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I Think We're Alone Now

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“Happy Birthday, Mae,” Arthit greets his mother with a firm hug as she opens the door for them. Kongpob, just a step behind him with a fresh, modest bouquet of pink carnations, echoes his senior’s words and squeaks a little in the small woman’s embrace. 

“Oh, Oon, Kongpob! Are those for me? They’re beautiful! Did you run into traffic on the way? You must be so tired from work. Do you want anything to drink? Come in, come in! Oon, N’Kaofang has been asking about you non-stop since she arrived.” 

I’m sure she has .

“I’ll go see to her immediately, then,” Arthit laughs with a shake of his head. 

“I’ll put these in water for you, Mae,” Kongpob holds up the flowers, carefully wrapped in pretty yellow paper. He’d suggested something a little more elaborate at the florist, but Arthit had insisted on the simple arrangement, garnished with baby’s breath. 

Trust me, Arthit had said. She’ll love them, especially if they’re from you. 

“You look lovely, by the way. Not a day over eighteen.”

“Oh, you!” the dimpled woman giggles, clearly pleased. “You must give my son a toothache with such flattery.”

He smiles at her delighted laughter but makes no comment. She means well, after all.

They’d gathered at Todd and Earth’s rather spacious townhouse for the evening to celebrate. By now, they know exactly how things work.

Arrive together, make polite chit-chat with the relatives, display light touches and playful comments here and there, smile and laugh at whatever anyone says, then make hinting eye contact at around ten with the intent to leave, driving to their shared apartment to fall asleep in their separate bedrooms.

Over time, though, the entire farce had become so deeply ingrained in their second nature that nobody even questions the legitimacy of their romance anymore. Not that they ever had, but one would think they would occasionally slip up either merely by chance or by persuasion of other temptations.

For a pair of industrial engineers, they certainly have impressive acting chops.

One particularly helpful factor (depending on how one would see it) in their enactment is that boyfriend or not, Kongpob has utterly enchanted his faux partner’s family, and Arthit frequents as the subject of prideful boasting at dinner with Kongpob’s father. 

And because, according to Arthit’s eccentric niece, he has a boyfriend, that makes him an expert confidante in matters of the heart.

As Arthit peeks his head around the corner of her bedroom door, he’s met with a deeply unimpressed scowl and arms folded across the chest of an alarmingly gory zombie T-shirt that only someone like Todd would buy their young child.

“You’re late,” says Kaofang, now a very serious seven years old and deeply in touch with the pot of purple cosmetic glitter she’d been gifted for her birthday. “Come into my office.”

She gestures stiffly at the green plastic stool across from her at a square table standing a foot tall, the same one that just about every child has from the children’s section of IKEA. 

Arthit nods astutely in apology, then gingerly crouches down until he’s practically squatting in the tiny chair, knees protruding uncomfortably above the surface of the ‘desk’. He deliberately fails to comment on the violet streaks messily, generously swept across both eyelids and over parts of her thin brows.

“I’m deeply sorry, Khun Kaofang. You wanted to see me?”

“Yes,” she feigns exaggerated melancholy, turning her head away with a pout. “I require your advice, Khun Arthit.”

Her uncle suppresses a grin.

“What might be troubling you?”

Kaofang sighs heavily and rests her chin in her palm, leaning her elbow on the table.

“I have an uninvited love,” she finally says after a moment’s quiet.

“Someone likes you but you don’t like them?” Arthit is already intrigued with what is sure to be an epic tale of playground romance. 

“No, the other way around.”

“Ah, so...an unrequited love.”

“That’s what I said.”

“Of course.”

It’s better not to argue with her, he’s come to learn.

“Anyway, I gave Boun my snack at recess,” she explains, obviously distressed. “My favourite flavour of Fun-O’s. He likes those. He said so one time.”

“That was very nice of you.”

“Then, we played tag, and he won. He’s very fast at running. So I kissed his cheek and asked him to be my boyfriend. He said no.”

“Wait, you kissed him?! Kaofa—“

Ahem.”

“Sorry, Khun Kaofang. You can’t just kiss people without their permission. It’s not okay.”

“I thought you said that’s how P’Kongpob asked you to be his boyfriend.”

Ah, yes. 

That had, indeed, been what he’d told her when he’d first brought Kongpob to meet his extended family for the first time at New Year’s Eve two years ago.

It had been so long since they’d been doing this that he now sometimes muddles up the supposed narrative they’d carefully constructed.  

“That’s...not the same.”

“Why? He kissed you, and now you’re his boyfriend.”

“Uh, well,” he lowers his knees to the ground now to sit up a bit straighter. “It wasn’t that simple. We...it was more like we already knew we liked each other, so he, uh, understood that I wouldn’t mind.”

