Deep in the Act

Translator: Kotoni

Editor: Cien

Quality Check: Isalee

First Published on Chaleuria

Chapter 32.2 

Gao Zhun went to work the next day with red eyes. In the afternoon, he attended a preparatory meeting for an upcoming show. His team of eight sat in a circle around the table, working out the lighting and logistics details with Justin as the temporary project leader. Throughout the session, Gao Zhun remained rather absent and distracted while Justin kept stealing watchful glances at him. Just as the younger man was thinking about starting a conversation with Gao Zhun, the red light on the intercom began flashing. Gao Zhun picked up the incoming call with great impatience, and the receptionist’s sweet voice rang out in the meeting room: “Director Gao, you have a visitor. Your landlord, Mr. Fang, is here to see you.”

Gao Zhun was stunned for a moment. As realization kicked in, however, he became overwhelmed with joy, and there was no hiding the euphoria on his face. “Tell him to come up,” he said at once, only to change his mind in the very next breath. “Hold on,” he called out, bending his entire upper body over the intercom to press hard on the device, “tell him to wait. I’ll go down instead.” Before releasing his hold, he added one more instruction, “Make him some coffee. Or tea. No, make both and ask him for his preference!”

Justin had never seen Gao Zhun like this before – so eager to please, like a child trying everything within his means to get the affection he craved. Then, after dropping a last hurried order for Justin to “stand in for him,” Gao Zhun rushed out of the room. Bewildered by the older man’s behavior, Justin sat frowning in his spacious executive chair, momentarily lost in thought. A short while later, he got up from his seat as well. “Carry on without us,” he said to the planning executive beside him, “and remember to take notes.” By the time Justin reached the elevator lobby, one of the two elevators had already descended to the fifteenth floor. The other was waiting on standby, and he pressed for it without thinking. Like an ill-intentioned stalker, he got into the elevator and gave chase immediately.

Soon, the first elevator reached the ground floor. Stepping out into the foyer, Gao Zhun caught sight of Fang Chi straight away. His eyes ran over the man’s tall figure and gold-rimmed glasses before falling on the cup of hot tea on the round table beside him. So that’s what he prefers – Gao Zhun thought to himself as he began striding over to the resting area where Fang Chi stood waiting – tea rather than coffee.

Meanwhile, Justin emerged from the second elevator as well, mere seconds behind Gao Zhun. Keeping a calm countenance, he walked up to the reception desk, where he was greeted with a smile and a polite nod. Tapping his fingers on the countertop, he asked, “Has Director Zhang from Spar Vision arrived yet?” After a quick check through the visitor logbook, the receptionist replied in the negative. The young man then asked for a lighter, lit a cigarette for himself, and stepped into the shadows of a decorative plant nearby. Thus concealed, he began spying on the pair in the resting area.

“Doctor Fang!” Gao Zhun blushed with evident delight as he came up to Fang Chi. “Why are you here?” he asked, bowing his head a little in shyness. “What a surprise…”

However, Fang Chi showed no intention to stay for long; he did not sit down or touch the cup of tea. “I just received an invitation to a tea party that’s being held today,” he replied, taking out a key from his pocket. “You’ll have to spend the night alone. Are you scared?”

Gao Zhun stared hard at the small piece of metal before him, torn between his desire to possess it at once and his reluctance to take it on Fang Chi’s terms. “The whole night?” he asked, a little coy and child-like. “Do you really have to go?”

“I need to leave right now.” Fang Chi gripped one of Gao Zhun’s hands and placed the key in his palm. “It should end after midnight, but I’ll try to come back as early as I can.”  Worried, Fang Chi gave the other man’s hand a light squeeze and continued, “I have some DVDs in the shelves by the TV. If you have trouble sleeping, look through the disks for something to watch. And call me if you’re afraid.” Gao Zhun nodded, obedient as always. Unwilling to part with him, Fang Chi pulled him nearer, until their bodies were almost flush against each other. “Today’s session is canceled, but I have a task for you: tell Justin how you really feel. Lay it out for him. Tell him that you’re frightened of him and that you hate the way he behaves around you.”

“I already did…”

“Tell him again. Be firmer this time,” Fang Chi demanded, forceful and insistent. “Do it in a semi-public setting, where you’re left undisturbed, but not alone. There should be other people nearby or around you. If there’s a door, remember to keep it open. Can you do that?”

Gao Zhun would never say ‘no’ to Fang Chi. Leaning into the other man’s arms, Gao Zhun breathed out his promise, “Yes, I can. I’ll tell him after the meeting.”

“I’ll be on my way, then,” Fang Chi replied, pushing him away. “I’m already late.” Gao Zhun walked Fang Chi to the entrance with lingering reluctance, the very image of a forlorn lover who had grown used to loneliness. But Fang Chi did not look back. With deliberate resolve, he kept his eyes forward as he left the building and made his way to his car. Then, in a single breath, he opened the door, got into his seat, fastened his seatbelt, started the vehicle, and pulled out onto the street.  

On the radio, someone was discussing the adverse effects of smoking during pregnancy. Fang Chi did not change the channel, lost as he was in his own thoughts. Images of Gao Zhun, from the daytime as well as the night, flooded his mind and worked him into a frenzy as if he was delirious with fever or high on drugs. He could not stop thinking about how depraved and perverse he had been last night – could not stop berating himself for the beast that he was. There was little traffic ahead of Fang Chi; he cruised along, thus absorbed in self-reproach.

