats lunch by herself in the toilets at school and I don’t know what to think. I don’t know if we did something wrong for her to be mad at us or if there’s something else. I’m just worried.

One user replies:

Your friend could have an eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia nervosa. Has she lost a lot of weight since this started happening? Does she seem really tired all the time? Or maybe a lot of mood swings?

Another user writes:

She might be bullied by someone else and be trying to avoid them. I remember when I was in high school, kids used to bully me a lot because I had to wear a headgear for my braces so I would try to be alone as much as possible, especially at lunch because food got caught in the metal a lot. I just didn’t need people staring at me all the time.

Kongpob pauses at this. Was Arthit still being bullied? According to M, it had been over a year since Arthit had lost weight, but there was always still the possibility.

Who might still be bullying him? It made Kongpob’s blood absolutely boil to think that people could be so cruel.

He scrolls through a few more comments before stopping at one that catches his eye.

When I was in school, I was really overweight. Morbidly obsese, if you will. I’m still overweight, but much less so than before. I’ve always had a bad relationship with food, and I eat emotionally. I definitely have it more under control now, but in order to do that, I had to stop caring what other people think. The reason I ate alone in the bathroom at lunch is because I didn’t want other people to see me eat. Being fat, I get made fun of for literally everything I do, even basic things like laughing and breathing or walking, and I feel completely embarrassed to eat or talk to anyone or even smile in front of other people because I still  feel guilty for being happy and just doing normal things. It’s like I don’t deserve to eat at all because I’m fat.

Kongpob doesn’t realise it, but there are tears trickling down his face as he reads this. Is this how Arthit was feeling? He can’t even begin to relate to this kind of trauma, but there’s still an overwhelming sadness and anger that overtakes him.

Deciding that reading any further will just get him even more upset, he shuts the laptop and takes a shower.

It’s almost 10:00 PM when his phone buzzes on the desk. Kongpob hurriedly rubs the moisture out of his eyes and glances at the notification on his phone screen.

LINE: New friend: Arthit☀️

He immediately clicks on the banner and sees Arthit’s profile, although the icon picture is just the default white outline of a silhouette against a gray background.

Kongpob is unusually excited that Arthit has actually added him, and contemplates messaging him right away.

Hi Arthit! Glad you acknowledge that we’re friends. What’re you up to? This is Kongpob btw

His eyes scan over the message before he shakes his head, deleting all of it.

Hi, Arthit! This is Kongpob. What’s up?

But wouldn’t Arthit already know who he was? He was the one who’d added him, after all. Kongpob chews at his thumb for a moment before finally settling on

Kong: 😊

He hits send and puts his phone screen to sleep, thinking that he’s not likely to get a reply anyway, and should probably head to bed. It had been a long day, and his eyes were exhausted from staring at his computer screen for hours.

Just as he’s coming out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth and about to climb into bed, his phone pings with another notification.

He practically leaps across the bed to grab the phone.

Arthit☀️: 🙄

The single emoji brings a wide smile to Kongpob’s face, and he clutches the phone in his hand as he climbs under the covers, heart still thumping erratically.

Kongpob plops himself down in front of Arthit’s desk again the next morning, filling in his planner as Arthit reads his Peanuts comic book. They don’t say anything to each other, Kongpob only smiling before sitting down and flipping open to this week’s page, the two of them sharing Arthit’s tiny desk space.

Arthit occasionally glances at what Kongpob is doing, raising an eyebrow at the immaculate colour coding and carefully drawn symbols and extremely tidy handwriting. Tilting his head sideways, he can see his own name written as the first item on Monday morning in red, as well as on Wednesday.

“How long have you been working at the cart?” Kongpob suddenly says, as he ticks off various items with a black pen, a neat check mark in the little square boxes he’s drawn. Arthit hesitates a moment, but looks up from his book slightly.

“Since I was old enough to work. So a little over a year.”

Kongpob just nods, placing the cap back on the black pen before taking out a blue one.

“Are you saving up for something?”

“What?”

“You said that you needed the money.”

“Um…well, it helps to pay the bills.”

Kongpob looks up from drawing the tiny cloud in the corner of the page.

“So you don’t keep any money for yourself?”

Arthit fingers the edge of the page he’s reading, the yellowed paper softened with time and use.

“I do,” he says. “I’m just not really saving up for anything at the moment.”

Kongpob nods again and takes out a yellow pen, doodling a sun peeking out from behind the cloud.

“Well, if you could, what would you save up for?”

Arthit rubs the nape of his neck, pondering the question.

“I don’t know…maybe hire help for Mae so she doesn’t have to work so hard.”

Kongpob smiles softly at this, colouring in the sun and adding small rays around the edges.

“What about for yourself? You don’t want anything for yourself? A car? A new phone? Nothing?”

Arthit lets out a short laugh and shakes his head.

“I don’t really need that stuff,” he says. “I guess…I would save up to go to university.”

Kongpob bites his lip, capping the yellow pen. It occurs to him that he’s fortunate enough to not have to even think about the financial aspect of going to university, but he doesn’t comment on it, fearing it might make Arthit uncomfortable.

“What would you want to study?”

Arthit rolls his eyes and closes his book, sliding it into his desk drawer.

“You ask way too many questions, you know that?”

Kongpob smirks and closes his own planner, zipping up his pencil case.

“Well you don’t make it easy to get to know you, Arthit,” he crosses his legs, sitting sideways in the chair. “Fine, what do you want to know about me? Ask away.”