“But how did he know? Did you talk about it?”

“No,” he chuckles at the absurdity of how he’s sharing a completely fictional recount of his and Kongpob’s first kiss as an example for his very young niece. And yet, his cheeks warm with a shyness that he has nothing to attribute to. How deep is a grave? “It’s just...you can feel it.”

The girl frowns in thought, then twists her lips to the side.

“So I have to make sure he likes me back before I kiss him?”

“Well, yes. That would be best.”

“And what if I’m wrong?”

Arthit smiles in sympathy. 

“Then...you have to respect that. Even if it hurts. Sometimes, loving someone means wanting them to be happy, even if you’re not the one who’s making them happy.”

Kaofang goes quiet, observing the sudden shift in her uncle’s tone. He’s no longer teasing; she can sense it.

“Have you ever been wrong, Lung Arthit?”

Arthit pulls his distracted gaze up from the table, considering her question.

Oon! Kaofang! Dinner’s ready!

Earth’s voice rings from downstairs, alerting both lovesick fools to the mouth-watering fragrance of green curry.

 


 

As the evening winds down and the small children have nodded off to sleep on the sofa, the adults and older kids sit around the dining room table with cups of tea and empty plates where birthday cake had once been, engaging in soft laughter and heartfelt chatter.

Arthit, light-headed with enough socialising to fill a month’s quota, raps lightly on the kitchen door frame. He tilts his head slightly in greeting as his cousin turns around to look at him. Her grin widens and she not-so-successfully tucks a strand of hair behind her ear with her forearm. 

“Oh, Oon.”

Earth’s hands are otherwise occupied with soapy rubber gloves as she attacks a particularly stubborn spot at the base of her trusty clay pot with a scrubbing brush.

“Need some help?”

“I wouldn’t mind.”

He unbuttons the cuffs of his shirt, folding his sleeves up so they reach just below his elbows. Then, grabbing a sudsy plate out of the basin, he runs it under the moderately low trickle of water in the other half of the large kitchen sink.

“Thanks for dinner. I really missed your cooking,” he says, brushing away a stray bubble with his thumb. 

“Well, I keep telling you to come over, but you always seem to have other plans.”

“That, and your husband is constantly trying to get me to drink with him. I’m not young enough to get away with boozing on weekdays anymore.”

Can he really consider himself too old? He’s only nearing thirty, but he’s certainly not as keen for a beer on a Wednesday night as he once might have been on the night before a day with no morning classes.

Despite the fine lines forming in the corners of his eyes when he smiles, and his dimples beginning to form a semi-permanent crease in his soft cheeks, he still possesses a boyish charm that devastates the hearts of everyone around him.

In fact, that’s how it had all started, at an office party where at least three of his colleagues had placed an unwanted hand on his arm, or leaned a little to close, one even going so far as to ask him about his plans for the evening.

 

I’m not interested in any of them. They don’t even know anything about me.

Just pretend you’re taken .

By who?

I don’t know. Tell them you’re dating me.

Don’t be ridiculous. 

What, then? Would you rather all the shallow attention?

What’s in it for you?

Squashing my parents’ hopes that I’ll marry their friend’s daughter.

 

Kongpob had made it sound so simple, and for the most part, he’d been right.

Five years of being each other’s default date at family holiday parties, a built-in companion at work events, an automatic shield from overly eager hands of strangers at the bar. So deeply convenient, given that they already live together, and so believable when they genuinely enjoy each other’s presence. 

And it had been just as easy to tip the scale.

The door slides open again, and Arthit’s pseudo partner steps in from the muted laughter outside the kitchen, a gentle hand making home at Arthit’s waist. Noting Earth’s presence, Kongpob plants the briefest of performative kisses on his temple. 

“Hi, Kong,” Earth shakes her head at the two. “Did you come in here to help me dry dishes, or should I worry about my smoke alarm going off?”

“That would truly be a miracle to witness,” he rolls his eyes a little, but a toothy, white smile still spreads across his face. “Anyhow, I just came to tell P’Arthit that I’m going to help drop your other cousins off at their place. I’ll be back later so we can head home.”

He leans against the counter, smiling when Arthit nods with the briefest of glances at him, before turning his attention back to placing each of the clean dishes on the drying rack. 

“Don’t be too long,” Arthit says after a moment, either a warning for his driving safety, or a plea to not leave him alone with his cousin’s beer-happy husband. Kongpob parses the latter, and chuckles. 

“Todd is driving your parents, so I doubt he’ll be trying to pry any embarrassing secrets from you this evening.”

He knows one, and that’s plenty, Arthit thinks. 

