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In between..

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As the city enters early Autumn, it changes around Kong. The leaves are slipping from their branches, green turning to orange, yellow, brown. The nights come earlier, neon lighting the streets long before it’s six pm. There are more layers to put on and take off everytime he moves from warm to cool.

Unwrapping the scarf from his neck, he remembers nimble fingers working the buttons of his shirt. Sliding off his coat, his mind goes to Arthit’s face when he’d stood before him naked. Precious memories that Kongpob keeps in technicolour in his mind.

Others fade: the tales of his youth, the first few, difficult moments here in the USA hidden behind better ones he’s making. But the vibrancy of Arthit never will.

Even if he’s broken his promise. Even if the bus that’s bringing him home hasn’t arrived.

 

Kongpob’s feet seem to automatically stop here on the corner, on his walk between the station and his favourite noodle house - their favourite noodle house.

They stop him and his eyes take note of every minute change in the decor of the alley. It’s never much - a garbage bin moved to a new spot, a new graffiti tag on the wall or some discarded clothing that he knows Arthit would have scooped up and cleaned and put to good use.

The clothing might be waiting for a new owner, but it’s been four months, maybe Kongpob shouldn’t be waiting anymore?

“Are we going?” His companion asks, and Kong just shrugs his shoulders, then forces one foot in front of the other and follows Em down the alley, thoughts still lost in long held notes of a song he can almost taste.

They slip past Mae Lek’s noodle shop, Kongpob sparing a glance for the tattered sign, nostalgia filling his heart. But they don’t stop.

It wouldn’t be the same.

They end up at Khao’s and grab the last table, Em’s knees knocking into Kong’s below it. He casually slides his chair back, the fissure in his heart stretching wider as he remembers other, bonier knees resting against his own. So he separates them, grabbing the menu he’s learnt by heart and distracts his thoughts, asking what Em wants.

Here it’s a Chinese family serving, even though it’s Thai food, and he slips into the second language of his youth, ordering for them both.

Em grins at him across the table, “it’s strange when you do that.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I mean. I know you’re Thai but..”

“That was Mandarin,” Kongpob replies, deadpan.

“Ahh.. well you know.. I didn’t realise. Did you ask for the..”

“Extra sauce?”

“Yeah.”

“Of course.”

Em’s smile grows wider, “See, that’s one of the best reasons about coming here with you. I’ve never had rice this good.”

Kongpob forces himself to smile back. Although Em is nice, he’s kind of a simple guy in many ways. He doesn’t often share a preference for any shows or music or books. They don’t have deep discussions. Their relationship is mostly a surface one, born from working the same boring job, day-in day-out.

Em doesn’t ask Kongpob about his life before, doesn’t ask him to repeat the language of his childhood or try out the words, rolling them around in his mouth like they are precious sweets. He doesn’t make Kongpob feel warm like the sun just came out from behind a cloud.

But he’s a nice guy and he’s forced himself into the tiny gap of Kong’s heart that remains untouched. He fills in the gaps of his day with bland and easy chatter. Distracts from the miserable existence that Kongpob lives now. Makes Kong feel like.. maybe he’s not completely alone, although his heart protests.

They often make plans to eat after work, gathering their things and slipping out before they can be asked to stay behind to work overtime. Neither of them have aspirations beyond getting through the day and Kongpob knows that Em will take any chance to escape the confines of their miserable job and his difficult home life.

He’s only been working with Kong for two months, but he’s filling a gap in Kong’s life that has been gaping and empty since..

Kong forces the thought back into the confines of his mind and smiles brightly, lifting his glass to cheer against Em’s, “To the end of another chaotic day.”

“Yeah, yeah.. remember that one woman who was…”

Inside, Kongpob screams as he scratches another line on the imaginary cell wall - maybe tomorrow he’ll come back?

 

Arthit slumps deeper into the driver’s seat. His shoulders are tight from days of hauling amps and guitars, keyboards and drum sets. Driving with them held at ten and two is going to be torturous. Beside him, the drummer is passed out, snoring rhythmically like the bass of his kit.

Venue to venue, it’s been the same. Arthit might be the opening act, but he’s also the lackey, here to make sure every inch of the stage is taped in neon colours so the band can find their marks, to make sure every instrument is tuned precisely and every place provides water or vodka or beer for them.

It’s been a blast, trawling down the west coast in a camper van of musicians. Every day, playing their music to a paying crowd. Night’s spent hunched over the wheel for his hour of driving, the rest in oblivion curled in the back seat.

But before he closes his eyes to rest, Arthit never fails to squeeze them shut tightly and remember Kong. The way the soft light of the dawn had curled over his sleeping frame. How the sun’s rays had licked their way, painting paths across his collarbones, followed tenderly by Arthit’s wandering tongue. His gentle moans and his harsh panting breath.

It’s torture in some ways, pure indulgence in others. But every night, Arthit loses himself in the memories.

And every day, he wishes himself back there with him.

But he forces himself into his work - his passion shining as he plucks his guitar, warm voice filling busy bars and crowded clubs. His acoustic set has been gathering him a following and there are many familiar faces in the crowds day-to-day.

He doesn’t have a phone, but he knows that he’s popular online, knows that his music has been recorded and shared - the others have shown him. But he doesn’t know if it’s made it to the east coast, to Kongpob.

The man is in every waking moment of Arthit’s life - and every dream too. His songs have become anthems about their short time together. When he sings, his voice soars as though it could be heard across the country. When he plays, his fingers pluck tunes like they’re stroking Kong’s skin.

Two months of friendship. One night of showcasing their love. But it’s still everything to Arthit.

He’s been saving steadily, eating what the others buy, sleeping in the van every night or wedged on a friend’s sofa or cool floorboards. His only outgoings, new strings for his guitar and bandaids for his sore fingertips.

It’s worth it though - their future will be brighter if he can offer Kongpob more than a dirty alley, an occasional slurp of noodles and one night in two months in a place worthy of their passion.

Again, his thoughts twist to that night, when he’d finally laid his feelings bare. The way Kong’s eyes had lit like a thousand suns were burning in them, the way he had responded to every touch and kiss and moan.

Arthit’s life has been long in many ways, but short in romance. And above any other tryst, being with Kongpob had made him more poetic, more romantic, more verbose than before.

Songs have flown from his fingertips, lyrics pouring from his mouth. Songs about yearning, about learning and growing. Songs about soulmates and love found in back alley’s and over bowls of steaming broth. Songs that map his love for his Kongpob.

“Sawasdee Khap,” he whispers to himself as he drives along a twisting highway, headed for the final gig. The drummer’s snoring settles to a low grunt and Arthit lets himself relax.

It’s almost time to go home.