Arthit narrows his eyes, but taps the desk in thought. He seriously considers all the different possibilities, but none of them seem appropriate to ask as a first question.

“How come you sometimes go back up the street instead?”

Kongpob raises an eyebrow at the unexpected question.

“My family’s butler drives me home when I don’t have practice. He parks outside the school, so that’s where I go.”

Arthit nods, huffing a snort at the fact that Kongpob is truly rich enough that his family has a butler. Then, he pauses.

“Wait, but then…the cart isn’t on your way to…” he trails off. Kongpob stiffens, a slight blush forming in his cheeks.

“What can I say? I just like grilled pork,” he laughs awkwardly. “Oh, uh, the teacher’s here.”

He gathers his planner and pencil case, hurrying back to his desk, willingly moving away from Arthit’s desk without being shooed off for the first time.

As usual, Arthit has dashed out of the classroom at lunch before Kongpob can even finish copying down the assignment. Kongpob waits a minute, lingering in his seat before walking outside to the open corridor overlooking the rest of the school. He watches as Arthit scans his surroundings, lunch bag clutched to his chest, before heading towards the side building again, disappearing around the corner to the back where the toilet is.

“Kong,” M claps a hand onto his shoulder. “You coming to lunch or what?”

“Uh…I promised Teacher Lynn I’d help her with something for English Week, but I’ll come find you guys later.”

M nods and shuffles his way down the stairs to the courtyard along with everyone else. Kongpob waits until the corridor is mostly empty before making his own way downstairs with his lunch bag, slyly making his way towards the side building.

He pauses outside the toilet door, trying to decide if what he’s about to do is more harmful than helpful. Pacing the space outside the door, he finally decides to knock.

There’s no response, but then Kongpob figures it’s not every day that someone knocks on a toilet’s main door. He pushes the door slightly open, poking his head around it.

“Arthit?” he calls softly.

He hears him shuffling around inside of the stall, and walks all the way in.

“Um…” Arthit’s voice comes from behind the stall door. “Kongpob?”

“Yeah, it’s me.”

There’s a moment of quiet, neither of them speaking or moving. Kongpob sees a large empty bucket in the corner. He walks over to it, turning it upside down and brushes the back of his shorts off before sitting down.

“Wh-what are you doing…in here?”

I could ask you the same thing, Kongpob thinks, but he doesn’t want to scare him off on his first attempt.

“Having lunch,” he says aloud, opening the lunchbox. Coconut rice with a cashew, chicken and sweet potato stir fry. “You?”

“I…um…” Arthit seems to stumble for words. “Yeah. But I mean, why are you here…and not, like…out there…with your friends?”

Kongpob scoops up a spoonful of rice.

“You’re my friend, aren’t you?”

Another moment of silence passes, and Kongpob can hear that Arthit still isn’t eating.

“Arthit, I just want to have lunch with you. Nothing more. But if you want me to leave, I will.” he says quietly, having anticipated Arthit’s resistance. “Do you want me to leave?”

A small breeze sifts through the open window, whistling inside the echoey room. Arthit bites his lip and stares down at the half empty lunchbox in his hand, debating Kongpob’s offer. His breathing shallows, and he glances at the acrylic wall that separates them.

“No,” he finally says, almost a whisper. “Please stay.”

Kongpob smiles, shifting the bucket closer to the wall so he can lean against it.

Arthit would never admit it, but he’s smiling too. He shovels a spoonful of food into his mouth, chewing slowly before swallowing.

“Kongpob,” his voice is still shaky.

“Hmm?”

“You…won’t tell anyone, will you?”

“Never,” Kongpob says immediately. It had never been a question for him. “I promise.”

The two boys eat in silence, separated by a thin wall.

Kongpob finishes his food, and makes to wash his utensils in the sink before gathering his things into his lunch bag.

“Arthit, I have to go.”

“Okay,” Arthit nods, even though Kongpob can’t see him.

“Thanks for having lunch with me.”

Arthit doesn’t know how to respond to this, and simply replaces the lid on his now empty lunchbox.

“I’ll see you later, Arthit.”

It takes another five minutes after Arthit hears the washroom door swing shut for him to come out of the stall, having just sat in silence, his mind repeatedly running through the events of the last twenty minutes.

Clutching his lunch bag to his chest, he chews at his bottom lip as he takes the long route back to the classroom, catching a glimpse of Kongpob and M sitting in the courtyard on his way.

Arthit is walking out of the school gates when his phone pings with a message.

Kong☕: Hey! I know you’ve just left and haven’t opened up shop yet but I have to hurry off today but I’ll stop by quickly in about twenty minutes.

Kong☕: Could I ask for 3 each of 🐖 and🐓 ?

Arthit☀️: wut, like a skip the line order?

Kong☕: Pleeeeease, Arthit 🥺

Arthit☀️: 🙄

Kong☕: Thank youuu 😊

Arthit shakes his head but nevertheless begins walking faster, hurrying to set up the grill and work station. He doesn’t even bother going home to change, simply dumping his backpack under the worktop and wasting no time turning charcoals under the grill and pulling out the three buckets of skewers his mother has already set out for him and unlocking a cabinet at the bottom of the cart to take out the cash bucket.

Exactly twenty minutes after Arthit had received the message, Kongpob, true to his word, comes jogging towards the cart, all smiles.