“I’m heading out now,” Kongpob leans in. “Kiss?” he says softly, slightly pursing his lips in anticipation.Earth keeps her gaze on the pot and sponge in her hand as Arthit hesitates. 

Kongpob looks eager, almost pouting with flirtation, and as always, Arthit’s resolve shatters. He leans in and pecks his mouth briefly, but its impact leaves an invisible crater on his tingling lips. 

And then the warmth disappears from his hip and it’s just him and Earth at the sink again. Then, like clockwork, she asks him a dreaded question as soon as she hears the front door click shut.

“Are you ever going to tell him?”

“Don’t start,” he groans. It’s as though she expects a different response every time she asks.

“Oon…”

“P’Earth, just—there’s no point, okay?”

“So, what? You’re just going to use each other until…?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“He feels the same about you,” she says simply, without a hint of question. 

“Sure, whatever.”

Earth sighs, dropping the scourer in the sink and shucking off her gloves.

“I just don’t understand.”

“There’s nothing to understand. If he really felt that way, he would’ve said something ages ago. You know how he is.”

“I know that you two are lying to yourselves and to everyone. What about your mother, Arthit? You know she’s been asking me if you’ve hinted at getting married soon? She even asked me if you’re struggling with money so she can help you buy a ring.”

Arthit gulps down the lump in his throat that’s threatening to erupt in a sob. Of all people, he feels worst keeping secrets from Mae. 

Honestly, he could’ve suffered far worse in his teen years of self-discovery as far as parents go. But instead of throwing a tantrum or shaming him for the racy magazines under his bed of scantily clothed (and some completely undressed) men, she’d wrapped the covers in newspaper, and left a sticky note in his sock drawer: Your father doesn’t read the entertainment section.

Earth’s question goes unanswered, and the dishwashing resumes.

She isn’t trying to be pushy; he knows that much. In fact, she and Todd have been Arthit’s only confidantes in the matter ever since he’d had one too many slices of spiked watermelon while watching a basketball game at their then-apartment, ending the evening curled up on their sofa and crying about how Kongpob would never love him for real. 

He’d had much explaining to do the next morning.

“I just want you to be happy, Oon,” she says quietly.

  “I am,” he replies firmly. “Happy, I mean.”

But perhaps, he dreads, happiness is selfish.

 


 

The drive home is distinctly quiet, the streets mostly clear of the peak hour traffic, but also because Kongpob falls asleep in the passenger seat, his head lolling off to the side. Arthit is silently thankful; any conversation right now would be too much for him, especially with P’Earth’s earlier comments about marriage throwing an attention-seeking tantrum among the other anxieties that set up camp in his mind.

Marriage. 

Kongpob had spent much of the early days of their arrangement moaning to Arthit about his resentment towards the idea, hanging up on phone conversations with his parents with a roll of his eyes. If there’s one thing that Arthit is certain of, it’s that Kongpob would rather permanently ordain as a monk than get married, let alone to him. 

After clicking the engine off, Arthit waits, basking in the compressed silence of the parking lot.

It’s self-indulgent and, he can perhaps admit, a little creepy, but every now and then when Kongpob naps on the sofa or in the car, Arthit takes the liberty of drinking in every last detail. 

His firm, bony hands, with tan skin that looks so pretty against his own softer, larger palm, are well acquainted with his arm, his shoulder, his waist.

The swell of his chest, firm with hundreds of bench presses and chest flys at the gym, oftentimes press warmly into Arthit’s back when arms circle around to meet at his front. 

Soft cheeks despite an angular jawline, and a dimple to match the one in his chin that comes out from hiding to witness his widest grins.

And lips. 

This is where Arthit always ends his visual tour before forcing himself to shake himself of any lewd thoughts, gently shaking Kongpob awake to either properly rest in his own room, or to let him know that dinner is ready.

Tonight, though, he allows himself the last part of his spectatorship. And where there usually sparks restrained lust and desperation, there is despair and a stray tear threatening to spill.

But before it does, a car horn blares from the other side of the car park, stirring Kongpob out of his slumber.

“Oh, we’re here,” he says, voice still thick with sleep. “Why didn’t you wake me?”

Arthit forms a tight grin, blinking away the ache in his eyes. 

“You seemed tired.”

“Thank you,” Kongpob smiles gently, reaching across the handbrake to pat Arthit’s thigh. “Tonight was nice.”

“Mm.”

“Your Mae really has a sweet tooth like you. She had three slices of that cake!”

“Yeah?” Arthit laughs noncommittally as he unbuckles his seatbelt.  

