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Mixed Signals

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Beep beep beep beep!

The door unlocked and King pushed it open for them both. Ram slowly followed and scanned the entryway. When King didn’t take off his shoes, Ram didn’t either, and he walked awkwardly down the front hall.

“My room is a bit messy,” King said in apology. He proceeded down the hall and touched the hanging vines of various wall planters, speaking to some of them.

The condo was absolutely packed with plants as far as Ram could see. Some of the planters Ram saw looked like the ones he’d seen in the photos King had sent him. Those photos were from where King lived? He’d need to look at them all again. The empty spaces without plants were filled with photos of, well, more plants. Ram stared at a few pictures, trying to figure out if they were placeholders or just for decoration, and King began to explain what the different kinds were.

King quickly ducked into a side room and left Ram barely in the main room. It was his first time over and he didn’t know what to do, so he quietly waited for King to tidy up. Ram had just got the courage to peek into the kitchenette when he heard the telltale beep of the front door. A tall, pretty woman with broad shoulders marched through the door and pulled up short when she saw Ram. Who was this woman to King that she would know the code of King’s door?

The woman looked at him with excitement and asked, “Who are you? King’s boyfriend? So?” 

Ram caught his breath and quickly glanced to the bedroom where King was still looking for his notes. He didn’t know how to answer. The woman didn’t seem angry, so she wasn’t a girlfriend. A roommate? Did King talk about Ram with her? He didn’t say a word.

She glanced at her smartphone where he could clearly see King’s new profile picture on the screen. The woman held it up and peered back and forth between looking at him and the photo.

King walked out of the bedroom at the sound of her voice, “Oh Sis!”

Sister. She was his sister. Shit. Ram decided he shouldn’t say anything because you never knew who was out to their family.

“Cool boy, this is my sister Kumfah.” 

King didn’t seem upset that his sister popped in, so they must have a good relationship. Ram politely gave his greeting and shot his eyes over to King to watch for clues.

“He’s my university junior, Ram,” King explained. Then he turned and held out a folder and some loose-leaf papers. “Here, the lecture notes. Take it and if you need anything else, just tell me.”

Ram grabbed the notes from King. It was disappointing, but he guessed the arrival of his sister was cutting the visit short. 

“Why are you here, sis?”

“I came to see your boyfriend? You already took a picture with his arm around you to announce it,” Kumfah explained.

Yes, Ram thought triumphantly. That’s what I thought too!

“I just want to come and see the real person. You know that I am -,”

King broke in with frustration, “The hardcore BL fan, likes to see boys fall in love with each other.” 

Kumfah yelled, “Yes! Look at your cute boyfriend. Mix race, handsome, has tattoos. With you that cute innocent look.” She went on to shriek, “Oh I love you two together.”

Oh okay. Hard no. Ram no longer liked where this was going. She’s just as bad as those girls that stalked them in the park on the way here. And a mixed-race fetish? No thank you.

King says “Ok enough Sis. He is not my boyfriend.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Kumfah demanded.  “You already had a couple-picture and you brought him to your condo. Just now you took so long to answer the door. If you don’t confess, I will go and ask him myself.”

King stopped her, “No need to.” 

King lowered his voice and bent closer to Kumfah’s ear. Ram looked up and tried to hear what was being whispered between them and wasn’t able to catch King’s explanation.

“Cool boy,” King called out suddenly. “Do you want a ride home with my sister? It’s the same way.”

Ram shook his head “no” emphatically.

“It’s very late, too dangerous to ride a bicycle. Just go with her,” King insisted.

Kumfah said, “Trust me. You are my brother’s friend. I will surely look after you well. Come let’s go.”

It was a very uncomfortable ride in the elevator down to the parking lot. Kumfah kept turning to stare at Ram with a weird smile. When they walked out of the breezeway and under the overhang, they ran into his mentor Tee from Engineering.

“Hi Tee, here to see King?” Kumfah asked.

Tee and Kumfah gave their greetings. Tee turned to look at Ram in confusion and he belatedly gave his wai.

Kumfah pointed at them both. “You two know each other?”

Ram wanted to know the same thing.

“Yes, he is my junior,” Tee explained.

“Really? What a small world, like destiny,” Kumfah said excitedly.

Ram walked to Kumfah’s truck that was parked nearby and wheeled over his bicycle by the tailgate. He overheard Tee and Kumfah gossiping about how Kumfah had found Ram in King’s condo.

“What, you mean Ram? There’s nothing, they’re just like brothers,” Tee said.

He’s my university junior.

They’re just like brothers.

He is not my boyfriend.

The words played over and over in Ram’s head while Kumfah drove him home. It really hurt to think about when they had to make a stop at King’s parents’ house for one of Kumfah’s errands. 

It must be true since Tee was walking into King’s condo at the same time that Ram was leaving. Here he thought he was visiting King’s place for the first time as his, well, not boyfriend yet, but the guy he was talking to at least. But he was just King’s junior there to pickup notes. Other students were headed there at the same time. He wasn’t special. He was just bad at math and being pitied.

By the time Ram got home, he couldn’t hold back anymore and initiated his first DM to King over Messenger. “What lie did you tell your sister?”

“Haha, you found out,” came King’s reply.

A joke? This was a joke to you? Ram immediately powered off his phone and tossed it on his mattress. He should have believed Ruj when he said that King was just playing with him.

He spent the next several weeks ignoring the messages from King that were sent daily. Ram even muted the notifications because every time he heard the message chime, he felt overcome with embarrassment that he had ever mistaken King’s attention for attraction. Sometimes, King would come with Bohn to visit Duen, and Ram always made a quick exit to avoid him. 

When Ting Ting came up with the terrible idea to give Bohn tests to deserve to date Duen, Ram made the rash decision to fight Bohn. It didn’t dawn on him until they met on the basketball courts that King would be there to watch them. Standing there in the cheap boxer’s robe, he felt childish. He couldn’t help but suck in his breath and flex a little bit when the robe came off, knowing that King was watching. 

Ram kept sliding his gaze over to King, trying to catch the look on his face while they fought and that’s when he slipped up and let himself get hit. He felt his face heat in shame at how ridiculous he’d behaved. It had been over a month and he was still thinking about King so much he’d let himself get clocked in the face.

“I will send you home.”

The words came out of nowhere and startled Ram out of his reverie. It was King. King had followed him off the courts and waited for Ram’s friends to leave to talk to him. He’d picked up Ram’s keys he’d dropped on the ground and looked at him expectantly. Ram really wasn’t in the mood for this.

Ram grabbed for the bike chain key, but King quickly pulled it back out of reach.

“Here, this is for you,” King said and held out a paper gift bag. “To apologize for lying about your voice.”

His voice? What was King even talking about? Oh. 

King reached into the bag and pulled out a plant, offering it to Ram. It made Ram’s mind go a little fuzzy as he recalled that day at King’s condo and he stopped making sense of what King was saying.

So. King was giving him a present. It was a present that he spent a lot of time on. And it was because he had been paying attention to where Ram’s attention was at the condo. And it’s a gift that requires time and energy and thought. And he’s supposed to think of King whenever he takes care of it. Dammit. Ram’s mind raced back to what he overheard from King and Kumfah that afternoon. King didn’t tell his sister that they weren’t dating because he was a guy. He told her that Ram was his junior. So. Dating guys must be fine. Okay okay. Ram just needs to get over the schoolmate thing. Shit, he could take the crumbs for now. He reached for the small pot in King’s hand.

“I like it,” Ram said shyly with a smile. “Thank you.”