“Hey, sorry. I have to rush off soon.”

Arthit simply hands him the bag with his order.

“Are you even still keeping track of how much you’ve spent?”

Kongpob shrugs, biting into a skewer.

“I thought you were already doing it for me.”

“So you just trust that I’m not accidentally knocking off a few more baht each time?” he scoffs, tilting his head in question, hands resting on the cool metal worktop.

Are you?”

“No!” Arthit shakes his head, sighing. “Never mind.”

Kongpob just smiles, finishing off the skewer.

“Why, how much am I at now?”

“฿815.”

“Wow, you really don’t charge enough. Maybe you should be sneaking a few baht off my tab.”

Arthit just rolls his eyes, placing five more each type of skewer on the grill.

“I thought you said you had to rush off?”

“Oh! Yes. But before I forget,” Kongpob pulls out his wallet and slides a ฿500 note across the counter. “For this week’s tuition.”

Arthit stares at the purple banknote, and quickly glances around before pocketing it.

“I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Arthit!” he calls out as he’s jogging back up the street.

Arthit watches after him for a little bit before rubbing his hands on his apron. He wonders how in such a short time, he had allowed Kongpob, of all people, into so many parts of his life that his days almost seemed off balance without seeing him at least once every weekday. He shakes his head and smirks, about to pick up his set of tongs, before a voice makes him jump almost three feet in the air.

“Shit, Prae, don’t sneak up on me when I’m handling burning coals!”

Prae just grins, leaning against the worktop.

“Just how much did Super Kong order that he gave you ฿500? What, is he feeding a small army?”

“Don’t call him that,” Arthit glares at her.

“What, that’s what you used to refer to him as for three years straight.” she jabs at his side teasingly.

“I will tell your dad you’ve been flirting with P’Boyd’s daughter instead of working.” he snaps, swatting her hand away.

“You wouldn’t!” she gasps in jest. “Anyway, you still haven’t answered my question.”

Arthit sighs, turning over one of the coals.

“If I tell you, will you go away?”

“I will leave you to poke at burnt wood in peace.”

“I’m tutoring him for some extra cash.”

Prae’s eyebrows raise almost halfway to her hairline.

Tutoring, huh?” she nods repeatedly. “Is that what the kids are calling it these days?”

“Prae, we’re the same age. And yes, literally tutoring. In Algebra.”

“Mmmmhmmmm…..” she keeps nodding, eyebrows raised and a shit-eating grin threatening to form on her face.

“Prae,” his tone warning her. “Don’t read into it.”

“You sure you don’t want his autograph? Or tell him how cool and awesome you think he is? Or to show him your Super Kong shrine?”

“I do not have a shrine!”

“Not even a little one? Just a small photo and a few blades of lemongrass—”

“I thought you said you were going to leave after I told you?” he holds up a white-hot lump of coal with the tongs.

“Okay, okay. Yeesh, get your act together before Super Kong finds out what a drama queen you are.”

Arthit side-eyes a glare at her as she backs away mouthing Super Kong and batting her eyelashes mockingly.

19/08/2014 – ฿31

Balance: ฿815

## Chapter 22: Balance: ฿321

Maybe he should be the one to say something.

Arthit could spend the rest of his high school life waiting for Kongpob to tell him, but at this rate, he’d rather just rip the bandaid off now than have to continue suffering through this seemingly endless pining. If this were a story, he imagines that readers would be pulling their hair out from the agonisingly slow burn by now. It’s definitely more than just a silly crush at this point, although he can’t pinpoint when exactly his deep admiration had morphed into such intense attraction that he can barely concentrate on anything else.

He could probably bear with eating lunch alone for just one more year. After all, he’d been doing it for so long before he and Kongpob had even started talking.

Of course, that would suck, and he’d probably have to go back to working his original hours at the cart, what with the prospect of no longer having his tutoring jobs.

But he doesn’t want that—the part where Kongpob no longer talks to him, not the part about losing the tutoring money.

He sends himself into a frenzy on Tuesday evening, pacing around his room while trying to think of all the reasons Kongpob could possibly be holding back. Hadn’t something almost happened on Saturday? If Shin hadn’t called, would Kongpob have elaborated on what he’d meant by I just know that I want you in my life after we graduate? And then the way he’d sulked all of Monday, but then smiled again by the time he left the cart? Arthit doesn’t know what to make of Kongpob’s polarising behaviour anymore.

He needs new perspective.

Arthit☀️: do u think i should tell him

Prae🍐: tell who what

Arthit☀️:  tell kong that i like him

Prae🍐: yes

Arthit☀️: but what if he doesn’t like me back

He’s waiting for her reply, when he hears the front door being jiggled open, and Prae kicks her shoes aside before casually strolling into his room and promptly pulling the chair out from under his desk. She throws a leg over the seat so her chest is facing the chair back, then looks at him pointedly. He’s not even fazed at how she makes herself so at home in his apartment anymore.

“Are you blind? Do you need your head checked?” She tilts her head, moving her index finger in circles to outline his head. “All that logical thinking you do with your math nerd stuff and you still can’t come to the obvious conclusion that the boy likes you?”

“This has nothing to do with Maths, Prae!” he rolls his eyes.

“What are you still waiting for? I thought his mae practically claimed you as her son-in-law? You don’t even have to hide from her!”

“Okay, first of all, that is not what she told me. Secondly, I…” he pauses, trying to articulate what he’s thinking. “I don’t think it’s as simple as that.”