“She even offered to let us take some home, but we don’t really do dessert usually. It was nice of her to offer, though. She must know you like chocolate,” Kongpob rambles on as they climb out of the car, the headlights blinking as the doors lock. “Oh, by the way, your uncle said he’s building a new construction near our office? The suburb in the next street over. It’s a nice area, actually. You wouldn’t think that there’s a suburb there, what with how it’s just a street over from the main road. Maybe we should look into moving there; it would be a closer commute to work each day, so you could sleep in a little longer, and…”

Arthit barely registers anything Kongpob is saying, exhaling noisily through his nose as a response. 

It’s time, isn’t it?

“P’Arthit? Is something wrong?”

Arthit watches as a stray cat saunters across the row of cars, slowly, carefully, before leaping onto the hood of a red car near the exit. It follows its own tail in a circle, then with a stretch and a yawn, curls up by the windshield to rest.

“Kongpob…I think we should break up.”

Chapter Text

"Can we talk about this, please?"

He pants a little, speed-walking after Arthit as they approach their apartment. 

Kongpob, I think we should break up.

His mouth had fallen open, and then Arthit had said nothing more, making a beeline for the parking lot exit and not stopping to hear anything Kongpob had to say about the matter. The man had even made such a point of avoiding him that he’d bounded the six flights of stairs up to the apartment in his stiff leather work shoes, not at all discouraged by the evening’s fatigue.

"P’Arthit!"

The name falls on deaf ears, Arthit busying himself with toeing his loafers off and fidgeting with various buttons on the remote control for the air-conditioning. 

"P’Arthit!"

Kongpob finally says, loudly. The other man pauses in his agitated bustle, running a hand over his face as he turns around in the middle of their living room. 

"What, Kongpob? What is there to talk about?"

"Um, let’s start with why? Why, all of a sudden, do you want to call it quits?" Kongpob climbs out of his own shoes to walk towards the living room. "I thought we were good."

"We are good. I just think…it’s time to end this, don’t you think?"

He hates the look on Kongpob’s face as he murmurs his lame response. It’s the same expression he’d drawn when he’d begged for Arthit not to ignore the elephant in the room, three years ago, legs cornered against the arm of the couch and their faces a little too close. 

Kongpob — if he asked nicely enough — could have anything he wanted from Arthit, everything fibre of his being oozing persuasion. But not this time around.

"If it’s good, then there’s no reason end it," the persistent man comes closer, directly facing Arthit in the dim of the living room. His hair is dishevelled from sleep and his work shirt creased with the day’s movement, and yet Kongpob has never looked less at home. 

"Kong, it was going to end one day anyhow," he says, exasperated.

It’s bewildering to him that Kongpob would put up this much of a fight or even question it. Hadn’t he always been the one to say that it was all a clever ruse? An arrangement of convenience?

And yet, his faux boyfriend blinks at him with glassy eyes, stunned and like he’s lost his footing.

"D-did you…P’Arthit, did you meet someone? Someone you like?"

Arthit’s head snaps up.

"Huh? No, that’s not it. I don’t go anywhere other than to work or with you. Where would I even be meeting anyone?"

"I don’t know!" Kongpob runs a hand through his hair, clearly distraught. "I just…I thought we were happy with this arrangement. Nobody bothers us at bars anymore and my parents haven’t pestered me about 'eligible bachelorettes' in four years. They love you, and I thought your family liked me, too—"

"Kong, don’t you get it?" Arthit cuts him off, standing up and laughing, almost bitterly. "That’s the entire problem. My family…Kaofang…Mae…they do love you. Too much. She’s basically just waiting for us to announce our engagement. I can’t…I can’t keep lying to my mother like this, Kong."

He sighs laboriously, then slumps down onto the couch. Somehow, the unexpected resistance makes the entire matter feel infinitely worse than a real breakup. 

It’s eerily quiet now, the room inflating twice as large and dwindling ten times smaller all at once. 

 

The silence stretches thin…

 

…and then snaps.

 

"Then…then let’s get married, P’Arthit."

It takes several moments for his words to register, no less because he’s hearing them in person rather in a feverish dream. But after the syncopated heartbeat missed, he laughs—scoffs at the idea. 

"What?!"

"I said, let’s get married."

Kongpob’s eyes are wide and shining as he firmly makes his declaration, and Arthit has to search them for a moment for any hint of jest. When he finds none, he shakes his head in disbelief.

"We can’t get married, Kong. That’s completely absurd."

Indeed, about as ridiculous as how he’d oftentimes constructed elaborate fantasies of a domestic life with him, having their own place and running errands together, laughing at a bad movie on TV while piled on the sofa with a bag of crispy pork rinds. In essence, not so different to the way things are now, but with the distinct presence of good morning kisses and marking relationship milestones with love bites across each other’s skin. 

"Is it, though?"

"Yes! Kong, what if my mother finds out?"

