Quality Check: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria
Sitting in his office, Gao Zhun spent the day in misery. He was so lost in despondence that he could not focus on his work at all. Although the exhibition secretary came to see him on multiple occasions, Gao Zhun redirected the staffer to Justin every time – until Justin left work early, just after three, to tend to some personal matters. Only then did Gao Zhun force himself to browse through some of the projects on hand. Even so, he remained distracted while waiting for time to pass. When the clock struck half past four at last, he left promptly for Fang Chi’s clinic.
Secretary Li was still at work when Gao Zhun arrived. Amicable as always, she made some tea for him. Then, checking through the visitor logbook, she informed him, “It’s the last appointment for the day, and it’ll be over soon.” Gao Zhun thanked her with a smile and sat down on the bench. Indeed, the door opened no more than five minutes later, and a tall young man came out of Fang Chi’s office. He had a pair of lively, double-lidded eyes, and a full jawline characteristic of his youth. He was dressed in a suit and wore a silver-plated bespoke ring on his right middle finger. Gao Zhun recognized the ring; it was the work of a Polish independent artist, he remembered.
“Justin?” Gao Zhun called out in surprise.
Justin was even more surprised to see Gao Zhun in the clinic. His large eyes widened. They glimmered with delight at first – lustrous as the melting waters in spring – before flashing with the panic of a schoolboy caught red-handed while playing truant. At last, his gaze settled back into the calm composure of a grown man. “Good evening, Sir,”1 he greeted Gao Zhun with respect, an odd accent in his voice. “How come…?”
Realizing that Justin was asking about the purpose of his consultation, Gao Zhun panicked for a moment. In the very next moment, however, he recovered and assumed the airs of a superior. “I’ve been feeling rather stressed lately, so I’m here to wind down. What about you?”
“Me… Me too,” Justin replied. It was a blatant lie, but Gao Zhun had no intention to probe any further. He was not interested in the least. “How’s the preparation coming along for that Aestheticism2 exhibition we decided on last week?” Gao Zhun asked.
“The preliminary work is already complete. The other party will be working with…” Out of habit, Justin began leaning his tall figure toward Gao Zhun as he spoke. Assailed once more by Justin’s suffocating, oppressive presence, Gao Zhun dodged his advance and backed away. Just then, the door to the office opened a crack. Wiping his glasses as he stood in the doorway, Fang Chi called out to Gao Zhun in a polite but familiar tone, “Coming, Mr. Gao?”
Of course Gao Zhun was coming. Dropping a casual “rest well” as he brushed by Justin, Gao Zhun strode into the office. Only after the door closed again behind him did he heave a sigh of relief and begin breathing normally again.
“You know each other?” Fang Chi asked, sounding rather grave.
“That was Justin,” Gao Zhun answered as he put down his bag, disbelief evident in his voice. “What was he doing here? What kind of… issues does he have?”
“Just the usual insomnia.” Fang Chi closed the patient’s record on his desk, concealing the notes he had jotted down about Justin’s condition: homosexual fantasies about superior at work.
“Is it because of exhaustion?” Gao Zhun muttered to himself. “He doesn’t seem to be the type to have trouble sleeping.”
Fang Chi’s voice took on an edge of displeasure all of a sudden. “You care that much about him?”
Gao Zhun was stunned. After a brief pause, however, he rushed to explain himself. “No, I’m just…”
Fang Chi gestured for Gao Zhun to stop. He knew full well that he was overreacting. He also knew why he was behaving this way, remembering his consultation with the young man just now. In his mind, the therapist saw the young man before him again, talking about his desire for his boss. In a besotted manner, the young man confided, “I think he’s interested in me too.”
“What makes you think so?” Fang Chi asked as he recorded down his observations.
“Sometimes, he’ll steal glances at me from his office window. When I get near him on purpose, his response… seems really shy. I think he’s trying to seduce me!”
“Has he ever expressed such intentions or feelings in explicit terms?” Unaware of the superior’s identity at the time, Fang Chi delivered his questions without any emotion.
“No. He wouldn’t.” The young man’s large eyes rolled in excitement. “He’s waiting for me to make the first move.” As if he were having a friendly discussion rather than a therapeutic consultation, he continued, “Given his age and the fact that he’s my boss, there’s no way he could ever take the initiative.”
“Is there a huge gap between you? In terms of age, I mean.”
“More than ten years, I think.” Although he seemed a little disheartened talking about their age, the young man quickly recovered his spirit. “But age isn’t an issue, you know?”