Prae sighs, resting her chin in her hand. “What is it that you’re afraid of? If it’s not about whether he feels the same or not, then is it because of…you know, everyone else? Because you know that even if you let Kong go, you can’t just deny yourself like this for the rest of your life.”

“I know,” he flops down to lie on his bed. “But Kong and I started talking under pretty weird circumstances, and…I guess I just knew what he was thinking. I thought that if he did like me, he would’ve said something by now.”

“I thought as much, too.” She scratches behind her ear. “Have you tried talking to someone else about it? I can only tell you so much; I barely know Kong.”

“Like who?”

“One of his friends?” she shrugs. “Aren’t you chummy with M now?”

He ponders this for a moment. M is probably the most knowledgeable about how Kongpob feels or is thinking, and likely already knows what’s going on. The thought of starting that conversation, however, has him reeling with embarrassment.

“You could try calling him,” Prae interrupts his thoughts. “I’ll be right here if you need help. I won’t say anything.”

“You mean now?” he turns his head to raise an eyebrow at her.

“Yes, now. When else?”

“I mean…” he trails off, searching for an excuse, but coming up empty. “I…alright, hang on.”

He pushes himself up and sits cross-legged on the bed, then pulls his phone out of his pocket. His fingers tremble a little as he finds M’s name under the ten or so contacts he has saved in his phone. The four rings of the dial tone feel like forever.

Hello?” comes a familiar voice, andArthit puts the phone on speaker so Prae can listen, too.

“H-Hi. It’s Arthit,” he says slowly. “From school.”

Prae smacks her hand to her face in exasperation.

Yeah, I know who you are, Arthit,” he chuckles. “What’s up?

“I…um…” he looks over to Prae desperately, eyes wide with panic. Ask him about Kong! she mouths exaggeratedly. “I wanted to…ask you about something.”

“Is this about homework? I’m not sure you’re calling the right person.”

No, no. Not about homework. It’s…” he exhales heavily from his nose. “I just wanted some…advice? Is that okay?”

There’s a moment of quiet before M speaks again.

Yeah, of course that’s okay. What about?”

Well,” he eyes Prae’s anticipative face. “It’s about…a friend?”

A…friend.

“Yes.”

Do I know this friend?

“Maybe? It doesn’t matter.”

Arthit watches as Prae buries her face into her knees now, gripping at the roots of her hair in an agonisingly silent groan.

“….My…friend….wants to tell someone about something,” he says quietly, his fingers gripping the corner of his pillow. “They have a…a c-crush on this person.”

Right,” M says slowly. “Okay…and what’s the issue here?”

Well, uh…my friend thinks, maybe…this person likes them too, but…that person hasn’t said anything.” Arthit nods through each phrase. He realises he’s being completely ridiculous, and M probably already knows who he’s really talking about, but this is about as much as he can muster up the courage to say for now without spontaneously combusting. “And my friend is just wondering why that could be.”

“Are they close?”

He pauses to consider this. Yes, he supposes that he could call Kongpob a close friend.

Yeah, I guess.”

“Well, maybe that person treasures their friendship and doesn’t want to ruin it. Or they’re worried.”

“That your friend doesn’t feel the same way.”

“But I do!” Arthit blurts out, before slapping a hand over his mouth in realisation. “I-I mean….I—”

As he stutters through his slip-up, he grabs the pillow next to him and buries his face into it with a silent scream. Prae has slid off of the chair, lying face down on the floor in a fit of silent laughter now. Her shoulders shake as she grips her sides at his predicament.

“Hey, relax. It’s fine, I won’t say anything,” M reassures him, chuckling slightly.Arthit, however, can feel that his face has gone extremely hot, and his ears probably an alarming red. He breathes through his embarrassment. “But…seriously. If you really like this person that much, you don’t have to wait for them to speak first.”

Arthit falls back onto his pillow, rolling over to one side with the phone still held in front of him.

“So…what do I do?” he finally says after a few moments.

Maybe you need to make things clearer for them,”  M says. Prae flings her arms out, and mouths Thank you! in agreement. “What is it that you’re worried about?”

Arthit contemplates his question for a moment, pressing his tongue inside his cheek in thought.

“I don’t know how. I’ve never done this before.”

It’s probably going to be awkward no matter what, trust me. The first time I asked someone out, she didn’t even hear me because I whispered it at the library. I ended up repeating myself so many times that I was just shouting and everyone stared at us.” Arthit snickers a little. He finds it hard to believe that someone as seemingly articulate as M would have trouble in that department. “Anyway, my point is, just be yourself, and be honest. It’ll be fine. And if it isn’t, you’ll get past it eventually.”

He nods, even though M clearly can’t see him.

“Thanks, M.”

No worries. We’re friends, too. You can talk to me any time.”

“Yeah, same, I guess.”

Well, it’s great that you say that, because I could really use some help with the physics homework. What the fuck is refraction?

“It’s when you shine light on water and it appears underwater at a different—you know what? I’ll look at it tomorrow.” He quickly glances over at Prae, whose attention is dwindling.

Alright. Bye, Arthit. Good luck.

“Thanks. Bye.”

He hangs up, dropping the phone face down on the mattress before groaning into the pillow. As he does, he feels the mattress next to his legs dip down, and Prae pats his back gingerly.

“You did good, kid. Also, M would make a great counsellor one day.”