"Well, that’s the issue, isn’t it? You said that that’s what she wants, and I’m pretty sure it’s what my parents want, too. So let’s just do it! Why not?"

"Why not? What about what I want? Seriously, Kongpob, are you out of your mind? I don’t know about you, but I do want to meet someone and get married one day, preferably someone who actually loves me!" It comes out louder and angrier than he’d intended, and when he sees his friend flinch, he softens his features into a look of mere listlessness. "Besides, I thought you always said you were against marriage."

Kongpob’s brows pinch together at his comment. For the most fleeting of milliseconds, Arthit thinks he’s about to say something, but when nothing follows, he simply shuts his eyes.

"I’m sorry that I’m bringing it up so suddenly. I just…I didn’t think there was a good time to do it."

"How long have you been thinking about this?"

Kongpob shoulders slump, and he climbs over Arthit’s legs between the sofa and coffee table so he can plant himself on the seat next to him. He leans back, head tilted back to look at the ceiling, and all his muscles warm the cushions beneath with his tiredness. 

Arthit eyes him sideways, then he, too, rests his back against the couch.

Truthfully, he’d already considered ending it within the first week. Kongpob, of course, had been utterly convincing in executing his plan, and had no qualms about getting comfortable in Arthit’s personal space whenever he felt it was necessary. And it had all been quite civil and subtly theatrical, the two of them exchanging amused snickers as soon as nosy or intrigued company would back off, their doubts seemingly dispelled. 

Until Kongpob would reach for his hand under the table away from prying eyes, playing with his fingers and tracing the lines along his palm. Until he’d carefully brushed Arthit’s bangs off his forehead and swiped the rainwater off his face with his thumbs after they’d gotten soaked in an unexpected storm after work. Until he’d sat through all twelve seasons of Hamtaro with him the weekend after he’d had to take Guppy to be put down, bringing him glass after glass of pink milk and holding Arthit to his chest to soothe his spontaneous sobs. 

How he’d ever thought that he could skim through their set-up without falling ineffably in love, he doesn’t know, but every time he catches himself relishing in a kiss for a stranger’s show or feeling the urge to pull Kongpob close to him by the waist as they lean against their kitchen island with mugs of coffee, there erupts an undeniable pang in his chest that reminds him of how none of this his real, and Kongpob isn’t his to love.

"A while," he finally replies. 

"And it’s really what you want?"

No.

"I think it’s time. I don’t want to lie to Mae anymore."

A slow, even exhale sounds from next to him, and he hears Kongpob nod rather than seeing it. 

"Okay."

Kongpob’s whisper fills the room, a blanket to put their five year act to rest.

 


 

Despite the air conditioning being on full blast, Arthit’s skin is prickling with sweat and he’s too restless to fall asleep. A hundred tosses and turns later, he throws the covers off his body and resorts to spreading himself across the entire bed like a starfish. 

He’d eventually returned his own room, simply stripping down to his boxers and climbing into bed, too worn out to even bother with a shower. Except that now, even with his eyes being sore and dry, sleep refuses to take him. 

He needs to sleep. To forget Kongpob’s furrowed brows and tensed shoulders from just a few hours before. To push all thoughts of the touches and prolonged looks that he’d nailed into a coffin in one fell swoop. 

What have I done?

But of course, a thought is not so easily tucked away as a shirt into a drawer, and Arthit’s compartment for his love of Kongpob’s affections spills over and floods his entire headspace. 

Let’s get married, P’Arthit.

She even asked me if you’re struggling with money so she can help you buy a ring.

How many times had he passed the jewellers’ on his weekend runs, pausing in the glass to consider his own yearning reflection? One time, he’d gone as far as entering the shop, placing rings onto his own finger and holding them under the light, and snuck a few pictures before solemnly handing the silver bands back to the sales rep. 

Embarrassed, he usually ducks out of the shop and buys an iced coffee from a nearby stall, just to have a reason for why he’d taken so long. 

You’re the best!

Arthit would watch fondly as perfect pink lips sipped at the straw, and then mumble something about needing a shower, disappearing into the bathroom. 

Even in the aftermath of their split, Kongpob still occupies an acre of his thoughts and when a crack of thunder claps outside his window, Arthit feels a sudden surge of lunacy in him that springs him up from the bed, striding to the door and pulling it open. 

He’s about to cross the hallway to knock on Kongpob’s door when something catches his eye in the living room. 

"Kongpob?"

His friend is still curled up on the couch in fetal position, still in his work clothes, brows tense even in his sleep. Arthit crouches down in front of him, about to tap him awake, when he notes the dark patch on the beige material of the sofa cushions, right in front of Kongpob’s face. He’d been crying. 

I’m sorry, he says, but not aloud. I know you were counting on me. 

"Come on," he whispers instead. "Let’s get you to bed."

