First Published on Chaleuria
The weekend came around again. They had agreed on a second outing, so Fang Chi showed up again Saturday morning outside their estate, puffing on a cigarette as he waited. At nine o’clock sharp, Zuo Linlin appeared. She approached him with a bounce in her step, all dolled up and all alone.
“Where’s Gao Zhun?” he asked, glancing behind her.
“He’s not feeling well.” She beamed as she walked around him and reached for the car door. “Let’s go.”
“What happened?” Fang Chi stopped her, grabbing her outstretched arm with a strong grip.
“Why do you care?” She was beautiful even in her anger – it was a beauty that simmered with aggression. “Am I not the one you care about?”
Fang Chi became visibly irritated. “You’re already attached!”
“So? I can break up with him any time.” Her voice took on a flippant note as she continued, “I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life with a nutjob anyway.”
Fang Chi was enraged by her callous choice of words. “I said it before, he’s not sick. He’s just…”
“Do you want me or not?” She cut him off and took a step towards him, almost pressing herself into his arms. “Even if you don’t, there’s plenty of men out there who do.”
“We have to go back,” Fang Chi sighed, “we can’t leave him at home by himself.”
At this, Zuo Linlin softened her expression and put on a look of vulnerability. “Charles, you know about my feelings for you.” She rested her forehead on his chest. The light citrus scent in her hair drifted into the air. “I’m going on a dance tour in Europe. I fly tomorrow, and I won’t be back for a month. I just want to spend a day properly with you before I go.”
No man could ever reject such sweet pleas. Fang Chi said nothing. She pressed on with her emotive approach, “I’m getting older, and my career will soon be coming to an end. I’m just trying to find the right man and settle down.” Snuggling against him, she asked, “Is it really wrong of me to want that for myself?”
Fang Chi almost hugged her, but he was suddenly assailed by an image: Gao Zhun, crushed against his chest in a tight hold, murmuring in his ear with despair, “Save me…”
Resolutely, Fang Chi pushed her away and repeated himself, “We have to go back.”
Gao Zhun’s home was refined and tasteful, just like Gao Zhun himself. The first sight that greeted a visitor upon entering his apartment was a series of portraits hanging on the wall in the living room: The Four Seasons, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Pointing carelessly in their direction, Zuo Linlin explained that they were not authentic paintings, but copies painted by Gao Zhun. Frequent exposure to artworks had desensitized her to artistic merit and beauty. However, it was the first time that Fang Chi had come face to face with such talent. It took his breath away. It was almost impossible for him to tear his eyes away from the magnificence and vitality before him.
As Gao Zhun had mentioned before, he and Zuo Linlin now slept in separate rooms. Fang Chi entered and saw him cowering on his small bed, hidden under his thin covers. As if she was unwilling to spare Gao Zhun even the slightest hint of sympathy, Zuo Linlin left immediately after showing Fang Chi into the room. A wooden three-legged chair stood by the window. Fang Chi carried it to Gao Zhun’s bedside and sat down.
“Mr. Gao,” he greeted. Noticing the movement under the covers, Fang Chi laid a hand on the figure before him and felt the tremors under his touch. “Won’t you let me take a look at you?”
At this, a face slowly began to emerge from the covers at the foot of the bed. Gao Zhun’s hair was disheveled, and his eyes were red like a rabbit’s as he returned the greeting, “Dr. Fang…” Ashamed and embarrassed, Gao Zhun continued to hide the lower half of his face under the covers. “I’m sorry…”
Fang Chi did not know why he was apologizing. This was a typical manifestation of self-blame. “What happened?”
“Justin…” Yet another mention of that name. Fang Chi listened quietly as Gao Zhun continued, “He came to my office yesterday and made a scene. Because of the trip. He broke everything he could…”
“Are you injured?” As soon as the question left his lips, Fang Chi was reminded of something he saw in his textbook during his freshman year in college: the first question articulated by any individual is reflective of the most important and deepest concerns within the individual’s psyche. Gao Zhun shook his head in response. Appearing to have relaxed a little, he stretched out his right hand. It emerged from the covers, ice-cold, and Fang Chi saw the champagne-colored cuff of his silk pajamas. This was a sign that he wanted Fang Chi to hold his hand, so Fang Chi did as he wished. “What happened during the trip?” Fang Chi asked.