“I, on the other hand, need the floor to swallow me whole and never allow me to resurface.”

“Yeah, okay, you can disappear into oblivion another time. Right now, we need a game plan.”

Arthit finds himself exhibiting his personal range of nervous tics more prominently than usual. It’s a frankly a bizarre choreography of his knee bouncing up and down, twirling one particular tuft of hair between his fingers, and the other hand furiously clicking his pen with his thumb. It seems, though, that Kongpob’s concentration on the task in front of him obscures him from paying them any attention. That is, until he reaches out to grasp Arthit’s arm firmly, and swiftly plucks the offending pen out of Arthit’s hand.

“Stop,” he says, eyes widened with mild amusement. “It’s driving me mad and I can’t focus.”

“Sorry.” Arthit almost reaches for the pen again, but decides against it, instead sitting on his left hand. Kongpob waves a hand over Arthit’s head to flick at the protruding tuft of hair, grinning through a gentle laugh.

“What’s gotten into you, anyway? You’ve barely said a thing this morning.”

Arthit shakes his head, his knee still bouncing.

“Yeah, here,” Kongpob pushes his notebook over to Arthit, who pretends to examine the set of questions carefully, even making a show of running his finger over each row of simplification, and occasionally pausing to nod.

“It looks fine,” he concludes, pushing the paper back towards Kongpob.

“Really? I thought for sure that I’d done something weird on that last—”

“It’s fine,” he interjects, reaching out to turn over a new page, tapping it with his pen. “Let’s work on something else.”

“Something else? Isn’t this as far as we’ve gotten in class?”

“Well, it doesn’t hurt to do some recap of older stuff, does it?”

“Uh…yeah, I guess. What do you think I should cover again?”

“Maybe some…simplification on both sides of inequality symbols.”

“Oh,” Kongpob nods, as if the entire thing makes perfect sense. “Yeah, I had some trouble with that before. Did Teacher Danai say that would be on the quiz?”

“I don’t remember. Maybe? Anyway,” Arthit rambles, biting his lip as he writes down an equation he’d spent the better part of his evening thinking about. The pulsating of his heart feels incredibly loud to him, so much so that he thinks Kongpob might be able to hear it in the deafening quiet of the library, too. You need to make things clearer, M had told him. Well, this is about as clear as Arthit is currently ready for.

$3\left(4x-3i\right)>12x-27u$

He stares at the problem momentarily, before nodding once and tentatively placing the book back in front of Kongpob. “Here, you need to solve for i.”

“Just the one question?”

“Well, we’ll see how you do with this one first, and then I’ll give you more.”

“Is this from the textbook?”

“Kongpob, just do the problem!” he runs a trembling hand over his face in frustration. Of all the people in the world he had to fall for, it had to be someone as persistently annoying as Kongpob.

“Okay, okay,” Kongpob says, laughs softly. “I’ll do the problem.”

Arthit holds his breath as he watches Kongpob work through the first step.

$12x-9i>12x-27u$

“Mmhmm,” he hums as Kongpob looks to him for confirmation. “Go on.”

He gulps, the temptation to begin clicking his pen again making his hands twitch as they grip at the hem of his shorts.

$-9i>-27u$

“I can eliminate 12x on both sides here, right?” Kongpob tilts his head, examining the equation.  “Because they’re of equal value, so it doesn’t affect the final answer…”

“Yeah…now you just need to simplify it again,” the vein in Arthit’s forehead threatens to pop at any moment from how hard he’s tensing. Perhaps he should’ve waited until towards the end of the day, or done it via LINE, so if things went badly, he could lock himself away and never see the world again. Still, it’s too late to back out now.

$i<3u$

And there it is.

His breath feels unbearably tight in his throat as he waits for a reaction, his hands now laced together in front of his mouth, lips pressed together in a thin line. He stares pointedly at Kongpob’s face, searching for any indication of what he’s thinking. Kongpob’s eyebrows furrow for a moment, squinting at his work.

“I can get rid of the negative signs, too, right?”

Arthit has to gather his tumultuous typhoon of thoughts for a moment, breathing noisily into his fingers.

“Okay,” and then Kongpob shrugs. Shrugs

Over an hour of Arthit searching up ‘romantic algebra’ and customising the equation, only for Kongpob to fucking shrug. “Next question, then?”

Arthit just stares at him, unsure of whether he’s more exasperated or relieved. His entire face feels numb. At the very least, they could go about the rest of their day without any sort of awkwardness.

And actually, as Arthit begins to force quit the 500 or so tabs open in his mind, it’s probably better that Kongpob hadn’t at all registered what had just happened, because while there’s some element of truth, it seems awfully early on to talk about the L word.

That said, it’s less complicated than trying to construct an equation where the answer would spell out

i like you so much it’s actually stupid how many of my thoughts you consume but if you don’t feel the same that’s fine but also i might dissolve into a puddle and run down the drain. Solve for i.

“Never mind, it’s almost time anyway,” he eyes the nearby wall clock. “We should get to class.”

Perhaps clarity is subjective, and like M, he would have to shout for everyone to hear.

Their early morning classes feel like Arthit had merely hallucinated them. He spends both of them either staring at a random spot on the chalkboard, or gazing over at Kongpob’s back, before sighing quietly and staring at his books, simply allowing the time to pass while willing himself not to fall asleep.

It’s only when someone stands next to his desk, nudging his arm to attention, does Arthit realise that it’s already recess.