And, like he’d done so many times before, he slips his arms under his friend and scoops him up. He almost laughs despite himself, at how he’s nursing Kongpob through their own 'breakup'. It’s only as he’s placing Kongpob on the bed that it occurs to Arthit that he probably should’ve taken his friend to his own room. There’s no way he would be able to fall asleep now. 

Kongpob breathes noisily, rolling over in Arthit’s bed to face the middle. Echoing his sigh, Arthit climbs into the space next to him, watching the other’s shoulder rise and fall until they rise again with the sun.

 


 

Arthit is sitting up in bed, leaning against the headboard with his eyes shut, when Kongpob finally stirs. He’d shifted around several times in the night, but despite mindlessly unbuckling his belt and somehow, sloppily, undressing down to his boxers and wife-beater, all while mostly unconscious, he’d been out cold for most of the night. 

It takes him several more heavy breaths before he squints his eyes open and slowly taking in his surroundings, flinching at a single streak of light peeking through between the two curtains. It can’t be much past dawn. 

"Why am I in your bed?"

Arthit pulls the covers up to his waist before opening his eyes.

"You fell asleep on the couch again."

But rather than reaching over to playfully cuddle him as he normally would, though, Kongpob simply nods as he sits up, mirroring Arthit’s posture. 

"How’re you feeling?" the latter breaks the momentary quiet. 

"Kind of shit, to be honest. I just got dumped last night."

He says this plainly, but then bursts into a low chuckle, at which Arthit lightly elbows him in annoyance. 

"I’m sorry," he says anyway.

Kongpob nods.

"I just wasn’t…expecting it, I guess. You never seemed unhappy with our arrangement."

"I wasn’t," Arthit shift in his seat to face him. "But we can’t keep this act up this forever, you know?"

"I—" Kongpob cuts himself off, then considers his next words. "I could. I was ready to."

"Kong—"

"No, listen," he pushes the blanket off his body now, sitting up with his legs folded. "Do you remember what you said when we started this whole thing?"

Arthit raises an eyebrow, biting his lip in an attempt to recall anything significant. 

"You said that if one of us…developed feelings, then we would break it off."

Kongpob averts his gaze now, wringing the material of the covers in his hands. Arthit’s breath catches in his throat, and his legs stiffen to concrete. Had P’Earth been right all along?

"And I just thought…" Kongpob laughs humourlessly, scratching behind his ear. "I don’t know, when you said we should break up last night, I thought, maybe…you…anyway, it’s stupid. Obviously, you don’t feel that way, and I got my hopes up for nothing. Anyway, I—"

"Kongpob," Arthit feels all the blood rush to his head. Surely, he doesn’t mean— 

"It’s okay," he goes on. "I just thought I was being pretty clear about how I felt. But I guess after that time, I should’ve tried harder to get over–"

Arthit pulls the covers out of Kongpob’s hands, effectively making his friend look at him. "Kongpob, tell me what you mean, please."

There’s a tremble in his lip before a hot tear spills down his face, glistening, followed by several more, which leave wet patches on the quilt.

"I-I love you, P’Arthit," he sputters through a choked sob. "I’m sorry; I should’ve ended it as soon as I realised, but I didn’t want to lose you, and I got so caught up in this act that I started to believe it. And—and I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have done that to you. I sh-shouldn’t have held you back from finding someone you love. That was so selfish of me! I-I’m so-orry, P’Arthit, I—mmph!"

Most of the kisses they’ve shared are brief, harmless pecks for the onlooker’s viewing, or dry presses of the mouth, several seconds too long, just enough to dissuade unwanted flirtations. Arthit kisses him now with his wet face in shaking hands, lips numb and trembling but speaking a thousand words he can’t articualte, pulling Kongpob into his lap and kissing him, soothing him until he can no longer feel the other man’s tears. 

When he finally pulls away with a wet sound, he stays close, pulling Kongpob’s hands into his own and resting his forehead against his. There’s a tingling tightness across his chest, every one of his senses overwhelmed.

"Kongpob," he says, his voice low and raspy. "You said you never wanted to get married."

"I was twenty-three, P’Arthit," Kongpob says against his lips. "I didn’t know what I wanted. But I knew I didn’t want to lose you."

They stay like this for several more moments, before Arthit brings their hands together between them. Kongpob is eyeing him with complete wonder, as if anticipating his next move.

"And what do you want now?"

Kongpob smiles, a grin that reaches his eyes. 

"I want to wake up with you every morning," he starts with sniff, wiping his eyes with the backs of his hands. "I want to bring your mother flowers every birthday. Pink carnations. And I want to show you off at my father’s events as my other half. I want to come home with you after work and watch as many episodes of Hamtaro as you want."

