First Published on Chaleuria
How long would it take to go through a single cigarette? Three minutes, or maybe five? In the end, however, the door opened from the inside with a beep before Chen Hsin could even finish off his first cig. Wu Rong’s voice drifted through the gap in the doorway, “… listen to your big brother, don’t be such a fool.”
Then Wu Rong appeared and closed the door behind himself. Chen Hsin did not expect the practice to be over so soon. In a split second, with his cigarette butt forgotten between his fingers, he came face to face with Wu Rong. He thought he would be the one to fire the first shot, but Wu Rong went on the offensive before he did. Fuming, the other man jabbed a finger in his face and bellowed, “What the hell are you doing here?” He shoved Chen Hsin with the full brunt of his strength. “I’m talking to you! What the f***ing hell are you doing here?!”
Chen Hsin staggered backwards, glaring at Wu Rong in outrage and disbelief. But Wu Rong did not back off; instead, he strode forward and gave him another shove. “Stay away from him and stop bothering him from now on!”
Wu Rong kept shoving, again and again, forcing Chen Hsin to back away down the long corridor. After being pushed along for eight or nine meters, Chen Hsin finally managed to fight back. Mustering all his strength, he threw a punch at Wu Rong’s chin, only to be caught with little effort by the other man. Wu Rong sneered at him with open scorn. “I know what you’re like – you’re the kind who’s just out to have fun.” His flippant jeering took on an edge of thuggish ferocity. “You wanna play? Make sure you look for the right ’uns. Don’t get ahead of yourself! You lay a finger on this one,” – he jabbed a thumb at room 3705 – “no matter what it takes, even if it costs me everything, I’ll f***ing kill you!”
Chen Hsin mulled over Wu Rong’s threats and found no trace of any aggressive intent to pillage and plunder. The sentiment that pervaded his words, Chen Hsin realized, was much closer to protectiveness. “Your practice didn’t last too long,” he changed the topic out of the blue. “You sure you’ll be okay for tomorrow?”
At this, Wu Rong’s gaze began to flicker. They did not manage to practice at all. After being sent out of the bed, butt-naked, he retreated to the couch in defeat. “Zhun-er, you and what’s-his-face…” Subdued and wary with apprehension, he asked, “Are the two of you… like that?”
Zhang Zhun did not reply. Wu Rong knew him well; his silence was precise proof that something was not right. “Yesterday, at the KTV lounge… how could you let him do that to you?!” He was truly anxious for Zhang Zhun now. His face scrunched up in genuine distress as he continued, “In films like these, with all that stripping and kissing, it’s not a big deal if a dude and a girl get carried away, you know. Who cares if they end up screwing each other for real? But you – you’re both men… He’s a player. He can afford to fool around, but can you?”
Zhang Zhun remained silent. “Break it off,” Wu Rong persuaded, “while nothing serious has happened yet.”
After a quiet pause, Zhang Zhun muttered in reply, “It’s not that big a deal. Neither of us is like that. I’m not that kind of person, and neither is he. Everything will be fine once the film is over.”
“Those are your words.” Wu Rong pressed him for a vow. “Stay put. No one cares what goes on in your heart as long as you don’t act on any of it.” He knew Zhang Zhun far too well: don’t act on it – nothing would ever happen if Chen Hsin kept his distance and stopped harassing him.
“F*** off!” Wu Rong snarled at Chen Hsin, “It’s none of your business.” With one last provocative shove, he pushed Chen Hsin out of his way and swaggered towards the elevator.
Chen Hsin stared at Wu Rong’s domineering, arrogant back, until a sudden burning sensation in his fingertips returned him to his senses. He reflexively unclenched his hand. He had forgotten that he was still holding his half-smoked cigarette between his fingers. The cigarette butt was lying on the carpeted floor now, while wisps of smoke rose soundlessly into the air. A trashcan stood opposite room 3705. He picked up the cigarette butt and walked over to dispose of it. As he turned around, his eyes fell on Zhang Zhun’s room. This must be the path that God had picked out for him.
The doorbell rang. The door opened a moment later, and Zhang Zhun stood in the doorway clad only in his boxer briefs. His hair was damp at the temples; it seemed that he had just finished washing his face. On the other side of the door, Chen Hsin looked as dashing as ever with his wavy hair, clad in his eye-catching hand-painted t-shirt and white sneakers.
Finding himself dazzled by Chen Hsin’s good looks, Zhang Zhun did not dare to look too much at the younger man. He kept the door half-closed, leaving only an appropriate opening as a sign of courtesy to his visitor. “Yes? What’s up?”
Chen Hsin loved the suggestive ambivalence in the air whenever they were together. “You’re not inviting me into your room?”
“It’s kind of late,” Zhang Zhun replied, looking troubled.
But Chen Hsin did not relent. “It’s okay for him, but not for me?”
Knowing whom he was referring to, Zhang Zhun shot a piqued and willful look at him. “We were just practicing for tomorrow.”
