Arthit is a man of all rights and no wrong, and he thinks that he has the responsibility to guide youngsters so that they don’t sway from the right path. That’s one of the reasons why he chose to become a teacher. Twenty-four years old with more than thirty disastrous blind dates, one failed arranged marriage by his parents and one unrequited crush has made Arthit immune to relationships. He accepts them if they come and lets them go when they quit.
His life is pretty much ordinary for a normal high school teacher. Of course, he has tons of admirers and receives up to two sacks of white chocolates on every year’s Valentine’s Day, but it doesn’t mean that he’s special. He just happens to have one of those attractive faces, dimpled smiles, good looks and fit bodies that young girls would die for to have a feel of his skin hidden underneath his button-down shirt. In short, Arthit is a pretty lucky man.
He teaches Mathematics; and has every existing equation crammed up to his brain. Or at least he thinks so. Arthit loves babies, like toddlers, is not too fond of children and dislikes teenagers — a general assumption, he assumes. High school students are annoying to him, especially loud ones, like his avid fangirls that are willing to run miles across the field just to say good morning or hello sir, have a nice day to him. He prefers quiet girls, with long hairs and sweet smiles that don’t waver wherever they go.
Arthit never knew he prefers quiet boys too until he meets—
“Kongpob Suthilak,” the boy says, looking up at him through his sweet lashes, and Arthit draws in another round of fresh breath. So innocent, innocent and innocent.
“You’re late again today, Kongpob,” he simply says, flipping another page of the troublesome boy’s homework. Questions with perfect answers glare back at him and he blinks, shutting the book close. Kongpob tilts his head to his left and gives him a small smile, not defending himself. Arthit sighs, “Do you have anything to say?”
“I love you, Khun Arthit.”
Arthit stares at the handsome boy in front of him and almost falls out of his chair. Kongpob is looking at him with those innocent eyes and he can’t help but start chanting holy mantras in his head. He clears his throat.
“Stop playing around, Kongpob. You’re too young to know what love is,” he says, resisting the urge to wipe those sweats off his forehead despite the low temperature in the deserted office. Kongpob takes a step forward, retrieves his homework from his desk and tilts his head to his right this time.
“Do you know what love is, Khun Arthit?” he asks, tone flatter than an ironing board. Arthit doesn’t answer, doesn’t know how to answer so, he stares back into those innocent eyes instead and sees Kongpob smile, lips curling up into an almost smirk.
Arthit doesn’t understand it. He’s supposed to be clever, not clever enough to be smart, but cleverer than the average. He knows complicated equations and can solve them all in no time, but he just doesn’t get how Kongpob is able to crawl under his skin without him realizing it until it’s too late.
It isn’t until two months later that he finds out from another colleague, Bright, that Kongpob is a Mathematics genius with an IQ of 162. It’s a secret that teachers have sworn to keep among themselves to avoid unnecessary dramas. Arthit is amazed at how little he knows about Kongpob and is even more amazed at himself when he doesn’t even waste a second longer to look for the boy after Bright drops the bomb and leaves for his next class.
“You’re here,” he pants, trying to catch his breath and briefly realizes that he’s always catching his breath whenever Kongpob is around. The boy turns away from the fence and looks at him. Arthit averts his gaze, fishes out a packet out of his pocket and lights himself a cigarette. He knows he shouldn’t be smoking in the school ground and the principal will most probably say this is a school you son of a bitch, so eat that cig up and never let me see it between your lips ever again but he doesn’t care.
There’s only Kongpob here on the rooftop anyway.
“Are you looking for me, Khun Arthit?” asks Kongpob, leaning back against the thin fence. Arthit thinks that he might fall any second. So, he reaches out and pulls the boy away from the edge. Kongpob doesn’t even seem surprised or anything at all and steps away from the fence obediently. This boy might as well be emotionless, thinks Arthit inwardly, releasing his grip on Kongpob’s arm.
“What are you doing here, Kongpob?” he asks, partly out of obligation and partly out of curiosity. The boy steps up to the fence once again and looks down from the building. Arthit takes a long drag and blows smoke rings into the wind.
“I’m wondering how it feels like to fly.”
“Study hard and be a pilot to find out,” says Arthit, wise words forking out their ways through his burning stick. Kongpob throws his head back, looks up at the clear blue sky. Arthit thinks that he looks like a caged bird. He likes the way the wind teases the boy’s dark locks, the way Kongpob’s hair tries to catch up with it and he thinks it’s beautiful, only to mentally smack himself for staring at a scalp marathon a moment later.
Arthit almost chokes on his smoke when the boy turns to him and smiles.
“No. I’m just wondering how it feels to fly by jumping off from here,” explains Kongpob as Arthit puts out his cigarette with his sole. The dim flame leaves a dark, ugly stain on the dirty cement.
“Seventeen and already thinking of dying?” he teases, mirth twinkling in his eyes.
“At least I’m not the one who wants lung cancer.”
“I don’t want lung cancer and oh—" he pauses because he doesn’t know what else there is to say and because the boy is so damn right. He hates it when he’s wrong and he hates it, even more, when Kongpob speaks in a monotone. “Be quiet.”