"Kongpob!"

"I want to kiss you," he ignores Arthit’s protest, whispering now. "When nobody’s watching."

"Well, I think we’re alone now."

Their lips meet softly this time, Kongpob shifting in Arthit’s lap to move closer if possible. They’d only kissed like this once before, before it had become heated, and they’d gasped into each other’s mouths until their stomachs had become sticky with lust. Once, they’d agreed to put it down to just that, never speaking of it again, afraid to label it as anything more. 

In the morning glow, free of guilt and with not another soul in sight, they take their time, making up for years lost to pretending and performing.

As the clock strikes 6AM, Arthit presses a kiss right over Kongpob’s finger. He thinks he’ll go buy that silver band now. 

Chapter Text

“Please tell me, Lung Arthit,” Kaofang sidles up to her favourite uncle, nuzzling her sparkly face into his tummy.

They’re lying side by side on the living room floor, exhausted after she’s spent a good part of their afternoon smearing bright red lipstick and, of course, purple glitter all over Arthit’s face.

I have to make you extra pretty for the special day! 

He doesn’t know about pretty, but he certainly looks…special. 

“I’ve already told you three times,” he laughs, ruffling her hair. 

“Well, I want to hear it again!”

“Is this going to be your favourite bedtime story now?” 

“Yes,” she sits up, admiring her stripy orange socks peeking out from under a bright green tulle skirt. “Other fairy tales are boring. They’re all about princesses being rescued. I like that the princes mind their own business in this one.”

Arthit can’t help but chuckle, pulling himself up as well and fiddling with the antlers on her stuffed alien doll. "I’m not a prince, Kaofang. But yes, it’s not like other stories, I suppose."

"From the beginning, please."

Arthit clears his throat in preparation.

"Ten years ago, Kongpob and I met while we were studying at university. I was his senior and the head of the hazing team. Kongpob was my junior, and he was very naughty."

"How naughty?"

"Well, he wouldn’t listen to any of my instructions and always talked back to me, and so I had to punish him a lot. I would make him do jump squats and run laps. I told him that if he didn’t behave himself, that I wouldn’t give him an engineering gear. It’s very serious, you know."

"Like not getting a sticker on my homework?" Kaofang gasps in horror. 

"Yes, exactly like that. Anyhow, he said that if I didn’t give it to him, he would just take it! Imagine!"

"That’s stealing!" 

"It is. But he didn’t steal it. Instead, he said he was going to, uh…marry me, so that my gear would be shared with him."

"But you said no?"

"Something like that. He was joking, anyhow. He would always give me a lot of trouble and tease me all the time, so I didn’t like him very much at first."

"Then what?"

"Then…there was one time when I got hurt and sick, and he looked after me. And I realised that he wasn’t really trying to make me angry. He was just trying to be my friend."

"That’s not how you make friends. He’s silly."

"He really is. But even so, Kongpob and I became good friends, and we even ended up working at the same company."

"Ocean Eclectic."

"Electric. That was about six years ago. We saw each other every day, and became the best of friends. Then, one day at a party, Kongpob and I were talking while having some…coffee. Someone came over and asked if I would, um, dance with them."

"Like at a ball!" Kaofang gushes dreamily, flopping dramatically in her uncle’s lap. 

"Kind of, but without all the fancy dresses," he boops her nose. "Anyway, they asked if I would dance with them, and even tried to pull me onto the dance floor! I didn’t want to dance with them, but I didn’t want to be impolite."

"And P’Kongpob helped you?"

"Sort of. He stood right between us and told that person that I already had someone to dance with. I said, 'I do?'. And he said, 'Yes, you’re dancing with me.'"

"And then? And then?!" Kaofang drums her heels agains the carpet in anticipation, as though she hasn’t heard this story dozens of times over.

"And then I realised that I didn’t want to dance with anyone else but him. Because…I loved him. I think he knew, too. After that, he—"

"HE KISSED YOU! HE KISSED YOU! HE KIS—" 

Her outburst of excitement can be heard almost all the way down the street, and Arthit has to muffle her delighted giggles by pulling her face into his shirt again, shushing her through his own laughter. 

"You! I thought you wanted me to tell the story?"

"Okay, okay," she stifles a laugh, regaining her composure. "You may continue."

"You’re right. He did just that. And we’ve been looking after each other ever since."

"I love it! Tell the next part! Tell the next part!"

Arthit nods, his voice quieter now. "A few weeks ago, Kongpob got quite upset with me. We were at home, and Kongpob suddenly said that we should get married, but I said no."

"Why?"

"Well, he used to tell me that he never wanted to get married, you know. He said it was just about signing a silly piece of paper to prove you love each other. So of course, when he said that, I didn’t think he was serious."