“Oh, hey, M,” he peers past him, noticing that Kongpob has left his seat, probably to use the bathroom.

“You seem really out of it,” M takes a seat in the chair in front of Arthit’s desk. “Does this have something to do with what you told me yesterday?”

Arthit heaves out a sigh and nods gently, watching as M inspects the underside of his white socks, blackened from the residue of dirt on the classroom floor.

“I…tried something this morning, but it just didn’t work out the way I wanted.”

“Wait, you actually said something?” M sits up now, genuinely intrigued. Had he missed something when Kongpob had come in that morning?

“Well, not exactly,” Arthit rolls his pencil between his fingers, feeling the hexagonal edges bump over his knuckles. “I…kind of worked it into a math equation and the answer said something to the effect of a confession. Um…he didn’t catch on, though. He thought it was just another equation,” he adds this last part quietly, burying his face in his hands at the embarrassing recollection.

M is biting back a smile, but fails. That’s disgustingly cute, he thinks. He watches as Arthit’s ears turn red, and is somewhat surprised at the boy’s boldness. Suddenly, though, it occurs to him what Arthit has just admitted out loud to him.

“You said ‘he’…”

Arthit quirks an eyebrow at M now, eyes darting from side to side to see if anyone might be listening in on their conversation.

“Well, yeah, I figured you’d already connected the dots by now. The three of you are the only friends I have other than Prae. And well, Tew…”

“Jumping is for trampolines, not conclusions.” M points at him. “That’s…thank you for trusting me with that information,” he says, more softly now.

“Anyway,” Arthit merely nods in response. “I’m fine.”

“You should keep trying. Do something more obvious.”

Like what? Just say it out loud to him? Just grab Kong by the face and kiss him?

How positively absurd, Arthit thinks.

“By the way, I still need to ask you about the homework. Lunch?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Cool. Take it easy, Arthit.”

M softly bumps his fist on Arthit’s desk before strolling back over to his own.

“Three of the beef,” Kongpob tells Arthit as they’re standing on either side of the cart again. “Oh, and two of the chicken for Shin.”

“Is he picking you up again?” Arthit sniffs, the aroma of the skewers slightly tickling his nostrils.

“Yeah, Mae refuses to let me take public transport until my ankle is full healed.”

Arthit nods, brushing marinade on top of Kongpob’s order. As he does, he subconsciously smiles, his dimple forming in one cheek. He chortles a little at his own failed attempt. Even though his day had started out somewhat oddly, it had hardly produced the worst outcome possible, and Arthit at least feels a little less apprehensive about trying again.

“What’re you smiling about?” Kongpob says, wearing a smile of his own.

“Hmm?” Arthit snaps out of his daze, looking up in surprise. “I…nothing, just remembered something, that’s all.”

“Was it me?” Kongpob smirks, eyebrows wagging playfully.

Arthit rolls his eyes, shaking his head as he pulls Kongpob’s skewers off the grill, adding a few more to replace them. Perhaps it’s because he’s in a better mood, or because he doesn’t know if he’ll find another time when he has the guts to try again, but something occurs to him in that moment.

“Hey, Kong,” he says as he hands him his order.

“Yeah?” Kongpob loops the plastic bag over his wrist as he grips onto his crutches again. He looks back up at Arthit, who’s gazing right back at him, his eyes narrowed slightly in thought. “What is it?”

“Um…I won’t be working tomorrow,” he licks at his chapped bottom lip. “Do you want to come over after school? Like, just to hang out, or something.”

Kongpob’s gaze falters for a moment, trying to make sense of what is happening before he responds.

“Just us, right?”

“Just us.”

“Without M or Tew?”

“Just you and me.”

As much as Kongpob’s smile does funny things to his heart, Arthit feels like he will soon have to stick his face in his mini-fridge if the boy doesn’t stop grinning and give him an answer.

“I’d love that, P’Arthit.”

“Tomorrow it is, then.”

And as Kongpob hobbles away, turning around to smile at him again, Arthit finds himself unable to hold back his own grin. It only momentarily falters as he notes down that day’s order.

17/9/2014 – ฿36

Balance: ฿285

## 第九章：余额: ฿775

$\frac{2}{x+1}+\frac{3}{2x+3}$

“不要~！为什么要这样对我？” 当Arthit把方程式写在草稿纸上时，Kongpob哀嚎道。

“你以为我很想这样对你的？” Arthit翻了个白眼，“这是星期三的家庭作业，而且那天你说你需要帮助的。”

Kongpob想知道自己为什么一开始就要求要补习数学？

“好吧，” 他叹了口气，“这个该怎么做？”

Arthit有些生气的摇了摇头，再次把草稿纸放到了他的面前。

“你知道如何把两个不同分母的分数相加，对吧？”

“这种？是把其中一个分数的分母和另一个分数相乘……然后就会得到一个新的？”

“没错，那根据你的理解，你需要先解开哪个呢？”

Kongpob看着草稿纸睡眼朦胧地眨了眨眼，也许是因为现在时间太早了，他的大脑还没有醒过来，这些数字对他来说像是外星语言一样。他知道这真的不难，但不知道什么原因，他的大脑并不想去思考它。不过他已经努力地去做到最好了，至少他并没有浪费Arthit的时间。

$2\left(2x+3\right)=4x+6$

“很棒！那另一个呢？”

Arthit似乎真的很高兴他能迅速的理解到这一点。

$3\left(x+1\right)=3x+3$

“然后这两个分母呢？”