Kongpob does and Arthit watches from the side when the boy spreads out his hands to embrace the wind. There’s a new feeling in his chest and he can’t quite grasp exactly what it is but he knows at that moment that the boy is different from all his classmates, from all other teenagers that he hates.
Kongpob is special.
A month into a new semester later, Kongpob has Arthit lying below him when he finds the teacher taking a rest in the infirmary due to fatigue. Arthit wakes up with a start and pushes the boy away from him. Kongpob falls out of bed with a loud cry and he looks down at him apologetically, his mind screaming shitshitshitshitshit— and hands extending out to aid only to have the boy swatting his hands away.
“You don’t have to do that, Khun Arthit,” says Kongpob with a scowl, pulling himself up. He rubs the back of his head and Arthit thinks he likes the way the boy looks with dishevelled hair. He smiles meekly and nurses his painful hands discreetly. The boy slaps hard.
“Are you trying to kill me?” he mutters tiredly.
“Why are you here, Kongpob?” he asks, looking around for the missing school nurse. Kongpob pulls a chair close to his bed and falls unceremoniously into it. The boy crosses his arms and legs. “You’re supposed to be studyin—” he trails off by the look on Kongpob’s face.
“I bought you lunch, Khun Arthit,” replies Kongpob, gesturing his head towards the small table beside the bed. Arthit stares at the bread bun and small carton of milk and suppresses a chuckle. “It’s curry,” the boy smiles when Arthit unwraps the bread.
“You don’t have to do this.” He takes a bite.
“I want to.”
The bell rings.
“I have class,” says Kongpob, standing up. Arthit nods and says goodbye with a mouthful of flour. He watches the boy disappears behind the door and lies back on the bed. It feels comfortable, yet uncomfortable at the same time. He takes another bite, stares ahead and briefly recalls his next class schedule and thinks that somehow, the ceiling above looks a lot paler than before.
“How are you feeling, Khun Arthit?”
He turns sharply at a sweet voice a minute later and sees the school nurse smiling down at him. Arthit suffocates at the beauty and nods back dumbly. “I-I’m fine,” he stutters, sits up abruptly and takes a sip of his milk.
“That’s good to hear,” the nurse smiles, clipping back a few strands of stray hairs.
“Yeah,” says Arthit, sipping on his milk, staring at the white sheets. The nurse walks away from him and he hears the faint shuffle of papers coming from behind the blue curtains. Arthit scratches his head and gets out of the bed. He takes a deep breath and marches out of the space. He taps the nurse’s shoulder.
“I was wondering... um... would you like to have lunch with me?” asks Arthit, praying silently in the heart that he’ll get a yes. The chair twirled and piercing eyes stare at him for a still moment and his heart has probably stopped beating until,
Arthit grins happily, snatches his coat from the hanger and opens the door for Nurse Namtarn.
Arthit invites Namtarn for dinner one night and when the nurse said yes right away, he thinks he’s scored the goal. Or preferably a slam dunk in his case. He prefers basketball, by the way.
“Do you come here often?” asks Namtarn, looking around the restaurant with newfound interest. Arthit takes his fork, examines it and then, puts it back down again. He’s nervous as heck, but when Namtarn turns to him and smiles, he releases his growing butterflies. He figures that since Namtarn’s here now, so he might as well enjoy their date together.
“Not really,” he says and unfolds his napkin only to fold it back a moment later. Arthit rubs his nose. “I just discovered this place recently and I come here only with people that are... special.” He flushes bright red and Namtarn giggles.
“I’m honoured.” Another smile is flashed his way and Arthit grins. Namtarn stares into his eyes. “How many special people have you taken here?”
“Let’s see...” says Arthit with a tap of his chin. He starts ticking off with his fingers. “My mom and dad, my grand aunt, my best friend... that’s all.” Namtarn raises an eyebrow.
“That’s...” he’s about to repeat but pauses. Namtarn looks at him expectantly. Arthit gives her another dazzling smile. “That’s all.”
Namtarn nods and doesn’t question further. Arthit stares at the checkered patterns on the table cloth and tries to count the hundreds of red squares on it. He tries to push away the fact ringing in his head that’s calling him a liar, liar, fucking liar!
Instead, Arthit swallows the lump in the back of his throat and marvels at the nurse’s beauty and thinks whether she’s natural. To him, Namtarn looks a little too flawless and perfect and he throws away the bubbling suspicion emerging from within his heart that she might be plastic.
“Are you usually this quiet?” smiles Namtarn. Arthit drops his spoon onto the floor.
“Not really,” he forces a smile on his face and picks up the spoon. A waiter beats him to it, saying let me change it for you sir, and strolls away to fetch him a clean replacement. Arthit chuckles along when Namtarn giggles, amused at his clumsiness. “I just want this to be perfect. That’s all.”
“Well, having you eating dinner with me is more than perfect, Khun Arthit.”
“Arthit. Call me Arthit,” he says spontaneously, only to mentally smack himself later at how cliché it sounds.
