Deep in the Act
Quality Check: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria
The sorrowful agent arrived early, and surnamed Li, is a woman in her forties. She wears glasses and wears short hair, her clothes are not prominent, but her posture is very strict. When she entered the door, Zhang Zhun looked at the watch, but not yet. Five o’clock, it should be flying over Taiwan from night. After shaking her hand, she said nothing, sitting on the small sofa to answer the phone, about half an hour later, Xiao Deng and Yu Xin arrived.
Zhang Zhun liked to rescue them and greeted them. Xiao Deng bought breakfast, but no one could eat it. He simply asked, like negotiation and confrontation, four people on one side, on the sofa and bed. Sit down.
“Explosion is not a big deal in itself,” Ms. Li opened the door: “There is no real evidence, just a reason to cover it, but we can not swallow this same-sex scandal.”
This is a bit blaming, like the elders reprimanded the child who was in trouble, and Deng Deng immediately received: “Predecessors, we are the same here.”
“Now, Taiben has already written it,” Ms. Li ignored him, but curiously glanced at Zhang Zhun: “Our crisis public relations team has been mixing the water behind, you just need to stand up and clarify. ”
Xiao Deng frowned: “Why are we clarifying?”
“Oh, you don’t pay, don’t you make a sound?”
Zhang Zhun was humiliated by her words. The muscles of the lower jaw twitched painfully. Sitting across from him, he saw: “In fact, whoever clarifies does not matter, I…”
“The earrings are taken down!” Ms. Li gave him a sentence, and Zhang Zhun paid attention to it. The heart was still carrying the little fish earrings. He looked at the past with disdain, and he looked boldly back. They are so close, but can’t say a sweet word.
Happy April Fool’s Day! — thanks for the guest appearance by Google Translate XD. Hope everyone got a good laugh (and not too much of a scare!) lol. Please enjoy the actual chapter below:
As expected, Chen Hsin’s manager arrived very early in the morning. Surnamed Li, the bespectacled woman in her forties sported a plain cropped bob and was rather nondescript in her dressing. Her expression, however, bore an edge of steely sharpness. Zhang Zhun glanced at his watch as he opened the door for her. It was not even five yet in the morning; she must have flown over from Taiwan through the night. After shaking his hand, she sat down on the couch without so much as a word and began answering calls on her phone.
Half an hour later, Chen Hsin and Xiao-Deng showed up as well. Zhang Zhun welcomed them with an immense sense of relief, freed at last from the oppressive presence in the room. Although Xiao-Deng had bought breakfast for everyone, no one had the appetite to eat anything. After a brief exchange of greetings, the four of them took their seats on the couch and the edge of the bed, two on each side, as if sitting down for a negotiation, or a confrontation of some sort.
“This so-called ‘breaking news’ isn’t much of a problem in itself,” Madam Li cut straight to the chase. “There’s no hard evidence to back up those claims. It’ll take little effort to cover them up with some made-up reason. What we won’t stand for, however, is the nature of the scandal. We find it rather hard to swallow such rumors about Chen Hsin’s sexuality.”
She spoke in a reproachful tone, much like an elder scolding a child who had gotten into trouble, and Xiao-Deng retorted at once, “Our sentiments exactly. We feel the same about Zhang Zhun, ma’am.”
“Now, I’ve got a script all worked out here,” Madam Li went on. She paid no mind to the young man, though she darted an inquisitive glance at Zhang Zhun. “Our crisis management team has already started muddying the waters. All you need to do is to make a public statement and clear things up.”
Xiao-Deng frowned. “Why are we the ones issuing the statement?”
“Oh? Is a statement too much to ask for, even though you aren’t paying a single cent?”
Zhang Zhun tensed, humiliated by her remarks, and his jaw muscles twitched painfully from the strain. Sitting across from him, Chen Hsin registered the older man’s distress. “It doesn’t matter who issues the statement. I…”
“Take that ear stud off!” Madam Li snapped with a tilt of her head. Only then did Zhang Zhun notice that Chen Hsin was still wearing the tiny fish on his ear. Zhang Zhun’s eyes, filled with longing, lighted upon the younger man; Chen Hsin met the gaze with a bold look of his own. Yet, as close as they were to each other in this very moment, they could not exchange even a single word of affection.
Both men looked away a split second later, but their fleeting glances were too emotional to be missed by Madam Li. How could she not see the blatant feelings in their eyes when she was seated right next to Chen Hsin? Flustered, Zhang Zhun bowed his head at once. Just then, his phone began ringing. Xie Danyi was calling, and he seized the opportunity to flee from the spot. He retreated to the far side of the room before answering her call.