Ten minutes into the drive, the therapist received a call from Justin. He put his phone on speaker and answered, “Mr. Jia, I’m driving right now. If there’s anything –”

“Fang Chi! How dare you f***ing play me for a fool!” Fang Chi fell silent at Justin’s outburst, but his passivity did not help the situation. Like a raging bull that missed the crimson cape on the first charge, Justin was aggravated even further. “You think you’re real smart, don’t you, playing tricks behind my back?!”

At this, Fang Chi realized that Justin had seen everything: the key, the clasped hands, and the suggestive air between Gao Zhun and him. These were more than enough to push the young man over the edge, Fang Chi knew. “Mr. Jia, can you please clarify what you mean? What did I do?”

“I have no time for your f***ing crap! I’d have smashed your face in if I didn’t have to go back to the meeting!”

Judging from his words, Fang Chi guessed that the meeting had just ended, and it was unlikely for Gao Zhun to have found time to speak to Justin. Fang Chi’s mind cleared. Only one thought remained: he had to calm Justin down at all costs. “Mr. Jia…”

Go screw yourself, you motherf***er!

The line went dead after Justin’s curse. Less than a second later, Fang Chi hit the left turn signal. Frantically smashing his horn, he forced his way across two lanes, made a left turn on red, and sped back the way he came. The hand of his speedometer kept jerking on his dashboard as he tore along the road. He must have gone past 60mph a long time ago, but he did not care. Nor did he hear the incessant honking of irate motorists blasting their horns at him. Even his graduate school mentor’s invitation to the tea party – a rare gathering for specialists – was completely forgotten. With all the single-minded impetuosity of a hero in a romance movie, he plunged headlong into the endless traffic toward the building he had left not too long ago.

The parking lot was already full by the time Fang Chi got back. Without any hesitation, he left his car unlocked by the roadside and dashed straight into the building. The same receptionist was still on duty. He rushed over. “Which floor is Gao Zhun on?”

The receptionist recognized him as well. Her reply was prompt as she passed him the logbook for sign-in, “Twenty-third floor, farthest office on the left.”

Fang Chi had always prided himself on his composure, believed that he could remain calm and collected even if Mount Tai were to collapse right before his eyes1, but his confidence seemed misplaced now. He was shaking so hard that he could not even write a single stroke with the pen in his hand. Despite this, perhaps out of trust or pity, the receptionist let him in anyway. He followed her instructions and took the elevator to the twenty-third floor, but the office was empty and Gao Zhun was nowhere to be found. Fang Chi’s panic rose to a feverish pitch. He grabbed a passerby at random and asked for Gao Zhun’s whereabouts. Staring at Fang Chi as if he were crazy, his captive replied, “In the meeting room with Mr. Jia.”

Fang Chi’s heart sank when he saw that the door to the meeting room was closed. Overwhelmed with dread, he mustered all his strength and threw himself against the door – only to discover too late that it was not locked. He staggered into the room like a fool. Gao Zhun and Justin sat facing each other, looking as if they were having a casual chat. Fang Chi could not help but holler, “Why didn’t you leave the door open?!”

Gao Zhun was petrified. He stood up slowly. “I’m sorry… I forgot.”

Drenched in sweat, Fang Chi glared at Justin. Despite the young man’s relaxed posture, Fang Chi registered the pent-up power thrumming through his body, waiting to be unleashed at the right opportunity. “Gao Zhun,” Fang Chi called out, “Come here!

Gao Zhun’s body moved on reflex. As soon as he was near enough, Fang Chi seized his arm and turned to drag him out of the room. Puzzled, Gao Zhun started to ask, “Didn’t you–”

“I changed my mind.”

The pair took the elevator downstairs and left the building together. Fang Chi led the way to his Volvo, waiting by the curb with its emergency flashers still on. When told to get in the front seat, Gao Zhun flinched. He pulled his arm away and shrank from the vehicle. “No, I don’t…” But Fang Chi would not take ‘no’ for an answer. He yanked the door open and shoved Gao Zhun into the car before getting in on the other side. Paralyzed with fear, Gao Zhun flattened himself against the seat, his voice tremulous as he asked, “What’s wrong…? What happened… to you?”

Fang Chi leaned over. Without a single word, he started to fasten Gao Zhun’s seatbelt for him. Try as he might, however, the latch refused to click into place. “Stop shaking!” He blew up at Gao Zhun several failed attempts later, distraught and furious. Gao Zhun struggled to do as he was told and forced himself to endure the ordeal with gritted teeth. Lifting his eyes, Fang Chi saw the tightly pressed lips trembling near his temple. His grip loosened on the infuriating seatbelt. In a heartbeat, he grabbed Gao Zhun’s chin instead and kissed him.


Footnote:

  1. Remaining calm even if Mount Tai were to collapse one’s eyes: This expression originated from the writings of Su Xun, one of the Eight Great Masters of Tang and Song.
    • The complete sentence in Su Xun’s essay may be roughly translated as such: “To not change one’s expression even if Mount Tai collapses before one’s face; to not blink one’s eyes even if the milu (Père David’s deer) appears by one’s side.”
      • Mount Tai is the most supreme and sacred of mountains in Chinese culture. It has been an important place of worship for thousands of years in Chinese history.
      • Milu (Père David’s deer) is also referred to in Chinese culture as a ‘hybrid beast of four’ (四不像) for its ‘horse-like face, stag-like antlers, camel-like neck and donkey-like tail’.