“Arthit.” Namtarn tastes his name on her tongue and smiles. “You can call me Nam then.”
“Nam,” he repeats, and their appetizer arrives. Namtarn smiles and tells him that salads are to be eaten with vinegar sauce if he wants to be healthy. Arthit thinks that she’s not a school nurse for nothing, and makes a mental note to add mayonnaise into his salad next time if he ever eats one again, after how poisonous his bowl of greens tasted.
A few hours later, Arthit fetches Namtarn home after their dinner date and tries to keep his expectation low that the nurse will invite him in for a cup of coffee or maybe, something else. Namtarn unbuckles the seat belt, turns to him and says, “I had fun tonight. Thank you, Arthit.”
“No, thank you.” He grins happily and almost couldn’t contain a gasp when Namtarn blushes and leans over to peck him lightly on his right cheek.
“I guess I’ll see you at school tomorrow. Good night.”
“Y-yeah. Good night.” Arthit watches as the nurse opens the car door, climbs out of the car and slowly disappears into the tall building. No after-date invitations, he concludes, but he’s got something even better than coffee. And he couldn’t stop grinning like an idiot into his rearview mirror all the way back home.
Two hours into the middle of the night and three minutes after he’s ignored four annoying phone calls later, Arthit floats out of his dreamland on the fifth ring. He doesn’t even bother to open his eyes as he feels around his bed stand for the vibrating device. It’s only when the phone edges from the cold surface, drops onto the floor below that Arthit forces his eyes open to retrieve it.
“Sawasdee krab?” he speaks into the receiver groggily and falls back into bed. The opposite end emits a mix of sharp treble and bass. He takes note of the glowing green digits on his alarm clock beside his bed. ” Sawasdee krab?” he says again, this time more awake and wondering who the hell that’s calling him at 3 AM in the middle of the night?
“Kongpob?” guesses Arthit at that flat voice and he closes his eyes. “Do you have any idea what time it is now?”
“It’s five minutes past three,” comes a calm reply and Arthit feels like he’s being mocked. He bites back a groan and rubs his eyes. Damn kid. Always being such a smart-ass.
“What do you want? And where are you now?” he asks through clenched teeth and realizes a second later that he’s close to imitating some sort of growling animal. Lions, his foggy brain decides. They’re stronger and more majestic and the visual image suits him a lot than some barking stray dogs.
“Okay. What do you— wait, club? What club?” Arthit sits up immediately on his bed and shoves his cold feet into his comfortable house slippers. He flicks on the light and rummages through his clean closet.
“Some club near your house, Khun Arthit,” says Kongpob, and Arthit can hear the sound of laughing drunkards circling around the boy. He can’t smell it, but he can almost feel the alcohol reeking from the end of the line and he’s imagining Kongpob trembling with fear being surrounded by three— no, make that five— perverted men who are trying to extract him from his innocence.
“Which one?” He peels off his house clothes and pulls a shirt over his head only to realize that it’s a button-down and not a cotton tee. His jeans comes second and Arthit barely has the time to zip it up or grab his car keys or lock his apartment door because what Kongpob replied next has him flying out of his house in ten seconds flat.
“The strip club.”
Arthit arrives in front of the one and only strip club near his house after breaking the speed limit, exceeding an extra fifty kilometres per hour, five minutes later. He searches around frantically and finally, sees Kongpob sitting on one of the railings by the opposite roadside. He almost couldn’t recognize the boy because of his casual clothes which he has never seen him dressed in before.
The boy looks absolutely fine — in a white fitted tee and black skinny jeans, plus a grey beanie covering his hair, without a single scratch on his skin. There aren’t any perverted old men surrounding him or taking advantage of him either.
“Kongpob Suthilak,” he says as he nears the boy from behind.
Kongpob throws his head over his shoulder and gives him a small smile. “Good evening, Khun Arthit,” he greets, jumping off the railing. He walks over to Arthit and arches an eyebrow when he sees the look on the older man. “Are you mad?”
“What do you think, Kongpob?” Arthit doesn’t even bother to hide the scowl that is forming on his face. He places his hands on his hips and crosses them against his chest a moment later when he feels that Kongpob is standing too close to him. It feels like the boy is invading his personal space now.
“I think it’s fun,” whispers Kongpob into his ear, standing on his toes. Arthit feels like he’s being trapped by the boy’s towering height. He pulls back and walks away from Arthit with his hands wrung loosely behind his back.
“It’s not funny,” deadpans Arthit, eyeing the phone in the boy’s grasp. There are a lot of shiny stickers on it, and he almost asks out loud, what kind of person are you?, because it’s so unlikely of Kongpob to have something like that on his personal stuff and he doesn’t understand at all how the boy’s genius mind works.
“I never said it’s funny. I said it was fun, Khun Arthit.” Kongpob flashes him a smile and wait, where’s he going? Arthit watches as the boy positions himself on his car’s trunk, with one leg up to rest his chin on his knee.
