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Prickly Boy

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He tried to play it cool. While Ram washed up, he picked up the most recent gardening magazine from the side table to leaf through. This month’s feature was on culinary container gardens and King decided he really should go to the nursery this weekend and get a window box for herbs. There was space on his table for a few pots too. Some lemon thyme, maybe a few varieties of basil. He dogeared the page in the magazine to take with him later.

The water shut off barely after it started. Cool Boy was impatient. Ram emerged a moment later in a long-sleeved white tee and black lounge pants. The towel slung over his shoulders was still damp from his hair. 

King watched him openly for the first time. No sideways glances, peering through bookshelves or looking through closed lashes. Just looking. After a moment, he felt his cheeks begin to flush so he dropped his eyes back to the magazine. He felt the sofa sag a minute later as Ram sat next to him.

“How is your knee?” King asked. Stupid question.

Ram grimaced and nodded his head. It’ll be okay, King imagined him saying.

“Were your dogs okay at Duen’s parents while we were at the reforestation camp?” Stupid. Why couldn’t he find something smart or sexy to say?

Ram bobbed his head. They were okay.  

This was stupid. He was stupid. They were just kissing a few minutes before Ram’s shower. Why was King having so much trouble talking about the elephant in the room? It felt like the morning after their kiss in the tent.

When Ram’s hand bumped into his, King scooted over a little bit on the sofa. “Sorry,” he mumbled under his breath.

“I was going for your hand,” Ram explained.

Smooth. So smooth. When was Ram the smooth one? It didn’t matter. King tentatively reached for the other man’s hand where it waited on the sofa between them. Quickly, Ram’s hand turned in its grip and he twined his fingers with King’s. King felt like his heart was in his throat.

“I like you,” King said, turning to face Ram on the sofa. “And...you like me.” 

Ram just nodded again.

“I thought you liked Pin,” King said. “You told me how betrayed you felt by her and your…” Father. He left the word unsaid . “She used to always like your Facebook posts - even your mother doesn’t like all your posts. She liked all your posts from camp too, so I thought you were still talking.”

A small shake of the head was all Ram gave him.

“I thought I was wrong in liking you when you were so hurt by them that I had to hold myself back.” 

He looked at Ram. A shake of the head again.

“And I was afraid that you would feel like you owed me something since I let you stay here,” King continued to ramble. “I didn’t want to take advantage of that so I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t want you to like me because you felt you had to out of obligation.” Ram was always paying King back. Dinner for tutoring. The umbrella for the notes.

He felt Ram squeeze his hand.

“I should be the one taking care of you. I’m your senior.” King never liked it when other people took care of him. “So…”

“You flirted first.” Ram dropped that statement in the middle of King’s crisis.

“I did not,” King protested. 

This time Ram stared at him with disappointment. Fine. Even King didn’t believe his own lie.

“Well, you never flirted back,” King accused him. “How was I supposed to know you liked me too?”

Ram flailed his free hand as if to say King, you’re an idiot, and said, “Taking you to dinner, taking you home in the rain, telling you to your face how important your gift was to me. Hugging you to keep you warm at night while we shared a tent.” This was more than Ram had ever said to him at one time.

Well, okay. King was the definition of oblivious.

It dawned on him finally. “Wait, dinner? When you dragged me to dinner after studying? That was months ago! I thought you treated me in exchange for the tutoring.”

Ram shrugged his shoulders sheepishly and said, “I wanted an excuse. I liked looking at you.”

King thought back to that first dinner. “So that was a date?” Shit. “That was a date.”

Ram nodded his head again.

King huffed in laughter. “I really played myself didn’t I?” he said to Ram. “I thought I could flirt with you. It was fun. And there was no risk because there was no way you could like me back.” He didn’t understand his own feelings for Ram until he showed him his secret place at home. He was so dense.

“I thought you were the smartest student in our faculty.” Ram grinned at him. 

King liked that look, it made Ram’s eyes sparkle. “So...are we dating?”

Ram’s smile grew bigger as he nodded.

King thought about it. He didn’t need to hold himself back anymore. What was that thing that Boss always did to Mek? Quickly he lowered his head and rubbed his hair against Ram’s shoulder acting cute. It made Ram burst into laughter and he impishly pushed against King with his free arm. But he didn’t let go of King’s hand.

Their playful shoving quickly led to playful kisses. King reached over to pull Ram into a closer hug and the back of his hand skimmed a cactus on the shelf behind the sofa. He ended the kiss and sucked air between his teeth as he shook his hand from the pain.

Ram grabbed his hand and started pulling the spines from his fingers. “What kind of cactus is this one?”

“It’s a prickly pear cactus. You can eat them,” King explained proudly. “See that paddle? When the lobes are young like that one, you just peel the skin and eat the inside. My grandmother taught me how to make jelly from it. Prickly on the outside and tender on the inside, just like you.”

Ram twisted his mouth at the bad joke. “If it’s a food, why is it in the living room?” He glared at the offending cactus while he tried to pull out the last few spines from King’s fingers. He had practice pulling cactus spines from King. The first time was at King’s parents’ house when they all had Thai barbecue.

“I can’t keep my cacti on the balcony, that’s where the bed is. What if I rolled into one while we’re sleeping?” King asked.

“We can put our bed in the bedroom,” Ram suggested. “Then we could put more of your plants out there and the dogs could sleep in the living room.” Ram finally was able to pull the last splinter from King’s hand and kissed the backs of his knuckles with a smile. “Better?”

King nodded. “Or...we could put grow lights in the bedroom so we can stay on the balcony,” he countered. He really did prefer when they slept on the balcony. The night breeze through the jasmine vines and hibiscus helped him sleep calmly. To be honest, his condo wasn’t nearly isolated enough. It was only all the plants that kept him calm when he stayed in the city.

Wait. Ram said “our bed”. He quickly looked at Ram. King’s eyes widened when he saw the look of mischief in his eyes.