“I only saw the news this morning,” Xie Danyi began, her placid voice strained with the effort of forcing herself to stay calm. “How are you doing?”
Behind Zhang Zhun, a heated argument had broken out between Madam Li and Xiao-Deng. Afraid that Xie Danyi would hear the commotion, Zhang Zhun clasped a hand around the speaker. “We’re in the midst of deciding who’s going to face the media.”
Xie Danyi heard the fight anyway; the two were too loud in their quarrel. “Li Ling-Li is Chen Hsin’s manager, isn’t she? Pass her the phone.”
“I’m alright. There’s no need for you to get involved.” Zhang Zhun hung up and returned to his seat on the edge of the bed. Chen Hsin sent him a questioning gaze, but the older man avoided his eyes.
A moment later, Li Ling-Li’s phone started ringing. The argument with Xiao-Deng was going nowhere. Although the manager wanted to ignore the call at first, she answered it in the end for a change of pace, as a distraction from the deadlock. “Oh, Danyi? Yes, I remember you from Tracy’s party.” After listening for a while, she shot a surprised look at Zhang Zhun. “Is that so? Sure, that’s alright of course. We want to resolve this ASAP as well.” Then, the call was over. The manager smiled in satisfaction as she hung up. “Xiao-Zhang,” she directed her attention to Zhang Zhun, “your girlfriend is willing to clarify the matter in public. Great move for both sides.”
Zhang Zhun immediately felt the impulse to rebut her. Why should Xie Danyi bear the brunt for something like this? He had the retort on the tip of his tongue, but Chen Hsin spoke up first with a nasal drawl, “Why should she bear the brunt for something like this?” So deep was the connection between them that they shared even the same words and thoughts. Zhang Zhun watched the younger man in disbelief. Chen Hsin continued, calm and frank in his manner, “She’s an outsider. This has nothing to do with her. I was the one who made the mess, so I should be the one to clear things up.”
Li Ling-Li responded by throwing the hotel room phone off the table. “Clear things up? You’ll be labeled as soon as you show up!” The phone smashed onto the floor. Its receiver fell out of the holder, and the sound of frantic beeping filled the air. “I didn’t help you debut in your teens just to see you crash and burn in your thirties!”
Her presence was so overpowering, so imposing, that everyone was cowed; for a moment, no one dared to make a sound. Chen Hsin hung his head, aggrieved, while Zhang Zhun stared at him in stunned silence. The manager got to her feet. “Xiao-Deng,” she instructed as she handed a card to the young assistant, “help me book another room. Chen Hsin won’t be returning to the Ocean Star for the time being. I’ll let the production staff know.”
Xiao-Deng took the card from her. “Shall I book a room for you too, ma’am?”
“No need.” Li Ling-Li sighed, and signs of a bone-deep weariness befitting her age started to show at last. “There’s still work waiting for me back in Taiwan. I’m taking the afternoon flight.”
The new room that Xiao-Deng booked was diagonally opposite from the current one, since the neighboring rooms on both sides had been taken. After Chen Hsin and Li Ling-Li took their leave, the large room felt so empty that even the rustling of the plastic takeout bags took on a forlorn quality. “Ge, would you like to eat something?” Xiao-Deng asked.
Shaking his head, Zhang Zhun picked up his phone weakly. The rumor mill had been working hard, and the net was flooded with falsehoods in the span of a single night. Not wanting the older man to subject himself to such torment, Xiao-Deng pressed, “Why don’t you take a nap instead, Ge?”
Zhang Zhun opened Weibo anyway, and was overwhelmed in an instant by all kinds of stories and exposés. The first to catch his eye was written by someone claiming to be a senior media associate in Taiwan. The writer asserted with every bit of confidence that Chen Hsin had been bisexual all along, and appended a list of ‘ex-boyfriends’ to his post. Zhang Zhun did not feel like tapping on the list. Despite being fatigued in both body and mind, he could not help but keep scrolling down. What came next was a story about himself, written by a verified fitness trainer:
I belonged to the same martial arts team as Zhang Zhun. He was already interested in men back then. Whenever the guys went to the toilet or took a shower together, he’d keep stealing downward glances at others. And there’d always be this thirsty, come-hither look in his eyes… You get the picture! I didn’t share a dorm with him, but I heard things from those who did. Never seen it myself, but according to his roommates, he slept around with lots of guys in the dorm. He was quite the slut, to put things simply!
