Two months passed since Arthit returned from China, where he left Kongpob to continue his education. He thought the first week would be the hardest, but it wasn't. Arthit was distracted catching up on emails and meetings for a new project with Todd. Kongpob called him every night, talking about his classes and the new people he was meeting. The whole thing felt like when he graduated college, and Kong was a taxi drive away.
Three weeks. It took three weeks for it to set in; Kongpob was gone for two years. The left side of the bed would remain empty. The calls became less frequent. The breakdown didn't happen immediately; it started with ordering iced coffee instead of his usual pink milk. His coworkers noticed he arrived to work earlier and stayed later. Arthit did everything he could to not be in his apartment, he saw Kongpob everywhere, and if kept busy, he wouldn't have the time to notice the space where Kong used to occupy.
Six weeks in, he started to spend more time at Bright's bar. His friends were thrilled at first, commenting on how it felt like college, seeing the group together so often. Knott was the one to notice first, the dark circles under his friend's eyes. Next was Bright, who noticed how much money his friend was spending on alcohol. Prem and Tutah found Arthit one night, crying, drunkenly staring at the ring on his left hand. In the morning, Arthit promised his friends he'd take better care of himself, under their threats of calling his mother, or worse, Kongpob, to straighten him out. He didn't want to burden Kongpob while he was studying hard, so he stopped drinking.
Eight weeks, two months; that's when his unhealthy habits caught up to him. Arthit forgot to eat breakfast again that morning. His habit of hitting the snooze button returned; without Kongpob to tease him awake, he slept in; he only had time to get an iced coffee at the stall near the building. He was in a meeting, listening to how good profits were this quarter and how the company appreciated everyone's efforts. Focusing was difficult, but the meeting was first thing in the morning; he didn't think anything of it.
Everything was good until he stood up from his chair. Arthit saw white dots dance through his field of vision, only for it to go black. He wasn't sure how long he was unconscious, but he could hear P'Earth shout for help. Her soft words, "Nong, Arthit, can you hear me?" He felt a hand touch his forehead, and for a moment, he pretended it was Kongpob. He smiled as exhaustion took his body.
The beeping of a heart monitor woke him the following morning; he blinks his eyes a few times to see where the noise came from, only to see he was in a hospital bed. Arthit groaned at the sight of his mom asleep in the chair next to him. Her eyes snapped open; he wondered if mothers ever sleep soundly after having children.
"Oon, are you okay? The doctors said you are malnourished and dehydrated; and that you passed out from exhaustion. What happened? I haven't seen you like this since your father died."
Arthit's memory of his father's death was spotty at best. He remembered his father leaving for a business trip and not returning. His mother picked him up from school; with a grim expression on her face. She held him tightly while she explained that his father was involved in a car accident and the doctors couldn't revive him. Arthit, at twelve years old, shut down because that's what Arthit does to avoid pain; and continued to do well into adulthood.
His voice cracked, "Mae, I messed up," and she didn't hesitate to move from her seat to pull him into a hug. He cried into her shoulder; he cried harder than he had in years.
"Everything's okay, Oon. You know you can tell me anything, right? We've been through a lot since your father passed. There's nothing you could have done that doesn't deserve forgiveness."
He knows it's true; his mother put up with all his antics. When he started acting out as a teenager, and his grades were declining. She waited up for him one night, he expected her to yell at him, but she pulled him into a hug. Arthit remembered the words that broke the dam, "Do you think your father would approve of this attitude? His sweet, hard-working, respectful boy is still in there, under all that pain. Oon, I miss him too; you don't have to mourn him alone."
His grip around her tightened at the memory; as she ran a hand up and down his back. He hiccupped, "I fell in love." She pulled him back slightly, "Oh, sweetheart, love is never a mistake. Tell me about her."
Arthit never thought this moment would take place in a hospital. He expected Kongpob to be by his side, but maybe it was better to do it alone. He needed her to know; because other than Kongpob, his mother was the only person he trusted with his feelings.
"My lover is a man," his breath hitched, "and now he's not here. I messed up."
He pulled himself almost out from her arms. His mother is silent for a second before she tilts her head with a soft smile, "Oon, love is never a mistake." He starts to cry again, and this time, he's not sure which emotion is taking over: relief, happiness, or love for his mother.
She held him tightly, carding her fingers through his hair, "my poor Oon, you do this all the time; hide your feelings. Tell me how you messed up. Mae will help fix it."
"I wasted our time," he leans back against the hospital bed, "Kongpob's gone for two years, and all I can think of is all the moments I let slip through my fingers. I was too busy; or too proud. Everything reminds me of him, down to the sheets on my bed. He helped pick them out. I think about him when I eat breakfast; I ate eggs for breakfast for months because it was what he knew how to make. He's been gone for two months; I can't bring myself to eat anything else. You'd be happy; he broke the habit of tossing clothes on the floor. I can hear his voice in my head when I try and pick them up immediately. Even in another country, he manages to make himself the center of my attention."
His mother laughed, "he has you cleaning your apartment. I must meet his boy."
"He sounds like a lovely boy," she squeezed his hand, "I can see how much you love him by the way your eyes light up. That only happened when you bought one of your robots or pink milk."
