Chapter 5: (Un)Engaged
A buzz from the phone sitting on the corner of the desk interrupts our discussion about the upcoming business trip. Still eyeing the tentative itinerary, Phun picks up the receiver with a distracted greeting. Whatever is said after that does not seem to please my boss. The papers in his hand crush under his grip and a frown mars his handsome face.
“Yes, I understand. Please let her in as soon as she arrives.” He hangs up the phone and drops the papers onto the desktop.
Standing up, Phun walks over to the large glass wall and looks out at the storm brewing outside. We had been so busy all morning that I didn’t notice the weather changing. Large black clouds loom overhead bombarding the windows with fat raindrops. The sound, muted by the thick panes of glass, is like a thousand drums beating in the distance. The frown on his face deepens as the minutes tick by.
“Phun…” I call him back to the desk to continue our work and distract him from whatever thoughts are plaguing him but a sharp knock on the door stops me.
“Come in.” Phun’s gruff order surprises me. I’ve never heard him speak like that to Aunt Chailai before. He doesn’t even turn around when the door opens and the lady herself appears inside.
“Your guest has arrived, Khun Phun.” Unpreturbed by Phun’s attitude, as if she was expecting it, Auntie nods her head and steps to the side to let another person into the room. “If you need anything else, please let me know.”
Aunt Chailai leaves, shutting the door firmly and leaving the newcomer behind. She’s beautiful, beyond beautiful. Thick black hair cascades down her back, the sides pinned up with sparkling silver combs. She has wide eyes framed with long lashes and full, cherry red lips that are neither smiling nor frowning. A long navy dress that perfectly hugs the curves of her body is low cut to show off the single sapphire pendant hanging from her slim neck. I might even go so far as to say that this woman is perfect but, for some reason, she makes me feel uncomfortable and cold.
“Hello, Khun Phun.” This stunning creature’s voice is smooth and soft but sounds a bit strange, as if she is simply practicing lines from a play. What’s stranger is Phun’s lack of reaction to her. He barely even glances her way in acknowledgement of her greeting.
“Please have a seat.” With a wave of his hand, Phun directs her over to the guest chairs next to where he’s standing. They both stiffly sit down across from each other but say nothing further.
“I’ll leave you to your guest, Khun Phun. We can finish our discussion later.” Not able to stand this weird awkwardness any longer, I stand up to make a quick getaway. Unfortunately, Phun has other plans for me.
“Noh, there’s no need to leave. Come sit over here. Let me introduce you.” This is clearly not a request. It is a demand that must be obeyed, so I do as I am told wondering why I have an overwhelming feeling of foreboding.
“Khun Aim, this is my new personal assistant and close friend, Napat Nawahindakarn.” For the first time since the phone call, a warmth enters Phun’s eyes and voice as he sets a hand on my shoulder. This is the Phun that I have come to know, the one I am familiar with, and it relaxes me a bit.
“Noh, this is Aim…” His words trail off and the warmth suddenly leaves his eyes again as his hand drops to his lap. I wait for him to finish his introduction but he just sits there eyeing the other person with a cold distaste. The awkwardness intensifies and the temperature in the room seems to have dropped at least ten degrees.
“Hello, Khun Noh.” Raising her slim pale hands, Aim gives a wai. It is proper and respectful but completely void of any sort of feeling. I can’t even claim that it’s robotic. It’s simply nothing.
“Hello, Khun Aim.” My hands raise automatically to return the greeting. In an effort to break this odd atmosphere, I send her the friendliest smile I can muster. “It’s nice to meet you. How do you know my boss?”
“I’m his fiancée.” The words are direct and barren. There is no pleasure in her claim. The implications of this short statement leave me stunned.
“Fiancee?” My heart jumps painfully in my chest and I look at the man next to me who is glaring at the woman across from him.
Phun has a fiancée? He never said a word. Why didn’t he tell me? We’ve known each other for weeks. I’ve spent most of my waking moments by his side. Shouldn’t he have said something to me? I thought we were close. I thought… no. I didn’t think. I shouldn’t think. He’s my boss. He doesn’t have to tell me anything. He doesn’t belong to me. I must be crazy.
“No, you aren’t. Not yet.” Phun says darkly.
