Arthit had worried when Kongpob left for his studies that their relationship would fail. The fear of their relationship turning sour was more than he could handle. All his memories with Kongpob were precious to him, and at the time, he didn't want to tarnish them. He felt foolish now, Kongpob's love for him was unwavering. Months after leaving, the love between them was the same.
At first, it was hard for Arthit to adjust. He didn't realize how engrained Kongpob was in his life until he was gone. There was no more teasing, no more begging to hear I love you. He didn't have someone to wake him up softly in the morning. Whenever he missed Kongpob, he'd play with the ring on his left hand. A reminder that Kong was returning and time would pass quickly.
Their relationship confused people in their lives. He's heard many comments on how different they are. They didn't understand how their relationship worked. Kongpob's personality complemented his; the younger was assertive and confident; just being in his presence made you feel you could do the impossible. The world didn't need to understand, he loved Kongpob, and that's all that mattered to him.
He loved how warm Kong's smile was and how his face scrunched up when he laughed. There were habits privy to Arthit, like on particularly stressful days, Kong would go quiet. He'd seek comfort by burying his face into the crook of Arthit's neck. He'd never tell a soul, but in those moments, knowing Kongpob felt safe with him made him fall more in love.
Kongpob never made Arthit feel bad about his reaction to most physical displays of affection. He even suspected Kong found it endearing because the boy found the strangest things interesting. Kongpob knew how far he could push Arthit; he teased him often but respected his boundaries.
It always snuck on him how much he missed his boyfriend. Arthit sighed and glanced down at the file P'Earth gave him when he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out to a message from Kong,
P'Arthit, you love me no matter what, right?
He squinted at the screen, a pit formed in his stomach. Arthit was used to the constant cheesy text messages; this was new. He could count on one hand the number of times Kongpob had voiced insecurity about their relationship. He glanced at the time; lunch was a perfect reason to slip away.
Arthit found a secluded spot; he didn't want any interruptions. He took a deep breath as he hit the call button. The pit in his stomach felt heavier when it took longer than usual for Kong to answer the call. Finally, he heard the voice he missed,
"P'Arthit, I'm sorry I bothered you. You didn't need to call me."
"Of course, I needed to call you. I can tell the difference between your serious and teasing tone, even through text."
Silence filled between them; it told Arthit more than Kongpob had intended. His boyfriend was never this silent unless he was stressed. He heard the internal screaming from miles away, and Arthit wasn't there to make it better.
"Kongpob, turn on your camera."
"I can't," the younger's voice was strained.
"Why can't you, Kongpob?" Arthit knew it was playing dirty, but he was close to panicking himself, "don't you want to see your Sun?"
The whining sound that followed caused Arthit's heart to skip. He pulled the phone from his ear to see the camera turn on. He saw a disheveled Kongpob, red-rimmed eyes refusing to make eye contact.
"P', I don't know what to do."
"You'll have to be more specific. Kong, talk to me. Please. Look at me. What's wrong, baby?"
Kongpob finally looked into the camera, and Arthit watched his walls break to nothing. He rarely used pet names, but Arthit was grasping at straws. A sob escaped Kong.
"I don't think I can finish this program. It's more than I thought it would be."
Arthit frowned, Kongpob was the most resilient person he knew. He kept silent, allowing Kong to continue.
"The work isn't hard, but there is so much of it. At first, the language barrier wasn't bothersome, but some days, I feel I can't keep up. When I started college before, I had people I knew with me. And I wasn't this far away from my family. I miss them, my friends, and most importantly, I miss you."
He chuckled fondly, "Kong, I miss you too. You can do this. I know you can, and do you know how I know this?"
"How?" Kongpob wiped the tears that escaped his eyes.
Arthit smiled, "I watched you prepare for this. You studied anywhere and everywhere; you studied instead of going out with friends. It's normal to feel insecure and scared about starting something new. Kongpob, you never back down and put your all into everything you do. Trust me, as someone who has watched you over the past four years: you can finish this."
"What if I don't do well? What if I don't make it? I don't want to disappoint anyone. I put us on pause for two years, what if I fail?"
That was the underlying meaning of his text, Kongpob strived to succeed at everything, while it was admirable; it was also a weakness. He was good at so many things that people assumed it was effortless. Arthit knew better; he heard the sighs of frustration, watched him bite the corners of lips until they bled while struggling with a problem. He was even at fault for forgetting his boyfriend was human, prone to stress, and the occasional breakdown.
Arthit sighed, "I know that I don't say it often, but I love you. No matter what happens, Kongpob, continue doing your best. You put in a lot of effort to be in this program, and you'd regret it if you come home now."
Arthit knew the pressure the younger was under with the knowledge he'd take over his family business in the future. He respected Kongpob's family, but it was a lot to put on someone. No one would know it by how Kongpob held himself.
"P'Arthit, I don't know what I'd do without you."
Arthit saw a slight smile.
"I'm not going anywhere, Kong. Some brat vowed to make me his wife; I have to see if he is a man of his word."
"P', I love you so much," the younger laughed for the first time since the call started.
Kongpob's laughter was contagious; Arthit couldn't help but join in. All the tension removed, no tears of sadness seen; a wave of calm washed over him.
There was a slight pause from Kong before he continued, "I'm serious, P'Arthit, since I met you, you've pushed me to be better. Whenever I'm unsure, you help me find a resolution. I didn't realize how much not having you around would affect me."
"Kongpob, please call me next time you feel down. If I can't answer, I"ll call you as soon as I can," Arthit looked around him, "I don't like the idea of you suffering alone, we are in this together. I miss you too, you know."
He felt the heat on his cheeks and tips of his ears. Arthit was rarely this straightforward, but he was determined to make this relationship work. The younger broke out into a smile, a smile so big it made Arthit's heart melt, but Kongpob didn't need to know that.
They sat in silence before an alarm sounded on Kongpob's side, "I'm sorry, P'Arthit. I have to get ready for my afternoon class. Can I call you later? I haven't heard your voice enough today."
Arthit was going to protest, but blame it on the distance; he couldn't say no to the pout on Kongpob's lips, "Sure, just let me know when you're free. I don't think I have to stay late tonight."
"I love you." "I love you too."
There was a fullness in his heart when they disconnected the call. All the declarations of love, Kongpob was the same as he was years ago. A smile formed on his face that would stay the whole afternoon. One that grew even wider when found a new folder on his desk and a personal note from P'Earth.
In three weeks, we have a meeting in the same city where N'Kongpob is studying. Inside is all the details and where we are staying. Tell Nong Kongpob I'd like him to have dinner with us. As your friend, I suggest taking a personal day or two afterward to spend with him.
Arthit had a good job, great friends, and an amazing boyfriend. They were going to be okay. Any doubts he had were gone, bad days would come, but so would even better days.