“What do you want, Kongpob?” he sighs, following the boy and glances at his wristwatch. It’s fifteen minutes to four, and he has two periods of classes to teach tomorrow morning. He should be leaving this place as soon as possible.
Arthit pushes the possibility of having one of his colleagues seeing him hanging out in front of a strip club and looks around him discreetly. He ignores a few dirty looks thrown his way and asks, “You have school tomorrow morning. Did you sneak out of your house?”
“I’m allowed to sneak out, Khun Arthit. I don’t have a curfew.”
“Maybe I am.”
“I’m calling your parents,” says Arthit, fishing out his phone only to realize that he doesn’t have the boy’s house number saved in the first place. He pockets his phone again with a fake cough and listens for the first time to Kongpob’s laughter. The boy sounds amused. “Why are you laughing?”
“My parents are dead, Khun Arthit,” says the boy bitterly, but the tug at the corner of his lips doesn’t go unnoticed by Arthit. “How are you supposed to call them? Hotline to hell?”
“I-I—” he stutters, shocked at the revelation.
“Never mind.” Kongpob brushes him off and jumps off the trunk. “I’m not going home tonight, Khun Arthit,” he declares, and Arthit knows that nothing can change the boy’s mind no matter how hard he tries to. The hard gaze in Kongpob’s eyes has already spoken his final conclusion.
Arthit heaves a sigh.
“Hop in.” He unlocks his car and opens the passenger door for Kongpob. The boy obeys and doesn’t object when Arthit tells him that he’ll be sleeping at his place for the night.
It’s sometime between four to five in the morning when Arthit ushers the boy into his apartment feeling tired as fuck, but his brain has decided to be rebellious and taunts him to stay awake for the rest of the night.
He figures since there’s nothing much to do and Kongpob isn’t exactly the best person to have midnight conversations with, having a drink or two won’t hurt.
Arthit pours himself another glass of wine and slaps the boy’s hand away when he tries to reach out for the tall bottle again. He earned himself a small glare from Kongpob. Even his glare looks cute, he thinks.
“You’re underage, kid,” he replies casually, taking a sip of his wine.
“I’m eighteen tonight,” says Kongpob, crawling his way slowly onto Arthit’s lap on the couch. “It’s my birthday today,” he adds and Arthit tries not to question himself on why the hell is he not pushing Kongpob off him yet, why is he letting the boy remove the wine glass from his hand, and why the hell isn’t he stopping Kongpob from consuming it yet?
“You’re still too young,” he points out and the next thing he knows, Kongpob is already kissing him fully on the lips, unbuttoning his shirt expertly and—
“I'm finally of legal age, sir,” breathes the boy into his neck and Arthit shivers. “Stop treating me like a child.”
“I love you, Khun Arthit.”
Taking another look at the screen, Arthit puts away his phone and sighs audibly. He turns around when he feels a hand on his shoulder. Namtarn’s big brown eyes are staring down at him and he flashes the nurse his brightest smile, sweeping all his worries under the green grass below his feet.
“Sawasdee ka,” greets Namtarn, taking a seat beside him. Arthit watches as she picks off a strand of hair from her white coat. How meticulous, he observes.
“Sawasdee krab, Namtarn.”
“Nam,” he corrects himself with a grin. “What brought you here?”
“I was looking for you,” explains Namtarn, turning back to look at him. Arthit raises a questioning eyebrow, urging the other to continue. “Well, I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner again with me tonight?”
Yes, his mind screams triumphantly but he doesn’t show it.
“Sure. Where should we go?” he asks. Namtarn tilts her head aside and ponders for a moment and Arthit feels his pulse quickens.
“I’d like to see your place...” the nurse trails off and Arthit notices a pink hue creeping up onto her beautiful features. Aha, another slam dunk.
“My place?” he asks, just to be sure, and because he’s trying to act dumb. Bright has passed him a few tricks in scoring chicks a few days ago and those long explicit lectures are still fresh in his mind — acting dumb is the fifth rule in the book. Not that Namtarn is an easy chick, because she’s definitely a woman with pride no matter how you look at her.
“It’s okay if you don’t—” adds Namtarn with a hint of disappointment in her voice.
“No,” he blurts out immediately. “No. No, I mean, it’s okay,” nods Arthit so vigorously that his neck hurts. Namtarn flashes him a genuine smile and Arthit is suddenly aware of the smaller hand placed casually on his lap. So, he reaches out and holds Namtarn’s hand equally as casually and smiles back.
“What do you mean what happened to Kongpob Suthilak?” Bright repeats his question dumbly and Arthit resists the urge to punch his fellow colleague, also his best friend, square on his face. His fist lands softly on the stack of textbooks on his table instead.
“Don’t make me repeat myself again, Bright,” he scowls.
“No, I can hear you clearly the first time,” says Bright, shooting him a confused look. “But why do you ask?”
“He doesn’t come to school anymore. It’s been such a long time.”
Such a long time, as in six days after Arthit brought Kongpob home from the strip club and they have had sex thrice in his apartment till dawn breaks — once on the couch and twice against one of those ugly purple walls.