“I didn’t take him with me on the trip. I picked someone else instead. He…” Gao Zhun’s lips quivered, looking positively miserable. “He said that I…”
Fang Chi waited for him to complete his sentence, but Gao Zhun bit down on his lip and refused to continue. Knowing that there was no point in forcing the other man, Fang Chi changed the subject. “The weather is cool outside. Would you like to take a walk?” When he saw Gao Zhun’s eyes begin to flicker, he added, “Won’t you join me and keep me company?”
Gao Zhun needed little prompting to choose Fang Chi over himself; it was hardly even a choice for him. He released his hold on the covers. They fell away, revealing Gao Zhun’s half-open collar and the honeyed skin underneath. Fang Chi frowned as he noticed a small, pink bruise on that exposed strip of flesh. “Did he hit you?”
“No, that’s not it.” Gao Zhun stared at Fang Chi’s outstretched hand as he closed his collar nervously. “I was hit by an artbook. A very thick one.”
They fell silent, and the silence drew out until Zuo Linlin came back again with a glass of water for Fang Chi. Staring at Fang Chi in disbelief, she exclaimed, “That’s an antique chair from the 19th century, and he’s never allowed me to sit on it before!”
Fang Chi stood up in haste. He took the glass from Zuo Linlin and shot an apologetic look at Gao Zhun. “You should have told me.”
Zuo Linlin was surprised by the tone of his voice. It sounded almost intimate – like a complaint between the best of friends. Since when had they become so close? But Gao Zhun’s response was even more surprising: “Do you like it? You can have it if you want.”
Zuo Linlin’s surprise turned into bewilderment. The chair was worth seventy thousand US dollars; Gao Zhun never once allowed anyone to touch it, and yet here he was, giving it away without any hint of hesitation. She no longer knew how to feel about the situation, or where to direct the envy rising within her. Fang Chi laughed heartily at Gao Zhun’s suggestion, “I don’t know anything about art. If it isn’t for your sake, I would never sit in a chair like this.”
Fang Chi did not register how suggestive that sounded until he said it out loud. The mood between the three of them became rather awkward. Gao Zhun blushed and felt the dryness in his mouth. “I need to get changed…”
Fang Chi missed the undertone in his words. Not realizing that it was a polite hint from Gao Zhun for him to leave the room, he remained rooted to the spot as he drank from his glass. Giving him a tug on the arm, Zuo Linlin said, “I need help with something. Come give me a hand.”
After Fang Chi followed her out of the room, she closed the door firmly behind her and threw herself into his arms. Throwing out her chest and hips, she pulled her body into a lovely arch, accentuating her tantalizing curves. Fang Chi’s head began to buzz. He backed away, trying to keep his distance, and hit the back of his head against the wall. “Linlin, are you out of your mind? Gao Zhun is just beyond that door…”
She cut him off with a kiss, sealing his lips with her own. She wore a peach-flavored balm today, and its cloying sweetness filled Fang Chi’s mouth in no time. His body burned with desire. He seemed to have lost all consciousness as he returned her kiss with mindless fervor. The illicit nature of the kiss fuelled his excitement. As if an enormous chandelier had exploded in his mind, shocks of pleasure ripped through his body like a torrent of broken crystal shards raining down all over his body.
The woman in his arms belonged to Gao Zhun – it was Gao Zhun’s woman that he was devouring right now. Instead of filling him with guilt, this awareness only served to stoke the rush of excitement within him to an abnormal intensity. He kneaded her shoulders and tightened his arms around her, squeezing her against his chest. Zuo Linlin was immensely flattered; she had never seen Fang Chi like this before. It was as if the past three years only served to intensify his feelings for her instead of washing them away. She began to moan into the kiss, “Charles!”
Fang Chi’s mind cleared as soon as he heard her voice. He pushed her away. Glaring at her with bitter resentment, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve over and over again. Then, the door handle turned; Gao Zhun was about to come out of his room. Fang Chi dragged a hand through his hair in haste and walked over. The wooden door opened before him. There Gao Zhun was, as polished and exquisite as ever, his lips curving into a gentle smile as his eyes fell on Fang Chi.
Fang Chi felt his heart pounding hard against his chest and conveniently interpreted it as a sign of a guilty conscience. In an attempt to distract Gao Zhun, he tossed out a question at random, “Does your chest hurt?” However, Gao Zhun did not seem to understand him. The blankness in Gao Zhun’s stare raised some doubts within Fang Chi. “Weren’t you hit by an artbook?” He ran a finger lightly across a spot on Gao Zhun’s shirt. “Right here.”
“Ah, I’m fine.” Gao Zhun lowered his head. “I’ll freshen up a little. Give me a minute.”