Deep in the Act
Quality Check: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria
Gao Zhun began to shake his head, but – as if he was trying to repay Fang Chi for his unreserved honesty, or finally feeling safe enough to relax around Fang Chi – he slowly nodded. Under Fang Chi’s gaze, he got to his feet, turned around, and started undoing his button.
This was a significant act. By removing his jacket, Gao Zhun was also symbolically lowering his guard against Fang Chi. Fang Chi considered it a huge step forward in their relationship, but he was puzzled by Gao Zhun’s need to turn away from him. Gradually, with drawn-out movements, Gao Zhun slipped off the piece of clothing. Fang Chi followed the slow slide of the expensive jacket down his shoulders, heard the luxurious sound it made as it brushed against his shirt, and watched the planes of his back pull into a beautiful arch as he lifted his arms. His waist – so fine, so tiny it seemed ready to break at the slightest grip – wordlessly hinted at the possibility of a poor appetite.
When Gao Zhun was ready to turn around again, Fang Chi issued an additional command, “Take off the vest as well.” Gao Zhun paused momentarily. Then, seemingly with great determination, he began unbuttoning his vest. His shirt, completely drenched in sweat, clung tightly to his skin. Through the thin, wet fabric, Fang Chi saw the defined lines of the muscled body underneath. “Do you go to the gym regularly?” he asked.
Gao Zhun did not turn around. He tilted his head to the side and answered over his shoulder, “I used to, but I’ve stopped going lately.”
“Why did you stop?”
“Because… it gets crowded, and sweaty. The smell…”
What about the smell? – Fang Chi wanted to ask, but he curbed his desire to probe further. They had made much progress today and Fang Chi did not want to push him too hard. “Mr. Gao, do you remember our previous conversation about your issues with personal space? Now, I would like to conduct some tests involving physical contact.” He put down his writing materials and stood up. He added as he walked over, “You don’t have to move at all.”
Gao Zhun spun around immediately at his words and took a backward step at the same time. Streaks of color flashed unnaturally across his features as his heat-flushed face paled simultaneously from fear. In an attempt to calm him down, Fang Chi explained placatingly, “You need to challenge your limits if you truly want to change yourself. We can stop whenever it gets too much for you.”
Gao Zhun shook his head. “No… I don’t want to do this. I don’t see the point. It’s weird…”
Fang Chi instantly softened his voice further into a coaxing tone, “Don’t you trust me? I will be very disappointed if that’s the case.” This was a thinly-veiled threat, and Gao Zhun was noticeably terrified at the prospect of disappointing Fang Chi. To ease the impact of the threat, Fang Chi appealed to Gao Zhun again, “Let’s give it a try, shall we?”
But Gao Zhun continued backing away. Every forward step that Fang Chi took was immediately matched by a backward step from Gao Zhun. Relentless in his pursuit, Fang Chi repeated himself when Gao Zhun finally had his back up against the wall, “Let’s try it out. Just this once, okay?”
Trapped without any hope of escape, Gao Zhun looked up at him with pitiful helplessness as he pleaded, “Next time… can’t we leave it till the next time…?”
Fang Chi was a little surprised by Gao Zhun’s attempt to discuss terms with him. “I’m worried that you might not show up next time.”
Gao Zhun fell silent. Clearly, Fang Chi had guessed right; Gao Zhun was indeed considering skipping their subsequent sessions. Realizing that he had taken things a little too far after all, Fang Chi backed down. To defuse the oppressive tension he had created, Fang Chi stepped away voluntarily and put a safe distance between the two of them. “I respect your decision, but I hope that you will learn to believe in your own potential for change.”
As he spoke, he returned to his desk and wrote down a ‘prescription’ for Gao Zhun. “In the next session, we will continue with practices involving physical contact. They will be carried out in progressive stages and aren’t as weird as you think they might be. In the meantime, here is a task that I’d like to you work on before we meet again next week.” He tore out the page and handed it to Gao Zhun.
Finally free from his previous state of petrification, Gao Zhun strode over quickly to receive the note. “You want me to practice taking off my tie?”
“Yes, it’s a behavioral task.” Fang Chi assumed a professional air as he explained, “I noticed your unwillingness to remove your tie. This is a typical sign of self-limitation or repression, as well as an unhealthy need for a false sense of security. I need you to let go. As far as possible, avoid wearing ties to work. Keep it up for a week. I will check on your progress at our next meeting.”
Crushing any opportunity for further negotiation, he promptly ended the session as Gao Zhun tried to speak up, “That’s it for today.”
Gao Zhun put on his vest and jacket again, deep in thought. He picked up his calfskin tote and was about to leave when he paused by the door and said, “I passed by a Japanese pub on my way here. Would you like to go for a drink together, Doctor?”
Fang Chi was momentarily stumped by the invitation. According to his mentor and his own experience from years of practice, he should avoid non-treatment-related interactions with his patients in private. Considering the nature of their upcoming session, however, Fang Chi agreed. The pub was only a ten-minute walk away. Run by a Taiwanese lady, it was a small establishment that served high-quality sake.
They were just starting on their drinks when Gao Zhun received a call. He listened quietly, but his reply was harsh and cruelly indifferent. “To think that you’ve been working for me these five years. 37 million, you say? Don’t call again. Fix your own mess.”
Fang Chi asked about the call after Gao Zhun hung up. Gao Zhun replied lightly with nonchalance, “A collector’s item in his care was stained with chemicals. He’s no use anymore.”
In the dim yellow light, the soft contours of Gao Zhun’s face began to lose their definition, and Fang Chi struggled to see him clearly. He changed the subject, “How did you get to know Linlin?”
“Through work.” With alcohol in his hand, Gao Zhun finally seemed comfortable enough to relax completely. “We needed some ballet dancers for a show.”
Fang Chi guessed that he was used to frequenting places like this. “She’s pretty hard to please. It couldn’t have been easy to woo her.”
“She was the one who courted me,” Gao Zhun corrected, winking proudly at him. “She claims that she’s never dated before, but I don’t believe her.”
Fang Chi’s face stiffened. He laughed with a shake of his head. “I don’t either.”
That night, they were both tipsy with alcohol. For Fang Chi, the shared sense of mild intoxication lingered for a week. When they met again on the following Wednesday at the entrance of his clinic, he could still feel its influence on him as he stretched out his arm with a smile and politely invited Gao Zhun into his office. But Gao Zhun was unresponsive as he stood rooted by the door, glaring at him in disbelief. Vaguely, Fang Chi sensed that something had gone wrong, though he could not put a finger on it. When Gao Zhun turned to look at secretary Feng, Fang Chi finally realized what the problem was: the air-conditioning.
Sure enough, Gao Zhun kept his eyes averted from Fang Chi’s face as he said, “According to Miss Feng, the air-conditioning was in working order last week.”
Fang Chi panicked. He wanted to explain himself but Gao Zhun pressed on, “Why did you lie to me?”
With a face crushed by rage and sorrow, Gao Zhun stood like a helpless child abandoned by his father. Fang Chi knew that his actions had injured him again where he was already wounded. “It’s a technique…”
“Technique?” Gao Zhun was on the brink of tears. “Are you saying that everything you have done so far amounts to nothing more than a… technique? What about…” His lips moved soundlessly, unable to finish the sentence. But Fang Chi knew exactly what it was that he wanted to ask.
What about your feelings?