“Oh, you mean that. Well, of course he doesn’t,” says Bright and Arthit could only stare at the man in front of him, speechless, just like that very time when Bright has announced to him that he’s secretly dating another fellow colleague whom Arthit has never met before who goes by the name Rome. His best friend sends him an almost sympathetic look and he tries to open his mouth to ask why but Bright cuts him to it. “I thought you knew.”
Arthit drives Namtarn back to his apartment after their dinner date and he thinks that he wants that happy glow to stay on the nurse’s face throughout the whole night. Namtarn looks excited and happy just by sitting in his car, very much like an eager child. And Arthit allows himself to think, maybe forever.
“Very decent... and homey,” compliments Namtarn the moment she steps into the house. Arthit grins nervously, not entirely sure if the compliment given is meant to be polite or really, really honest. He looks around his own living room and manages to hide Bright’s stack of porn spread out in front of his theatre system just before the nurse sees them.
“Here, have a seat,” says Arthit quickly, ushering the nurse towards his couch. He curses his best friend under his breath and kicks away a pillow blocking their path, pretending that it’s Bright. “Would you like something to drink? Juice?”
“Juice is fine,” replies Namtarn and he scuttles into the kitchen to look for his unfinished carton of apple juice. The fridge is like the Sahara and he suddenly remembers that Kongpob has emptied it the last time, the only time he’s there.
“Sorry, I ran out of juice. Do you drink... beer?”
Namtarn shakes her head funnily and takes the offered can of beer from Arthit’s hand. “I’m not exactly a good drinker.” The nurse covers her mouth with her hands, giggling softly.
“Well... guess what? We can get drunk together,” quips Arthit, opening his can.
Somehow, an hour later, they did.
“God, Arthit,” mumbles Namtarn, her face beet red and Arthit chuckle like a schoolboy into her neck. “Stop ticklin’ my neck.”
“Am not,” he pouts when Namtarn pushes him away. Arthit falls back into the couch with a grunt and groans loudly when the nurse starts to climb on top of him. “You’re heavy, Namtarn,” he heaves and pulls Namtarn to lie on his chest. The nurse giggles when Arthit strokes on her hair. “Oh, soft.”
“’Course I’m heavy,” slurs the nurse. “I’m not a child, idiot.”
“Never said you are...” he says automatically, a practised answer for someone that he can’t remember for the life of him right now, tucked somewhere deep within his memory.
“Stop treatin’ me like one!”
“Never did,” he mutters, half-asleep because the alcohol is already killing his brain and Namtarn elbows him hard on his chest. Arthit makes a strangled noise at the back of his throat, pain, and opens his eyes widely to stare at the nurse. For a woman who looks so beautiful and moves so gracefully, Namtarn sure acts differently when she’s drunk.
“Arthit,” murmurs the nurse and suddenly, Arthit realizes how close their faces are to each other. He can smell the alcohol in Namtarn’s breath, but it doesn’t make sense, really, because he’s equally as drunk and he’s been inhaling that same smell for the past one hour and fifteen minutes. He can’t even differentiate what stinks and what doesn’t anymore. However, he’s pretty sure that the pile of dirty socks in his laundry room near his detergent bottle smells like shit.
“I think I’m in love with you,” says Namtarn soberly and Arthit almost, almost thinks that she’s in for real and replies, me too, except that before he can even open his mouth, the nurse has already burst into an uncontrollable laughing fit. “Can you make love to me, Arthit?”
Now it’s his turn to laugh.
“What?” Namtarn sounds annoyed, half-whining and it’s kind of annoying to his ears.
“You’re funny,” he slurs lazily, wrapping his arms around the lovely woman and returns second, third, fourth, fifth and the next few others when Namtarn kisses him for the first time on his lips.
“02-2134567,” he mutters under his breath, jabbing viciously at the screen keypad for the third time. God, please, he prays silently.
“Sawasdee ka?” A female voice floats through the line and Arthit hangs up. He shakes his head and throws his phone onto his messy desk.
Shit, he scratches his head and stares at his desk, already visualizing dotted lines in his vision, connecting the word ‘mess’ in a bright-coloured bubble thought to his desk, as well as to an imaginary cartoon of himself.
“What are you doing?” A voice from behind claws through his reverie and he tilts his head backwards to see an upside-down Namtarn looking down at him curiously.
It has been three weeks since he’s started dating the school nurse secretly. Namtarn has never failed to impress Arthit with that special aura of hers. Sometimes, whenever he’s around Namtarn, he’ll get a wash of familiarity over him, like a tsunami wave that drowns him and he can’t quite put his fingers to it. It feels weird but nice.
He wonders if this is real love.
“Nothing,” he lies and smiles when Namtarn plants a small upturned kiss on his forehead. Arthit sits back up and swivels his chair to look at his girlfriend. “Just calling a friend.”
Namtarn grins at him when he reaches out to hold her hands and Arthit thinks that he can’t possibly tell her the truth. He’ll be labelled insane by this woman in front of him. Even his devoted fangirls will think he’s mad.