"Mae!" Arthit's cheeks felt warm. People didn't understand his dynamic with Kongpob, but that's because they hadn't met his mother. She was constantly teasing him, and maybe that's what made Kongpob easily pass his defenses. He felt a similar feeling of safety with Kong as he did with his mother.
"Arthit," he looked into his mother's eyes, "while love is never a mistake, you can't do this to yourself. To avoid heartbreak, you neglected your health. I know it hurts; when your father died, it felt like the ground crumbled beneath me. He and I still had so much planned, for us, for you," She wiped a tear from her cheek, "you are a piece of him I get to keep; I see him in you when you smile. You were my anchor, holding me to reality. Let me be your anchor while he's away."
He didn't know how to respond; he knew they depended on each other, but she rarely talked about how hard it was for her. The mere thought of Kongpob dying; a pit formed in his stomach. His mother lost the love of her life and continued to wake him up with a smile. She put his pain above hers, always. How did he get lucky enough to have exceptional people in his life? A mother whose love knew no bounds and a boyfriend who loved him despite every flaw he possessed.
"I noticed, you know, that you were happier. You were smiling more, and anyone who can make my son smile like that is family to me."
Arthit chuckled, "you have no idea how much Kongpob would love to hear you say that. I'm sure he planned our entire lives together in his first year."
As if summoned, Kongpob burst through the hospital door, eyes wide and clearly out of breath, "P'Arthit, I got the first flight I could." The rare sight of his boyfriend uncontrolled simultaneously broke and filled his heart. Kongpob's tunnel vision widened, and he noticed Arthit wasn't alone. The younger brought his hands up to wai at Arthit's mom, "Hello, I'm sorry, I didn't know P'Arthit had a visitor. P'Earth didn't mention it when she called. I'll come back later."
Kongpob went to leave but paused when Arthit's mom stood from her spot next to Arthit, "You must be the infamous Kongpob," she held out her hand, "please come sit. My son was saying how much he missed you."
"He was?" Kong's head tilted to the side; he glanced at Arthit, "you were?"
"Mae!" Arthit refused to make eye contact, "I did no such thing."
"Oh, I see," she ruffled her son's hair, "you're just like your father," she looked back at Kong, "don't listen to the protests. He loves you. Do you know that he doesn't even like eggs for breakfast? His father was the same with spice, but he never said anything to me. He ate each meal with a smile on his face. I asked why he didn't say anything years later; he told me he started associating spice with love because I smiled back at him."
Kongpob smirked, and Arthit hated that smirk (he loved it, but Kong didn't need to know that), "Mae! That was supposed to stay between us. You can't tell him all my secrets."
She took one of his hands, "no more wasted time, Oon. You don't always get the next time."
Arthit nodded; his mom brushed a tear from his cheek.
"I need a strong cup of coffee," she smiled towards Kongpob, "I believe you have some catching up to do with your boyfriend."
Kong didn't move from his spot until his mom left the room, the imaginary wall between disappeared. He took a deep breath in, and the distinct smell that was Kongpob filled his nose. A kiss landed on his forehead,
"P'Arthit, you told your mom about us?"
Arthit hummed in affirmation, "I needed her to know; the past few months were more difficult than I thought. I'm sorry, Kongpob. I didn't mean for this to happen."
"Why didn't you talk to me? P'Todd told me you're working more hours. P'Bright mentioned you were drinking more than usual. When the hospital called, my heart stopped."
Kong sniffed, and Arthit felt wetness on his cheek. He looked up to see tears flowing down his boyfriend's cheek. He reached up,
"Oh, Kongpob," he made space in his bed for Kong to crawl in next to him, "come here. I am sorry for scaring you."
The younger carefully slipped in and rested his head against the older's chest.
"I miss you so much, Phi. Every single day, but I'm doing this for me, but also for our future. You have to take care of my favorite person since I can't do it myself."
Arthit blushed, "I know, and I will. I didn't realize how bad it was getting. The apartment feels empty without you in it."
"When I miss you, I stare at my ring. My new friends tease me because of how lovesick I am, but I don't care. If they had someone to love as much as I love you, P'Arthit, they'd understand."
Kongpob yawned; all Arthit could do was look down at him with the fondest smile. "I love you too. You must be tired from the flight. We can talk about this after you've gotten some rest. Don't exhaust yourself because of me."
"Okay, P'Arthit," Kong's voice was soft, and his breathing near sleep.
Arthit stared at his lover until he heard a click; he glanced towards the door to see his mother with her phone. He rolled his eyes, but when she got to his bed to show him the picture, he smiled.
"I thought you'd like to have this photo to remind yourself that even if he's in another country. He will always come back for you."
"Thank you, Mae, for loving me; and not being upset I'm dating Kongpob," he reached for her with his free hand.
"I'm sure Kongpob will also appreciate seeing the expressions you have for him when he's not looking."
Arthit blinked a few times, seeing a familiar smirk on his mother's face. Maybe it was a bad idea to introduce the people who tease him the most, but he was too content to think about that. Arthit had his favorite people in one room, and that's all that mattered for now.