$\begin{array}{l}\left(x+1\right)\left(2x+3\right)\\ =2{x}^{2}+3x+2x+3\\ =2{x}^{2}+5x+3\end{array}$

“好，那现在将两个分子相加。“

$\begin{array}{l}4x+6+3x+3\\ =7x+9\end{array}$

“那么得出的结果应该是……”

$\frac{7x+9}{2{x}^{2}+5x+3}$

Arthit眯着眼睛看着Kongpob，他只是看着他。

“你确定你真的需要我的帮助吗？你没有假装代数不好来对我进行恶作剧吧。”

Kongpob立马摇摇头，然后他放下手中的笔，说道：“不知道什么原因，当Danai老师讲课时，我总是对他的话一只耳朵进一只耳朵出，委婉点说就是他的声音很……有催眠作用。”

Arthit有些幸灾乐祸的笑着。他们的数学老师，是一个很和善、很有耐心的人，感觉他似乎对生活中的任何事都缺少了热情，这可以看出来，他的声音的确很单调。

“为什么你要这么努力去提高你的成绩呢？你的数学成绩真的很糟糕吗？”

“我得到的是B，但是我想报考大学的工程专业，所以我至少得是A﹣，英语在工程专业里的作用似乎并不突出。”

Arthit眨了眨眼，点点头表示同意他的观点，然后他开口说道：“我也想学工程专业。”

“哇，在你跟着我上大学之前至少请我吃顿饭吧。” Kongpob假装惊讶的说道，Arthit眯起眼睛瞪了他一眼。

“我没有——”

“我只是开个玩笑。” Kongpob笑了笑，然后又抛出了下一个问题，“所以……为什么是工程专业呢？”

Arthit耸耸肩，说道：“我喜欢看到事物从一个小小的设计发展到真实产品的，特别是在工厂。”

“是呀，就像那些在传送带上制造好时之吻巧克力的机器人一样！”

Arthit听了Kongpob的解释，轻声地笑了笑，“差不多吧，但更像是……很日常的事，家用电器之类的。”

“像电动烤架？”

Arthit点点头，“差不多。”

“那为什么不在摊位上用一个呢？这比用木炭烤更容易吧？”

“好吧，首先，它会消耗很多电力，然后我就不得不提高价格来支付更多的电费。我的家里有一个燃气烤架，但是烤出来的味道就不一样了。我的意思是接触太多木炭烟和吃太多炭烤食物，最终可能会让你患上结肠癌，但如果我能找到一种没有副作用的方法，然后 —”

Arthit立刻停止了说话，摇了摇头，因为他意识到自己在胡说八道。

“呃……请不要介意，我知道这很愚蠢，我也没有打算永远烤猪肉。”

Kongpob只是轻轻笑了一下，“不，我认为这很棒，我希望我也能有一个合理的理由让我选择工程专业。”

Arthit有些疑惑地扬了扬眉毛。

“你没有吗？”

“我父亲的公司和很多工厂有合作，为那些工厂提供零件。我作为他唯一的儿子总有一天会接手公司的。”他往外叹了口气，用笔把面前的方格纸上的方格涂成了黑色。

“但……这不是你想要的？”

“也不完全是吧？我的意思是，我不知道，我想自己还是有时间去思考我究竟真正想要的是什么，但是我的父母想让我去学工程专业。我只是觉得并没有合适的技能。”

Arthit什么都没有说，当Kongpob说话时仅仅只是看着他，他脸上不再有平时那种爽朗而又有些咄咄逼人的神气，看着面前这个男孩如此的不自信，Arthit感觉有些惴惴不安。

“不管如何，抱歉呐，我并不想把这一切搞得很奇怪。”Kongpob摆了摆手就像要避开这个话题，“让我们回到代数上吧。”

Kongpob好不容易在Arthit进入洗手间的隔间吃午饭前追上了他。

“P’Arthit！”他低声喊道，感觉就好像周围有人在偷听他们讲话一样。

“呃……嗨,”Arthit最终还是败下阵来说道：“你……又来了呀。”

“其实，我……在想也许你想去别的地方吗？”

Arthit眼神有些闪躲，手里紧紧的抓着灰色和蓝色相间的午餐袋。

“别……别的地方？”

Kongpob立刻注意到了他有些惊慌的表情，他想撤回他刚才说的话，等到组织好语言以免再吓到Arthit。

“在主教学楼顶上……有一个小花园。没有人去那儿。那里是个十分不错的地方，有一些桌子，还有篮球框。”他看着他朋友的脸从焦虑变成困惑，“今天有点想在那里吃午餐，如果你愿意来的话，欢迎你加入。”

Arthit有些惊讶，他四处走动着，他很喜欢这里，这里确实比过去那个既偏僻又铺着瓷砖的厕所更令人愉快，让人感到温暖舒适。

Kongpob看着Arthit对似乎这里很着迷，他对此开心的咧嘴笑了。

“你是怎么知道这个地方的？”

Kongpob咯咯地笑着，打开了他的午餐盒——烤三文鱼片配上菰米肉饭。

Arthit其实对他那颇有情调的饭菜很感兴趣，但他并没提及。

“去年我经常会给学生会帮忙，有时候他们会把画完的海报拿到这里来晾干。我真的很喜欢这里的环境，所以我偶尔会在午餐时间来这里一个人逛逛，或者在吃饭的院子里太吵的时候来这里打个盹。如果Shin在来接我的路上堵车了，放学后我也会来这里。”