“I will be soon. Our parents have come to an understanding and are deciding on dates.” Still no expression crosses her delicate features. She could have been discussing how grass grows or the drying time for fresh paint for all the interest she shows in the subject.
“They may have decided but I haven’t agreed to it.” Standing abruptly, Phun paces over to the window and crosses his arms.
“You will agree because your parents will tell you to. We must do as our parents decide for us.” Aim primly clasps her hands on her lap and looks at him with utter detachment. “It is the proper and respectful thing to do.”
“Sorry, but I have actual blood running through my veins.” Phun faces her, his lips curled half way between a sneer and a grimace. “I plan to marry the person I love, not some obedient young miss with a stone heart.”
“You have a lover?” An actual emotion shows in those beautiful eyes. For a flash of an instant, I saw surprise and disbelief hidden in their depths before the dull stone mask reappears. “I was told you had no such person, no attachments… not that it matters.”
“What I have is none of your business.” Phun says with finality. “I think we are done here. You have visited long enough to make the elders happy. No need to drag it out through a torturous luncheon.”
“Very well.” Aim’s voice is small and I could almost see the wheels turning as she considers Phun’s words. I don’t think it ever occurred to her that someone like Phun would go against his parents’ wishes, that he would want more to his marriage than just a gainful connection. With graceful, measured steps, she walks for the door.
“You should consider your life carefully, too, Khun Aim. Would you really want to marry someone who will never love you and will always be thinking about someone else? Are you really okay with blindly following your parents’ designs for who you should be and what you should do?” Phun’s voice softens as he watches Aim’s face fill with confusion, her mask slipping again. “In this life, why can’t we choose our own happiness?”
Phun guides her to the reception area where Aunt Chailai is waiting patiently. Without a word, he leaves her there and returns to where I’m sitting after closing the door with a sharp snap. His smile is relieved as he lowers himself into the chair next to mine with a deep sigh.
I am not so calm. A million questions are swirling around inside my head making me dizzy. There is so much that I don’t understand. I want to say something but I don’t know where to begin. I can’t organize my thoughts at all and the silence stretches between us.
“Noh?” Phun quietly says my name as he looks at me in concern. I’ve been too quiet for too long. “Noh, are you okay?”
“I don’t know… I just… It’s that…” The words disappear in my throat and I glance up at him. It shouldn’t surprise me that he has a lover or a fiancée. He’s handsome, caring, intelligent, and well off. He’s practically one of those fucking princes you see in fairy tales; the hero that always gets the gorgeous princess at the end of the story. It would be more surprising to find he didn’t have someone in his life. I can feel bile rising in the back my throat at the thought and I don’t know why, but I’m pissed off. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me you had a lover or a fiancée or whatever?! We’ve practically been living in each other’s pockets for weeks and it’s never occurred to you to say anything? Why haven’t I met her before or even seen a picture? You haven’t said a word? How can you not mention something so important to me?”
“Noh! It’s not like that!” Phun’s panicked voice breaks into my diatribe and he grabs my hands which are balled into fists. “I promise you it’s not.”
“Then what is it, Phun? You’ve obviously been keeping things from me.” The warmth from his hands is sinking into my skin but I’m not ready to be soothed by him. Jerking my hands away, I slide as far away from him as I can in the chair.
“I haven’t. Really, I haven’t.” Phun moves closer and wraps his hands around mine again, not letting me tug them back. “Aim is not my fiancée, will never be my fiancée. I’ve been a good son my whole life. I’ve always done as my parents asked without complaint, but I won’t this time. No matter what they say or do, I won’t get engaged to anyone except the person I love.”
“Can you really go against your parents like that?” The anger slowly evaporates leaving behind concern for this important friend of mine. I know how much his family means to him. To disappoint them would crush Phun.
“For the one I love, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do.” Releasing my hands, Phun stands up and walks over to the window once more. The storm clouds outside are starting to break up and glimmers of sunlight are peeking through the cracks.
“Your lover must really be something special.” Standing, I go to stand by his side. I still have a lot of questions but I keep them to myself. My soul feels too drained to deal with anything else at this point. “When do I get to meet your important person?”
“Don’t worry, Noh.” A playful smile lights up Phun’s handsome features as he turns to look at me. “If the one I love decides to be with me, you will be the first to know.”