At the end of the post, the user signed off with his handphone number and the contact details of his gym, as well as a parting invitation for readers to “drop a call/visit to find out more.” The profile picture seemed like an authentic photo of the user himself, showing off his sculpted form in nothing but a pair of boxing shorts. Zhang Zhun studied the man but could not recognize him at all.
“There’s no end to the bulls*** that people can come up with! What are you reading that crap for?” Xiao-Deng grumbled.
Despite the edge of complaint in the young man’s tone, Zhang Zhun knew that his assistant truly felt for him. “Wow, listen to this, Deng Zicheng. There’s a post saying that Chen Hsin and I have been in love for years!”
The joking manner, Xiao-Deng knew, was just the older man forcing himself to appear unaffected and cheerful. “That’s nothing compared to the call I got last night.” The young man grabbed some bread and sat down beside Zhang Zhun. “Around midnight, someone called to talk about an endorsement deal. I was baffled until I found out who was asking. Danlan.org.”
Puffing out his cheeks, Xiao-Deng chewed hard on his mouthful. “The biggest gay site in China.”
Zhang Zhun choked. After taking a moment to digest the information, he turned his attention back to the post on his phone. It told a most beautiful story, beginning with how he and Chen Hsin fell for each other on the set of Galloping Steed, where “sparks flew and ignited the flames of passion between them.” Then, according to the writer, they cautiously kept up a clandestine affair in the following years, even to the point of avoiding each other on purpose when filming Northern Peak together. This was the reason why the media was never able to get a photograph of them as a couple. The writer even included a photo in the post, and Zhang Zhun recognized the umbrella over Chen Hsin’s head in a glance.1
What a charming story it was; it was so wonderful that even Zhang Zhun wanted to believe in the lie. A ping sounded on Xiao-Deng’s phone. It was a message from Xie Danyi, telling them that footage from her press conference was available online. The weblink she provided led to a clip on Youku, uploaded by Capital Entertainment.
Xie Danyi wore a simple white t-shirt, with her hair hanging loose. It was clear that it was still very hot in Guangdong. “Hello everyone,” came her gentle greeting. For reasons he could not comprehend, the sight of her face filled Zhang Zhun with an overwhelming urge to break down and cry. Over the course of the video, she clarified the various issues surrounding the scandal, such as Zhang Zhun’s sexuality, and explained that the ear studs were nothing more than a publicity stunt by the production team. When asked about the relationship between Zhang Zhun and Chen Hsin, she replied, “There’s not much of a relationship to speak of between them. I know for a fact that they didn’t even exchange a single word on the set of Northern Peak. At most… they can be considered to be colleagues, I suppose.”
Later on, a reporter asked if there was anything she would like to say to Zhang Zhun. She smiled, a little embarrassed, before switching to Cantonese, “Come back when filming’s over, Mr. Zhang. I’m waiting for you at home.” The video ended, but there was no end to Zhang Zhun’s guilt. Tears of anguish streamed down his face and fell from his chin. In an attempt to distract the older man, Xiao-Deng waved his phone in Zhang Zhun’s face. “Look, Ge. The hired trolls on Chen Hsin’s side are really something. The tide’s turning, and more people are starting to slam the production team for hyping up the movie!”
All of a sudden, the doorbell rang. After ringing just once, it was replaced by loud banging on the door. Xiao-Deng went over. Just as expected, he saw Chen Hsin through the peephole. “He’s nuts!” As soon as the young man opened the door, Chen Hsin shoved him aside and made a beeline for the bed.
“Hey!” Xiao-Deng tried to stop him, but Chen Hsin dashed up to Zhang Zhun and scooped the older man into his arms without a word. As if he were holding onto something ethereal, something that could dissipate any time from his world, Chen Hsin folded Zhang Zhun to his chest with every last bit of strength he could muster.
“What the hell!” Xiao-Deng shut the door in fright. When he turned towards them again, Zhang Zhun had wrapped his long, slender arms around the younger man’s back, while Chen Hsin had lowered his head and was now restlessly moving his body against his lover. They were kissing. Spurred by fear, or perhaps disgust, Xiao-Deng whipped around to face the door once more. Glowering at the surface before him, he threw a hard punch against the door, cursing, “F***!”
- The story about the umbrella is mentioned in Chapter 35.1.
DITA will be on hiatus next week, as I will be out of the country attending the funeral for a family member. (This isn’t an April Fool’s joke, btw, in case anyone is wondering.)