“Have you had any experience living overseas?”3
“Yes, I grew up in Canada.”
“What do you plan to do now?” Fang Chi lifted his head to glance at the young man before noting down in the ‘Risk Assessment’ column: risk to others. “To this superior of yours, that is.”
“Find a suitable opportunity to get him alone, I suppose,” the young man replied, frowning in thought. “He’s a smart one.”
“What about your sexual orientation? Have you always been gay?”
“Oh, I used to have a girlfriend.” The young man loosened his tie; it was made of silk jacquard and looked very expensive. “But I broke up with her, just for him.” With a self-deprecating laugh, he added, “Even the idea of anal sex has stopped being a turnoff for me.”
“When you say that you want to get him alone, is it because…” Fang Chi paused as he deliberated over his choice of expression. After much thought, however, he settled for the phrase that the young man had used. “Is it because you want to have anal sex with him?”
The young man broke into a grin. Licking his lips, he corrected Fang Chi, “I want to sodomize him, yeah.”
Sodomy. The memory of the word jolted Fang Chi back to the present. Unwilling to lose his composure before Gao Zhun, he struggled to keep his raging emotions in check. “This Justin,” he asked, “how old is he?”
“He just turned twenty-three last month.” It was clear from Gao Zhun’s expression – natural and innocent as a lamb – that he knew nothing about Justin’s fantasies and delusions. “He’s still a kid. Why do you ask?”
“Come here,” Fang Chi said instead, stretching out his arms toward Gao Zhun. Blushing at the forwardness of the invitation, Gao Zhun approached Fang Chi shyly. As soon he stepped into the confines of those arms, Fang Chi encircled his waist and pulled him close. “Stay away from him,” Fang Chi spoke into his ear, every syllable hot and urgent against Gao Zhun’s skin. “The farther the better.”
Overwhelmed by the passion in Fang Chi’s words, Gao Zhun was at a loss as to what to do. “Why? Is it… because of something he said?”
“No, that’s not it.” Unable to break confidentiality, Fang Chi pressed on with an authoritative air, “Will you listen to me or not?” Gao Zhun nodded at once. Then, in a voice so forceful that it sounded almost like an order, Fang Chi added, “Don’t ever spend time alone with him.”
“Can you please… tell me what’s going on?”
“Do I really have to say it aloud?” Allowing his tone to take on a suggestive turn, Fang Chi began playing with Gao Zhun’s earlobe with a featherlight touch. “I don’t like you being close to other men, especially him.”
Gao Zhun could not believe that Fang Chi would ever say something like this to him. An unusual rush of sensitivity surged through his body, and his senses sharpened all of a sudden. Even the sound of his own blood flow was thundering in his ears now. Deep crimson suffused every inch of his flesh. In a fit of recklessness, he threw his arms around Fang Chi and held on tight.
Fang Chi dangled yet another carrot before Gao Zhun: “When we’re done with the session, I’ll go back with you to pick up your things.”
Gao Zhun was beside himself with joy. “Re… really?”
“But you need to promise me that you’ll go to sleep once you’re in bed.”
“I promise. I’ll promise anything you want me to!”
Yet, Fang Chi did not believe his promise at all. Once they were in bed, he knew Gao Zhun would stop being Gao Zhun – and he, too, would become something entirely different from himself.
- Sir: As mentioned in earlier chapters, Justin is learning the ropes of his father’s business by shadowing Gao Zhun. Thus, Gao Zhun serves as a mentor to Justin.
- In the original text, to reflect his respect for his mentor, Justin addresses Gao Zhun as ‘teacher’ (老师laoshi). This use of ‘laoshi’ differs from the way in which ‘-laoshi’ is used as a suffix for Chen Hsin, as it indicates an actual mentor-pupil relationship between the two characters.
- To avoid confusion among readers, I have chosen to translate this term into its English equivalent instead of leaving it in pinyin form.
- Aestheticism: An intellectual and art movement in the 19th century that emphasized aesthetic values over socio-political themes. It rejected the idea that art should be moral or useful. Instead, it conceptualized art as the means for providing refined sensuous pleasure.
- Its core belief – “Art for Art’s sake” – highlights its doctrine that the principles of beauty are basic to other and especially moral principles, placing the pure sensuality of art above all values.
- Justin’s experience: In the original text, in addition to his accent, Justin speaks with a mix of Chinese and English expressions, thus prompting Fang Chi’s question about his background.