It was after class one afternoon that he was forced to realize that he was decidedly crushing on King in a big way. He was buried in his Physics text deciphering practice problems at the end of the chapter when King appeared.
“There are many mistakes,” King criticized from over Ram’s shoulder.
He seemed to have materialized from the trees that lined the canals. King wore his blue utility shirt open over a black t-shirt. His dark jeans were cuffed and he wore a pair of black Chuck Taylors. He had no right looking that good at the end of a school day. Ram himself was overheated, shirt untucked, and he felt the slightest drizzle of pomade slip past one ear.
“You can at least great me, Ning,” King complained.
Again with that nickname. Ram had decided it meant Cool Boy and not Cold Bastard like he originally thought.
“What are you doing? Work from Mr. Wichai?”
Ram wanted to groan. The last thing he wanted was the smartest guy in Engineering to see how poorly he was doing in an entry-level course.
“Let me teach you, okay? Here.”
Ram tried to hold his worksheet back, embarrassed to let King see how many times he’d written and erased his work. Ugh . He just wanted to bury his head on the table. This could not be happening right now.
“What? You don’t want me to teach you?” King asked.
They tugged the worksheets back and forth between them a few times.
“Grab it. Tear it off. Then you’ll have nothing to submit,” King threatened.
Ram noticed how cute King’s eyes looked as they shined with the challenge and he let go abruptly.
“That’s it, let me see.”
Ram didn’t need to talk while King tutored him. He just nodded or shook his head and occasionally just pointed to the page when he had problems. He pointed at the page a lot.
If Ram were honest, he was having trouble concentrating with King leaning into his space to look at the notebook while they answered formulas. After he got a third problem in a row wrong, King scooted even closer and helped him through the rest of the sample problems and then gave him an overview of half the next chapter. They’d burned the better part of the evening by the time they called it quits.
King sat so close to him that their shoulders pressed against each other. After the first few minutes of working, Ram let his right knee lean to the side a bit and it bumped into King under the table. Ram held his breath.
King did not move his knee or scoot away.
Ram started breathing normally again but he felt a traitorous blush creep up his neck and stain his ears a bright red. He stole a few glances at King’s face but he seemed unaffected while he focused on the math of the physics problems.
When King was helping him with the formulas he was just so nice. Okay, if Ram were honest, he needed the most help with the word problems as he still used Google translate for some of the words. But that aside, it was actually a very nice evening and he didn’t want to stop being with King just yet. Ram’s phone was filled with photos and short messages and running monologues all from King and now that he was sitting next to him at the picnic table it felt, well, intimate wasn’t the word he was looking for but it was pretty close.
“Now it’s all correct. I told you it’s easy!” King reassured him. “All you need to do is memorize the formula.”
That was easy for King to say when he understood everything in the word problems that gave hints for which formula to use.
King stayed sitting beside him while he closed up his notebooks and text and packed his bag. They were so close that Ram could feel the hairs on King’s forearm stand on end as their arms were still in contact.
King started tapping his fingers on the tabletop and pressed his mouth together a few times as if he wanted to say something before finally blurting, “If there’s nothing, I’ll leave now.”
King paused and stared at Ram as if waiting for a response. “See ya,” King said finally and stood up.
Whew. Just do it.
Ram reached out and captured King’s arm as he was getting up from the picnic table. King looked back at the interruption and met his eyes. Ram let his hand slide down King’s forearm before closing around his wrist. He felt King’s pulse quicken. Oh god. Why was he so bad at this? He didn’t trust himself to say anything but King didn’t try to shake him off so that was a good sign.
“What’s going on? What?”
Stay. Come with me, Ram wanted to say.
He felt his mouth go dry and swallowed a lump in his throat. Ram gestured with his eyebrows and put a small smile on his face. He didn’t let go of King’s wrist.
“Wait, where are we going?”
King’s voice switched from confused to playful. “Ning! Where are you taking me?” He bit his lip and waggled his eyebrows at Ram.
Ram just rolled his eyes and pulled him from the quad. He let go when they hit the sidewalk and King walked alongside, peppering him with guesses about where they were going. He chattered nonstop for about fifteen minutes. The only time King balked at following him was when they encountered a stray wandering one of the sidewalks on their way. Ram held him and put his body between King and the barking dog as they rushed past.
They arrived at Ram’s favorite restaurant just before the dinner rush. It was owned by his friend’s parents and was one of several just like it that peppered the neighborhoods surrounding campus.
“I was wondering where you were taking me,” King said. “You want to thank me with a meal,” he guessed.
You guessed wrong, Ram thought. I just wanted to look at you some more. Going to eat was a nice option. With his mouth full from eating, he wouldn’t feel pressured to talk. And he could sit across from King and look openly rather than steal sideways glances. Not that he would admit it.
They took an open table and the waitress came when King called out to order.
The waitress that hurried over was Ram’s friend LeeLee. She used to hang out with Ram and all of his friends in high school and had been close with Ting. But when they’d all gone to university, LeeLee’s parents made her stay and work at the restaurant. As far as Ram knew, he was the only one in his friend group that still saw LeeLee somewhat regularly.
She smirked at Ram as she gave them both their ordering pads. Uh oh. What was she up to?