Punching in a few random numbers every day and hoping that he’ll strike the jackpot, which is actually Kongpob’s phone number, isn’t exactly the best way to look for a missing person. He knows that. He knows it’s pathetic and it’s stupid, crazy even but he can’t help it.
Kongpob has vanished right after he’s spent the night at his place, into thin air, whoosh, just like that. He doesn’t even attend school anymore and Arthit thinks that he might be the one responsible for the boy’s sudden disappearance.
He has tried searching through the school’s student directory for the boy’s personal information, gotten a hold of his house number, called the number but all he received was an out-of-service dial tone. He has gone to the boy’s latest address, rang his doorbell, only to be told by neighbours that the house has been left empty for quite some time now.
He has even asked around as much as he could, but so far, no one has managed to tell him anything useful.
He can’t lodge a police report either because the boy’s not exactly missing. He just kind of... moved away? Arthit can’t shake off the fact haunting his brain that he’s the last person who saw the boy before he disappeared.
“Which friend?” asks Namtarn, pulling him up to his feet.
“Rome,” he lies through his teeth, standing up.
“That’s Bright’s boyfriend, right? He’s a preschool teacher, isn’t he?”
“Yeah,” says Arthit, secretly amused at his girlfriend’s curiosity level. He smiles and kisses Namtarn’s temple affectionately and diverts the topic further. “You must be hungry. Let’s go for lunch.”
“Let’s go for pad thai,” suggests Namtarn happily and he nods, eyes catching sight of some random number printed on one of his colleague’s tutorial book on their way out of the teacher’s office.
02-236455, he memorizes it and dials the number when night time comes.
One week later, Arthit calls his best friend out in the middle of the night, just a little after midnight and says let’s go for a cup of coffee which actually means I can’t sleep because I’ve been thinking too much but I can’t seem to find the solution to my problem because it’s so complicated and I can’t exactly ask for Namtarn’s help because I don’t want her to see me as a psycho plus she’s asleep now so that’s why you need to come out and help me unless you’d rather watch your best friend hang himself and make the newspaper headline first thing in the morning while you’re sipping on your morning coffee.
Bright picks up the phone with bleary eyes, hisses fucking bastard into the phone and appears in front of his doorstep twenty minutes later.
“Coffee,” he scowls just as Arthit swings the door open. “And you’ll better be paying for it, fucker.”
“Of course,” replies Arthit with his dimpled smile.
They arrive at a 24-hour cafe ten minutes later; order themselves a cup of hot cappuccino each, which Bright changes his mind before the waiter can even escape and demands the scrawny kid to get him a cup of double-shot espresso instead.
“Oh my god, what’s this shit?” complains Bright after his first sip and Arthit rolls his eyes.
“Coffee.” He drinks his cappuccino.
“I didn’t order anything bitter like this.”
“That’s what you ordered, Bright. Double espresso.”
“I didn’t— oh,” says Bright, smacking his chapped lips. “I did.”
“Let’s swap,” suggests Bright and before he knows it, his cappuccino is already in the devil’s hands. Arthit tries to murder his best friend through the storyboard which is drawing itself in his head again when Bright ignores him blatantly by sipping on his drink happily. The ending will definitely end with Bright being stuffed into a juice blender — he might kill his best friend for real one of these days.
“Waiter,” he calls out and the same scrawny kid appears magically beside their table. “Iced latte.”
“Right away, sir,” says the waiter. Arthit stares after him as he retreats towards the counter. Strangely enough, the waiter’s back looks a lot like Kongpob’s back.
“So... what is it?” asks Bright and he turns his attention back to the man. His best friend is looking at him attentively from beneath his dark, long lashes, and he shifts uneasily in his seat. “This better be important, Arthit. If it’s not, I’m going back to sleep.”
“It is, Bright,” he says, cringing inwardly at how his voice sounded so much like he’s whining. Bright looks at him silently and takes another sip. Arthit sighs. “I think I’m going crazy.”
Bright places the ceramic mug down. “That’s it, I’m going home.”
“Bright, please, it’s important,” he begs and he’s one hundred per cent sure that Bright will fall for it this time if he adds some fake tears—
“It’s about that student, isn’t it?” asks Bright as the same waiter places his cup of latte in front of him quickly and walks off, but not before saying please enjoy your drink, sir.
“That genius kid.” There’s an unreadable look on Bright’s face. Arthit watches as he licks his lips and feels like his best friend is hitting on him in broad daylight. Except that it’s now almost one in the morning and he’s actually feeling a little sleepy — so it might be an illusion or that he’s imagining it all up.
“Kongpob Suthilak, the one who left our school,” says his best friend carefully, hands wrapping around his half-filled cup slowly. It serves more like a statement than a question to Arthit’s ears.
“I don’t get why you’re so obsessed about him, Arthit. You should stop dwelling into other people’s affairs and start paying more attention to Namtarn instead,” advises Bright gently. “I’m not saying that you should ignore your students all together because I know you’re a good teacher, Arthit. But... you get what I mean, right?”