"So he changed his mind?"

"I think so. But I didn’t know that, so I thought he was joking. I told him no, and that made him really sad."

"Poor P’Kongpob…" she frowns, her cheek squished against Arthit’s knee.

"The next morning, he told me that he wasn’t joking, and that he asked me if my saying no meant I didn’t love him anymore."

"But that’s not true."

"It’s not. I…I love him very much." He smiles down at his niece, whose quiet grin is equally pleased. "And I realised that he wasn’t joking, so I after thinking about it a bit more, I asked him to marry me. And he said yes!"

"That’s so romantic!" Kaofang shuts her eyes, content with the fourth retelling of her new favourite story. Then, her brows furrow in thought. "How did you celebrate?"

Arthit raises an eyebrow.

"Celebrate?"

"Yes, like, what did you do after he said yes?"

"Oh…" he flushes a bright red, recalling the deeply memorable shower they’d taken together that morning. "We, uh…we shook hands. You know, like an agreement."

"That’s boring," the girl rolls her eyes. "Didn’t you at least eat cake or something?"

"Well, we ate some crisps in front of the TV, which was quite nice. Does that count?"

His niece sighs, sitting up again. "I suppose." 

"In that case…The End."

He reaches over to the coffee table to pluck a handful of popcorn from the bowl, and pops one kernel into his mouth, slightly famished after having talked for so long.

Following several moments of quiet, Kaofang lets out a groan.

"What is it now?"

"I want to get married, too!"

Arthit laughs to himself, shaking his head.

"You’re a bit young for that right now. Maybe one day, if you’re really sure."

"I’m going to marry Boun!" she insists, grabbing her socked feet, rocking back and forth.

"Kaofang, he has to agree to it first. Besides, marriage isn’t for everyone. You should only do it if you really want to. It’s not always like the stories."

"What’s not always like the stories?"

A head peeks around the door, and Kongpob mashes his lips together to suppress a laugh when he notice the abstract work of art that is Arthit’s makeover. He’s followed by Earth, who snorts in amusement, but shakes her head at the mess they’ve made. 

"Mae! P’Kongpob!" Kaofang whines, standing up to swing his arm back and forth. "Lung Arthit says I’m too young to get married."

"Did he, now?" Kongpob muses, then picks the girl up by the armpits to sit on his hip. "Well, I hate to say it, but he’s right."

"Whose side are you on?!" she grumbles.

"Mine," he laughs. "Now tell me about this new look you’ve given your uncle."

"Oh!" the girl grins in delight, curling an arm around the back of Kongpob’s neck. "I’ve decided to do Lung Arthit’s makeup for your wedding!"

He peers over at his fiancé for confirmation, and Arthit shrugs with defeat. 

"I think he looks very handsome, as he always does. You’ve done a excellent job." 

Even as Kongpob humours his niece, Arthit can’t help but blush, rolling his eyes to unsuccessfully mask his smile. He’s glad that the streaks of dark red across his cheeks disguise his sudden shyness. 

Then, their voices fading into the background, Kongpob walks with Kaofang on his hip towards the garden, leaving Arthit alone with his cousin, who plops herself next to him on the floor, cautiously screwing the lid back on the infectious pot of glitter.

"I’m really glad for you," she says, pulling a packet of moist towelettes out of her apron and plucking one out to start wiping at his face. He scrunches his nose as the cool material scrubs at the red and violet graffiti.

"Yeah," he brushes the front of his shirt of any loose glitter. "You were right. I…should’ve told him a long time ago."

"But you figured it out. And that’s what matters." 

"You don’t think I wasted time?"

Earth pauses in her cleaning, gazing out of the glass doors and into the front garden, where Kongpob is being mercilessly chased by her unique creature of a child. She shakes her head.

"No," she hands the towelette to Arthit. "I think that whether the both of you knew it or not, it’s been real all along."

Arthit ponders this for a moment, then looks back at Earth, who pushes her hair over her shoulder. 

"Look at them," she nods towards the garden. "That boy has loved your mother, my daughter, our family, since the day you brought him home. You might think otherwise, but as you get older, there’s only so much space in your heart that you can reserve for love. And of all the people in the world, he chose to love us. Because he chose to love you."

She smiles, pulling out a fresh towelette and proceeds with cleaning her daughter’s favourite canvas. 

"That doesn’t happen by chance, Oon. He chooses you every time, and you do the same for him. All of that has always been real. I was just trying to help you see that."

Kaofang squeals as Kongpob zooms around the garden with her clinging to his back, and Arthit looks on with pure adoration. It had taken five years to test the waters, but they would have the rest of their lives to conquer oceans.

"Yes, I see it now."

 

- CURTAIN -