While they waited for their food, King thanked him for helping him out when the stray dog wandered by on their way here. King was pretty open and frank about how terrified he was and went on to talk about the dog attack he suffered as a child. It seemed pretty traumatic and Ram immediately felt guilty about their first meeting. King didn’t mention the day Ram abandoned him on the picnic table by the library and he surely didn’t want to remind him of that. Based on King’s behavior on their way here, it seems that dogs were still very triggering for him. Ram felt grateful that King even talked about it with him and didn’t seem to hold a grudge for what happened that first time.
LeeLee brought them their order and then came back again. She plopped down a dish of Gai Pad King right in front of Ram. He glared at her. She knew he didn’t eat ginger. What was she playing at?
King looked at it in confusion. “This,” he said and pointed at it with his chopsticks. “My friend didn’t order it.”
“This is on me,” LeeLee said. “Can I exchange it for your line ID?” She clasped her hands together and swung back and forth like a little girl with a crush.
Ugh. Did LeeLee have to embarrass him in front of King?
Ram looked across the table and saw that King was clueless. He thought the waitress was truthfully hitting on him. He seemed to be waiting to see if Ram would flirt back and give his ID. He glared at LeeLee, too embarrassed to explain to King. We’ll talk later, his glower promised LeeLee.
King seemed uncomfortable with the exchange and took pity on the waitress. “I’ll eat this for you then,” he offered and went to take a bite from the dish.
LeeLee faked a frown and quickly picked the plate back up. Her mission had failed whatever it was. Ram was sure another table was waiting for that dish and she had to hurry and take it to whoever ordered it.
“A’Ning! You have to be more subtle about rejecting,” King complained. “I don’t even dare to order juice now.” Then King went on to say, “She was really pretty, you shouldn’t have been shy.”
Uh oh. Had Ram not been clear enough? Was King checking if he liked women instead? He needed to figure out a way to signal him.
“Do you always eat alone?” King asked. “If you don’t want to talk to me, you can also nod or shake your head.”
He looked up to meet King’s eyes. Ram felt grateful. He really didn’t like speaking in public and the restaurant was really filling up with the dinner rush.
“Do you always eat alone?”
King grimaced at that. “Aren’t you lonely? Food doesn’t taste good when you eat alone.”
He wasn’t alone now.
“You have to eat with friends. Don’t you know the feeling of snatching food? You don’t, right?” King reached over and grabbed some of Ram’s dish.
King started to moan, faking the ecstasy of enjoying the bite too much. Did he even know how that made his face look? Ram just stared at him while King had his eyes still closed, licking his lips.
“The food you snatch is the yummiest. Here take this,” King went on, putting some stir-fried ginger on Ram’s plate.
Ram stared at it.
King pointed at the ginger. “Because you’re my junior. Are you shy? Don’t be. Eat it. Eat it. Hurry.”
Ram picked it up carefully and began to chew. He tried to control the expression on his face.
“It’s good, right?”
He swallowed hard and got his phone out and quickly typed in English. He looked up at King to watch for his reaction.
[Actually, I don’t eat ginger but I’m willing to eat King because you gave it to me.]
King looked up in shock and Ram quickly bent down to eat again. He felt the usual flush creep up his neck while he concentrated on chewing. He couldn’t believe he just sent that text. He might as well have just said, I’m gay for you. Let’s go bang in your car after this. Well. At least Ram made his intentions clear. Only a dumbass wouldn’t get that and King was the smartest guy in Engineering.
After Ram paid for dinner, he offered to walk King back to his car on the lot near campus. King chatted for both of them as their steps slowed on the walk back. The sun had gone down while they ate and it was very beautiful out. Their arms and shoulders bumped several times on the way back and Ram noticed that King never pulled back from that.
“If you have questions you can text me to ask,” King was saying.
Oh. Ram must’ve been daydreaming. King was talking about math and physics again. Most importantly, King wanted Ram to text him. Even after - well - even after that really cheesy pick up line Ram used earlier.
King put his hand on Ram’s back and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t mind that,” he said. His hand lingered on Ram’s back until a ring from King’s pocket interrupted.
While King took the phone call from his mom, Ram got the idea to run back into the restaurant really quickly to get him the juice he wanted earlier. He saw his friend helping a customer at the register so he rushed back to the kitchen himself. Her family was used to it.
“LeeLee! I’m grabbing this!” Ram tossed 50 baht at her and grabbed a juice from the cooler. “And what was that stunt earlier?”
“Is that for your faen?” LeeLee teased. “I was trying to help you and make him jealous. It didn’t look like you were making much progress.”
“Make him jealous? I’m not twelve. Who even does that any more?” Ram rushed back out, trying to make it back to King before he got off the phone. “See ya!” he called over his shoulder.
He sprinted back to where King was just hanging up. He shuddered to a halt right in front of him and held out the juice bottle. Ram felt out of breath and his hair stuck to his forehead in a sweaty mess. King took the proffered drink from his hand and Ram suddenly felt like a middle-schooler that left chocolate and other sweets on a crush’s desk.
He rushed off, embarrassed to stick around, and typed a text instead.
[Thank you for teaching me.]
It wasn’t a total success, but Ram still felt good about the night. He took King to dinner, King opened up about his past and flirted non-stop, Ram declared his interest, and King asked him to keep texting him. Not bad for a first date but significantly better than other first dates he’d been on.