“I’m not—” he stops mid-way in his sentence, snapping his jaws shut with a hard click. Bright raises a questioning eyebrow, waiting, urging for him to explain but the words are stuck in his throat.
There’s no way he could tell Bright that he has had sex with one of his students, is there? And that he has actually thought of Kongpob several times before while going at it with Namtarn.
“It’s nothing. You’re right. I’m just... really curious,” he brushes it off casually, faking it. “It’s such a waste, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” agrees Bright. “He’s such a brilliant kid.”
“Yeah,” he repeats, swallowing hard and takes a sip of his cold latte.
Arthit stares absently at the pool of smoke swirling around in the air, the spot where the sunlight hits, before flicking off burnt ashes from his cigarette butt swiftly. Namtarn is sleeping soundly in his bed, a duvet covering half of her naked body. He puts out his addiction in the ashtray before padding over to his girlfriend, tucks her in more comfortably, properly before placing a light kiss on her forehead.
“Mornin’, Nam,” he hums when Namtarn stirs awake.
“Morning.” His girlfriend rubs her eyes and stares up at him lazily, kissing him briefly on the lips with a small smile. “You’re up early today.”
“I couldn’t sleep,” he says, which isn’t a complete lie — he intentionally left out the part where he had sneaked out for coffee with Bright the whole night and came back just an hour before Namtarn woke up — and walks over the door to snatch his towel which is hanging behind it.
“Did you just smoked?” Namtarn’s voice is quiet, with a hint of displeasure and Arthit tries to ignore it. Namtarn hates smokers and he has actually promised her to quit — but he can’t, not that fast. He’s addicted and he doesn’t like it because whenever Namtarn tells him to stop, he’s reminded of that day when he met Kongpob on the rooftop of his school.
Yes, that boy is still bothering him.
“It’s almost time for school. I’m gonna take a shower.” He changes the subject and flashes Namtarn an easy smile. The school nurse nods silently and stretches her body with a yawn on Arthit’s bed.
You should stop dwelling on other people’s affairs and start paying more attention to Namtarn instead.
Bright’s advice has been repeating non-stop in his head and Arthit thinks that it’s annoying. Not because it’s about him taking responsibility with Namtarn — because after all, he’s a responsible man — but because his best friend’s voice won’t leave him alone. Not for even one second.
“Go away, Bright,” he mutters under his breath, knowing well how right his best friend is. Maybe he should start suggesting to Namtarn about shifting in and staying together from now on. Maybe they could rent a new place together; a condominium that can fit both of them comfortably. He wonders if they’re both moving a little too fast.
He fishes out his phone and stares at it, resisting the urge to light another cigarette on the school ground. The last time he did, the principal has caught and given him a free lecture on how to be a better man with the opening line, it’s essential to know the right ways to smoke without being caught, Khun Arthit.
Arthit shakes his head at the memory.
02- 2341744, his brain randomly generates and he starts punching in the numbers. It seems like calling random numbers to find Kongpob Suthilak has become another unfortunate habit of his. He’s not really that concerned about the boy anymore because it has been so long and he’s pretty sure Kongpob isn’t concerned about him at all — if he did, he would’ve called by now.
Maybe he’s just another passing one-night stand for the boy.
“Arthit? What is it?” There’s a familiar voice at the end of the line and Arthit pries his phone away from his ear to look at the screen. Namtarn, it displays.
How the hell did he manage to punch in his own girlfriend’s number without realizing it?
“Nothing,” he replies hastily. “I just thought that... would you... like to have lunch with me today?”
“We have lunch together every day, Arthit,” giggles Namtarn and Arthit mentally smacks himself for being stupid.
“I mean, what would you like to eat, Nam?”
“Hm, I’m craving for something spicy right now,” says Namtarn slowly, giving out an embarrassed laugh. Arthit lets out a low hum and couldn’t help but smile.
“No. Mantou served with curry.”
“I’ll be down in ten.”
“All right. I’ll wait for you,” says Arthit, hanging up. He fishes his car keys out of his pocket and walks towards the car park, warming up his car while waiting for Namtarn.
The sun is blazing hot and he looks up ahead to see a wave of heat dancing before him, distorting green trees in his vision. A few students are in track practice on the field a few feet away from his car and Arthit squints when they wave happily at him. He waves back, realizing that they are regular members of the school’s photography club which he monitors and enters his car.
Namtarn knocks on his car window exactly ten minutes later.
“Mantou is actually just fancy bread, isn’t it?” asks Namtarn out of nowhere and Arthit stops chewing for a second. He glances at the food in his hand and nods. “So in short, we’re eating curry bread,” continues the nurse, dipping her mantou into the plate of curry in the centre of their table.
“I love eating our school’s curry bread.” The nurse smiles brightly at him and Arthit pops the remaining mantou into his mouth.
“It’s delicious,” he comments with his mouth full, savouring the curry flavour bit by bit. It really is, he thinks, remembering the first time Kongpob has bought him lunch when he was in the infirmary. Realizing that he’s thinking about the boy again, Arthit quickly blinks away his thoughts.