Chen Hsin propped a hand on the door and began pushing, bit by bit. His did not use much force; it would have been easy for Zhang Zhun to stop him if he wanted to, but the door continued to open. In the end, the appropriate opening widened inappropriately, and Chen Hsin strode in with decorous ease. The barbell and the chest expander were indeed resting on the couch by the window. The pair of push-up bars, too, were lying by the TV set. Chen Hsin broke into a smile, amused by his own childish immaturity. “The two of you talked about me?”
His tone was conversational. His gaze was just as casual as it shifted from the couch and the TV set. It lingered for a while on the messy bed before falling at last on Zhang Zhun’s face. “No, we didn’t…” Zhang Zhun answered, his face tense with overt nervousness.
Chen Hsin fixed his gaze on the man before him and began closing the distance between them. “I ran into him.”
Zhang Zhun’s gaze instantly darted toward several parts of Chen Hsin’s body: the bridge of his nose, his chin, as well as the part of his hand between his thumb and index finger. Seeing that Chen Hsin was uninjured, he heaved an inward sigh of relief. Then, with a voice untouched by any trace of disturbance, he remarked, “Senior may sound rather brash, but he’s not a bad person.”
Chen Hsin was looking at him too. His eyes trailed over the firm, subtle ridges below Zhang Zhun’s pecs, roamed across his beautifully defined abs, and traced along the deep sunken grooves of his Adonis belt, following them downward. “You seem rather eager to defend him,” he returned, dipping his gaze lower and lower…
All of a sudden, someone began banging on the door. The room resounded with the thunderous noise. Zhang Zhun rushed to take a look at the peephole. When he saw Wu Rong outside, his expression became rather grave. “Get in,” he instructed as he started pushing Chen Hsin towards the bathroom, “lay low in there for a while.”
“Why should I?” Chen Hsin had already guessed that it was Wu Rong. “I’m not afraid of him.”
Zhang Zhun pressed his lips together in hesitation as a certain streak of panic flashed across his expression. “He asked me about the episode at the KTV lounge…”
“What about it?” Chen Hsin paid no mind to the banging on the door. He remained unaffected, untouched by any sign of shame. “That’s between us – we both wanted it, and we were both willing. It’s none of his business.”
Zhang Zhun did not know how it was possible for him to feel embarrassed right now, but he could not help his face from reddening. “What do you mean, we…”
Chen Hsin grabbed him and melded their mouths together, their lips and tongues burning hot as their mingled breath seared them with its heat. Meanwhile, Wu Rong had begun kicking at the door. Struggling out of Chen Hsin’s arms with reddened eyes, Zhang Zhun urged, “I’ll let him in. You go.”
Despite his own reluctance, Chen Hsin gave in at the sight of the worry on the other man’s face, “Alright.”
The door opened. Wu Rong’s eyes fell on Chen Hsin as soon as he entered the room. “What’s this? Acting up the moment my back is f***ing turned?!”
In an ironic reversal of Chen Hsin’s plan, Wu Rong snatched up the push-up bars by the TV set. Blocking Wu Rong’s way with his body, Zhang Zhun began maneuvering Chen Hsin towards the door. Wu Rong yelled in blinding fury, “Think I can’t keep my eye on you? Watch me break those legs of yours!”
Chen Hsin had never ever been so humiliated in his entire life. He ought to stand up to the challenge – that would be the heroic thing to do; he would be nothing more than a lowly coward if he backed down now. He clenched his fists. Then, thinking about Zhang Zhun, he opened the door and ducked out of the room, his head hanging low. He knew nothing about how he made his way back to his own room, how he washed his face, or how he got into bed. His mind was totally blank until he received a call from Feng Yunting – only then did he seem to recover and become the all-powerful king of the silver screen once more.
“Honey, do you miss me?” she asked, her voice charming and saccharine sweet.
“Of course I do,” he replied as his heart became slowly consumed by the chaotic feelings roiling within him. His finger began moving of its own accord. He put the phone on speaker mode, pressed the home button, tapped on his gallery icon, scrolled down, and found the photo: in the dim light, a bleary-eyed Zhang Zhun looks up, only half-awake, with milky fluids streaking across his face.
“Oh, I wanted to tell you, I’m getting a whole month off…” On the other end of the line, she continued with her coy, girlish nothings. But Chen Hsin was reaching down between his legs now, his breaths quickening as his hands moved lower and lower. Feeling as if a fire had begun spreading all the way from his throat to his nose, he allowed himself to pant heavily into the air without restraint.
A note of disbelief crept into Feng Yunting’s voice as she picked up on the telltale sounds, “What are you doing…”
Chen Hsin’s reply was shameless as he continued jerking his hands, “Nothing much.”
“You’re so annoying!” she chided. Mistaking his actions as an attempt to engage her in phone sex, she giggled in surprise and excitement.