“Shin？”

“我家里的管家，尽管他更像是一个家里的朋友。”

Arthit对此不屑的哼了一声，摆摆头，他觉得这简直就是个王子嘛！

Kongpob用勺子舀了勺食物放到他的嘴里，开始吃了起来。但Arthit仍然还是没有把他的午餐盒拿出来。

“所以……你的午餐吃什么呢？” Kongpob看了一眼放在桌子上的麻布包。

Arthit眨了眨眼，从包里拿出热水壶打开了盖子，然后他就只是盯着热水壶里面看。

“金不换猪肉盖饭。”

Kongpob点点头，然后又舀了一勺食物放进嘴巴里开始咀嚼起来。

“看起来很不错，是你自己做的吗？”

Arthit摇了摇头，但还是没有拿出他的餐具。

“我的摊位附近有另一个摊位，经营摊位的那个人让我在收摊时去他那里选一些剩下的东西，然后我就把这些东西当做第二天的午餐。”

“真的吗? 那太棒了。”

Arthit觉得他可以做到，面前的人只是Kongpob，只是一勺而已，只是尝试一下。

Arthit慢慢地拿起他的勺子，他重重的呼出了一口气，在舀起一勺完美比例的猪肉饭时，Arthit也舀了一片看起来特别脆的罗勒叶。

Kongpob只是用勺子切下另一块三文鱼，再舀上一勺米饭，然后漫不经心地塞进嘴里，开始咀嚼起来，似乎这没什么大不了的。

Arthit开始尝试着移动他的下巴咀嚼嘴里的食物，试着把注意力集中在食物的味道上——咸味，辣味，很朴实的味道，再配上米饭来平衡这一切。

Arthit又吃了五勺食物后，Kongpob向他道别，他说得在朋友们找他之前先去找他们。

“Arthit怎么样了？” M突然问道。

Kongpob听了这个问题，几乎被饮料给呛到。

“什……什么？”

“Arthit，你们现在是朋友，不是吗？”

M疑惑地扬了扬眉毛，看着Kongpob还在咳嗽，然后拍了拍他朋友的背，Kongpob终于清理好他的嗓子可以说话了。

“呃……是的，嗯，他很好。”

“你们最近总是经常一起出去玩，你要让他取代我成为你最好的朋友吗？”

“不是，他只是在辅导我的代数，还有……他真的挺好相处。”

M皱起了眉毛，盯着他朋友的脸看了看，当Kongpob说这话的时候，嘴唇微微的张开着，目光很温柔，边摆弄着吸管，反反复复的把吸管浸入冰咖啡中。

“代数，啊哈？”

“是啊，他就像个数学天才之类的。不知怎么回事，当Arthit给我讲解时，我很快就能明白了，但当Danai老师讲解时，就像水通过过滤器一样，什么都没有留下。Arthit使代数更容易理解，也许是因为我们之间还会交谈。”

“那么……他真的在和你交谈？比如，私人的事情？”

“呃……是的，有时候，为什么要这么问？”Kongpob好奇的看着他的朋友，而M只是耸耸肩，轻轻摇了摇头。

“所以……我想他已经告诉你关于生日贺卡的事情了吗？”

Kongpob立即坐直了身子，转过头来直直的盯着M的眼睛。

“生日贺卡的事情？你在说什么？”

M哀嚎了一声，仰头看着天花板，用手拍了拍额头。

“听着，忘了吧，如果他没有告诉你，他可能不想让你知道这件事。”

“不，M，生日贺卡的事情到底是什么？”Kongpob一脸严肃的说道。

M肯定对他隐瞒了他知道的某些事情，但如果他想让他的新友谊有更好的发展，他需要所有情报来帮助Arthit走出困境。

M停顿了片刻，然后重重的叹了口气，“好吧，但我不知道你是否能接受你所听到的。”

Arthit一定注意到了他不像平时那样活跃，因为他停了下来站在那里看着他，没有像平时那样假装忽略他。

“嗨，我以为你会像平时那样提前发消息给我你想要预定的东西。”Arthit说道。

Kongpob强迫自己露出了一个笑容，但那看起来比鬼哭还难看。

“是的，抱歉啊，我忘了。我……我要六个鸡肉和两个牛肉。”

Arthit扬起了眉毛，但手上却加快了速度，仅仅只是为了分散注意力减少紧张感。

“你饿了吗？”

Kongpob只是再次点了点头，他一直目不转睛的盯着Arthit。

“呃……”Arthit摸了摸脖子后面，因为被人这么近的的盯着，他觉得有些尴尬，以至于他感觉他的皮肤都感到刺痛了。

“发生了……什么事吗？”他含含糊糊说道：“你看起来……有点沮丧。”

“没什么。”Kongpob强迫自己把嘴角上扬，“就只是今天的练习很糟糕，就这样而已。 ”

“嗯……我得走了。”他说着，然后他也没有再看Arthit一眼，也没有说一句话，就径直转身往街上走了。他的脚步不再像平时那样轻快，他走路时一直心不在焉，他几乎撞到了另一个行人。

Arthit担忧的的看着他的朋友，他想知道自从他们最后一次谈话后到底发生了什么，让Kongpob这样沮丧，以至于他都不再像平时那样戏弄自己。

25/08/2014 – ฿52