Namtarn is still talking about their school’s cafeteria food in front of him with a happy expression on her face. Arthit smiles at his girlfriend and notices the way Namtarn’s eyes twinkle when she talks about her favourite things.
Maybe it’s time to ask that question now, considers Arthit and suddenly, he’s nothing but a nervous wreck.
“Are you all right, Arthit?” Namtarn’s question pulls him back to reality. He nods his head.
“I’m all right.” He forces a smile and reaches out to hold the nurse’s hand on the table. His girlfriend shoots him a wary smile and squeezes his hand gently. Arthit squeezes back, takes a deep breath and fires, “Nam, what do you think of moving in to stay—”
He stops in the middle of his question and stands up abruptly with wide eyes.
“Arthit? What’s wrong?” asks Namtarn worriedly upon seeing her boyfriend’s sudden behaviour but there’s never going to be a response because a split second later, Arthit has already run out of the restaurant, knocking over their glasses of iced lemon teas on his way out.
Arthit swears to all living things that the boy who has just walked past the restaurant front is Kongpob. There’s no way he’s mistaken. It has to be him. That height, that tousled hair, those sharp features, that thin frame, that scar above his eyelid and most importantly, that smirk.
He runs to catch up with the boy, who has put a far distance in between them, eyes trained on his bony back. He pushes a few people out of his way and sees Kongpob standing by the traffic light, waiting for the green light. He quickens his pace and almost reaches the boy when a mass of people, dressed in corporate black and white block his way.
“Excuse me!” he says loudly, pushing a businesswoman away. “Sorry!”
By the time he’s successfully escaped the busy crowd, Kongpob is nowhere to be seen.
Arthit looks around frantically and runs across the road. Kongpob must have taken this route, he reasons and manages to catch a glimpse of the familiar leather bracelet on the boy’s wrist before he disappears around the corner.
“Kongpob!” he shouts and hurries over to the tall building, up the flight of stairs where his leather shoes go tap, tap, tap as he climbs up. “Kongpob!” he shouts again, his body drifting pass a sharp corner, barely manage to avoid crashing himself into a column.
He searches around the building, calling out the boy’s name only to have his voice echoed back in the rows and rows of luxurious empty corridors. “Kongpob Suthilak!” he repeats, his voice going softer and softer with each cry.
Finally, after he’s done patrolling like a mad man around the building, he slides down to the marble floor, his back against one of the beige walls. “Oi! Where are you, Kongpob?” he chokes, squeezes his eyes shut and rubs his face furiously. “Where are you—?”
A sob escapes him.
He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting there crying and trying to control his sobs because after what seems like two hours, Namtarn finally found him.
“Arthit?” a soft voice calls out to him and he mistakenly hears it as Khun Arthit. Whipping his head up, ignoring the cracking sound in the back of his neck, Arthit almost lunges himself towards who he thinks is Kongpob, but he manages to stop himself in time when he sees his girlfriend standing in front of him instead.
“Nam...” he trails off and attempts to stand up but his knees give him away. They feel cramped.
“Arthit!” Namtarn quickly supports his waist to prevent him from falling. Arthit could only nod his silent thanks. “What... what happened?” The nurse asks, threading carefully with her words as to not invoke Arthit’s emotion any more than necessary.
“Let’s get you back to my house,” says Namtarn, cutting him off. Arthit stares at his girlfriend confusingly but the nurse only smiles back softly, supplying a short “I live here” as an answer.
He lets Namtarn guide him back to her house — past two more short halls, the third wooden door on the left with three huge golden numerals ‘206’ on it — and the first thing he realizes is that he’s never been to his girlfriend’s house before.
Namtarn has never told him where she lives, even after they’ve dated for more than two months. It has never crossed his mind to ask before because it seems like Namtarn is always over at his and he just assumed that it’s natural for the nurse to stay at his place on most nights.
The second thing Arthit realizes is that Kongpob might be staying in this building, too. But which floor? Which hall? Which door? His mind starts gearing into action again.
“Sit,” orders Namtarn, pushing him gently to sit on the couch. “I’ll get you something to drink.”
“Thanks,” he says weakly, closing his eyes when the nurse walks away. The sound of clinking glasses can be heard from the kitchen and Arthit opens his eyes again to have a quick look around the place. Unlike his, Namtarn’s house is kept tidy. Everything is in order and suddenly, he feels ashamed of himself for his zero ability to even keep his own room clean.
He lets his eyes sweep past the rows of miniature porcelain dolls on the shelves in front of him and smiles. It is so likely of Namtarn to be collecting cute stuff. Hauling himself up, Arthit is about to pad over to one of the shelves to have a closer look when something in the corner catches his eyes.
He picks up a black photo frame and stares at it.
“That’s my brother,” says Namtarn quietly from behind him and Arthit turns around to look at his girlfriend.
“He... committed suicide two years ago at our school... jumped off the rooftop on his birthday.”
The photo frame leaves his hand with a loud crash; Kongpob’s mischievous eyes looking up at him with a permanent smile on his face.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, jaemintWrite a Review