"We bless you and give you thanks in your Spirit, who brings our hearts to life this Christmas Day and forever. Amen."
Tong reached for the cutlery at the sides of his plate as soon as he had finished saying the prayer. His mother gave him a copious smile which he wouldn't notice as he readied himself for the meal, while his father had somehow already started attacking the food in front of him. The scene was almost alien to the mending household as the family sat down for dinner. Of course, Tong's family always sat down for meals like this on holidays, but this time it was different. Ever since Tang went missing, occasions like these always felt more solemn joyous. Sunee looked from her son over to her husband, still smiling. For once, it didn't feel like her family was in shambles.
"Ma." Tong spoke, taking her away from her sentimentality, "The food tastes great."
A slow nod, "Thank you, Tong.", she said, finally picking up her own cutlery.
So far, Tong seemed normal to Sunee. She hadn't asked about the situation between her son and Mew, but he seemed as cheerful as he usually was. She brought a forkful of food to her mouth and chewed, more focused on answering the questions that popped into her head than enjoying the food. Tong seemed cheerful, but what for? Was he with Mew? Before she had a chance to make up her mind on whether or not that was a good thing, Korn, who sat opposite of her started to cough. He reached for his chest and tried to compose himself but his coughing quickly became a merciless fit. Sunee had her eyes glued to the man with concern as Tong stood up and started reaching for his back. Still coughing, he waved a dismissive hand at Tong.
"I'm fine." he managed to blurt out.
"Korn, are you alright?" Sunee asked. He cleared his throat before nodding a response and reaching for a nearby glass of water. His wife and son continued staring at him, waiting patiently as he gulped down his drink. "I'm fine." he said again.
Sunee frowned. Korn had went back to not asking for help, even though he knew how worried she was about him. At least he was attempting to get better by his own will now, she thought. Remembering June, she silently gave her thanks, if it weren't for her, things wouldn't have been like this: slowly, but surely turning for the better. She was right, they could manage without her, without Tang. As long as they all continued to care for one another, things would be alright. Even if she had to force her care onto her husband.
"Um." Korn reached for a napkin and wiped at his mouth, "I'm supposed to visit the doctor again, tomorrow." he gave his wife a purposeful look.
"I know." she replied, "I'll have to find some time during work to drop you off."
Korn gave a hummed reply, enough to sound grateful but also enough to cut the topic short. The topic of his health was never something he wanted to linger on. He gave a quiet huff as he realized he had ironically been going down the same path he wanted to avoid. Looking towards his son, he tried to make sure that the topic was over and done with.
"Tong." he called, "Do you have anything planned for the New Year? Going out with any friends?" He chuckled, "I think you're at an age where you can stay out all night for New Year's Eve."
Sunee held her breath. To say she was protective of Tong would be too polite. She would pick him up and drop him everywhere and she always had to know where he was going, how long he would be there and who he'd be with. She knew people would consider her controlling but she was just being cautious. And though she felt bad about it, she always had Tang's disappearance at the back of her mind as a readied excuse for her protectiveness of Tong. But honestly, she thought, wasn't her actions justified? Ever since Tang had disappeared she had to be like this. How could she not? She remembered the night that Tong didn't come home, a harsh reminder of what was undoubtedly the worst day of her life.
"Not really." answered Tong, she exhaled, "My friends are doing something but I don't know if I want to go."
His mother bit her lip before speaking, reminding herself to be cautious. She knew she had to loosen her hold on the boy, and she would, but she also needed to ask this question for another reason,
"Which friends are these, Tong?" she cautiously asked.
Tong took a while to answer, or maybe he didn't and Sunee just thought he did. Maybe he saw right through her question. Is Mew going to be there? The question seemed so obvious in retrospect. Not letting the paranoia pull at her anymore, she took up another forkful of food. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tong give a non-committal shrug before answering, "I don't know. Probably just a few from school. It's not going to be anything big."
Friends. From school. She'd take Tong's words for the truth. A part of her felt guilty that his words reassured her, friends from school would mean that Mew wouldn't be there. She had to remind herself that she didn't have anything against Mew. After all, she had decided to put her son's happiness before her own. It's just that if she had to choose, it would be for Mew and her son to remain as friends. Normal friends. Normal, she lingered on the word. She shouldn't have used that, nothing was abnormal about Mew, he'd just decided to live his life differently, that's all. And if Mew was going to be with Tong on New Year's Eve then there would be nothing abnormal about that, either.
"Even if it's nothing big, it might still be a good time." Korn said, "What about our old neighbour? He sang at that... party we had, didn't he? Mew?"
Sunee nearly dropped her fork. Korn, of course, was completely oblivious to what was going on between Mew and their son.
"Yes. His name's Mew." he paused for a moment to swallow his food, "He won't be there. I don't think he'll get along with my friends, anyway."
"Really? He was such a nice boy." Korn spoke, "I should have tried talking to him more at the party. How's he going?"
Tong looked up at his father, but his gaze stretched into space. He had no idea how to answer the question. He hadn't heard from Mew since yesterday and considering how they parted ways, he wasn't sure what to think of it. On a day like Christmas, he at least expected a text from the boy. Mew seemed alright back then, but who knows if that was a farce?
He cleared his throat before speaking, "Last night." he paused, "He performed at a concert with his band in Siam Square."
"Oh? How was it?"
"It was great. The crowd really liked it."
Realizing just how quiet she had gotten as the topic shifted onto Mew, Sunee decided that she had to speak up. She didn't want to give the wrong impression to Tong, especially if he saw past her earlier question.
"I'm not surprised." she said, "He's a very talented boy."
"That's true." Korn reaffirmed.
Tong smiled and nodded, "Yeah." he reached for his phone in his pocket, deciding to check for any messages from the boy.
A few missed calls from one of his friends and a couple texts. He mused on Mew as he sifted through the texts. He felt like he had a thousand things to ask the boy. What did he do for Christmas? Was he doing anything for New Year's Eve? Was he working on a new song? How was Ying going? Most of the texts turned out to be well wishes from friends, even one from Ying, but no Mew. He grinned at Ying's message: a simple holiday greeting embellished with emoticons and symbols. He'd taken a liking to the girl, she was strong, being able to accompany him to the concert. After all, Mew did love him and not her. Love, he'd been hearing so much about it that just thinking about it was starting to become exhausting.
Tong put his phone back into his pocket and picked at the scraps of his food. Even though he had loved Mew, things were complicated but complicated or not, they were still friends. Still, he couldn't help but feel anxious from just thinking about talking to Mew again. He hoped it wouldn't be like this, so uncomfortable. His brain was on fast-forward and his heart felt like it was trying to escape from a body that was too slow to keep up with its rhythm.
"Tong?" he looked up to see his mother looking at him with worried eyes, "Are you okay?"
"Um..." He let his eyes fall back to the near-empty plate before him, he smiled, "Can I have some more, ma?"
Sunee shot him a half-amused, half-skeptical look before reaching for one of the serving spoons.