Quality Check: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria
Not knowing what the man wanted with him, Chen Hsin furrowed his brow in puzzlement. The men shared a mutual dislike, and neither cared much for the other; the feeling of their arms pressed together, and their faces in such proximity, filled both with equal degrees of discomfort. “On my way here,” Wu Rong cleared his throat and raised the bottle, “I saw that interview that you guys did.”i His features became twisted in anger, or some other obscure emotion. “Can you be any more shameless than that?!”
Chen Hsin got it now; the man was here to pick a fight. So he folded his arms and sat back, intending to make himself as comfortable as possible while he listened to what Wu Rong had to say.
“Got a problem with stuff gettin’ on his leg? What you picking at it for, hand itchin’ for a beatin’?!”
Though Chen Hsin could not quite understand what Wu Rong was saying, he had no trouble comprehending the displeasure in his voice. “Shut it and drink up,” he shot back, mimicking the man’s tone. Then he grabbed a random bottle off the table and clinked it against the one in Wu Rong’s hand. “Let’s see who’ll last longer, you or me.” He marked his challenge by knocking back his drink at once. The small bottle was emptied within ten seconds; Chen Hsin put it down with a clank on the marble tabletop, unaffected by the alcohol. “If beer isn’t your thing, foreign liquor’s okay too. I’m great with imported booze.”
Wu Rong would never, ever, allow himself to lose out in two things: fighting and drinking. Without a single word, he raised his bottle and began chugging away. Chen Hsin did not wait for the man to finish before starting on his next drink. He, too, snatched up a new bottle and continued swigging. Less than ten minutes into the contest, the film staff began asking the waiters to bring in more rounds for the actors. Something was off, everyone knew, but this was all in a day’s work for an industry where abnormality had become the norm.
The reckless drinking went on for over an hour, leaving more than enough empty bottles to cover two whole tabletops. Both actors were equally wasted though they managed to remain upright. Xiao-Wang picked up the tab, and the remaining staff held up the two men as they prepared to leave, not forgetting to arrange the bottles in a heart shape for some wefies before they called it a night.
Xiao-Wang brought Chen Hsin back to room 3815, where Chen Cheng-Sen was pulling yet another late night editing dailies in the dark. The director looked at the boneless man draped across Xiao-Wang’s shoulders. “Leave him here,” he decided. “You go take a walk.”
Playing on the computer screen was the footage shot in the day on set B; the editing was almost complete. Zhang Zhun stood in the frame wearing that cashmere overcoat with a pin on its lapel, looking so beautiful that he seemed to have shattered into a million pieces. The director was not using speakers, and all was silent in the room as Zhang Zhun met the heated gaze of another man with a suggestive one of his own. Chen Hsin stared hard at the screen: the man undid his belt; then, Zhang Zhun got on his knees before his eyes, and the camera cut away to a close-up shot of the sheer pleasure on that other man’s face.ii
Everything seemed so, so real. Chills raced down Chen Hsin’s spine as a wave of nausea churned in his gut. His mind cleared all of a sudden. Just as if someone had punctured his chest, every single breath now filled him with the most excruciating pain.
“Met Wu Rong already?” Chen Cheng-Sen asked. The younger man gave him a drunken nod. Removing his headset, the director continued, “You two have a few scenes together, and you know very well why we haven’t shot those yet.” He sighed. “It’s fine for you to have a bit of a temper, Master Chen. You made a name for yourself at a young age after all. But you can’t go around feuding with everyone, right?” The director lit two cigarettes and passed one to Chen Hsin. “And it’s just as well that things have cooled down a little between you and Zhang Zhun.”
Chen Hsin felt a twinge of unease at the mention of his “cold” relations with the older actor. “Wu Rong does grate on my nerves,” he started defending himself in an attempt to hide his guilty conscience, “but that doesn’t get in the way of filming…”
“Doesn’t get in the way, you say?” Chen Cheng-Sen scoffed. “So many drivers on the team, yet no one’s let you in on the gossip?” He flicked some ash off his cigarette. “Remember Wu Rong’s bedroom scene from before? He blew up at me. Flat out refused to film the scene with you around.”
Chen Hsin looked up with a sharp jerk of his head. “That’s why…”
“That’s why you were sent off to an interview,” Chen Cheng-Sen replied lightly.iii “The production team can help bear the brunt for many things – your breakup, for example, and your sex scandal. All I ask for is that you do your job as an actor, and do it well.”
Feeling rather ashamed of himself, Chen Hsin remained silent.
“Why am I telling you this?” The director stubbed out his cigarette on the table. “Because the physical conflict between you and Wu Rong in the upcoming scene is gonna be pretty rough. I hope you’ll be able to control yourself.” The actor nodded, but Chen Cheng-Sen pressed him for an answer, “Can you do it?”
This time, Chen Hsin replied in a weak voice, “Yes.”
Chen Hsin remained in low spirits as he made his way back to room 3705. He rang the bell and pressed his ear to the door. Inexplicably, at the sound of those familiar footsteps, he came alive once more with excitement. He waited, fingers scraping against the door with featherlight strokes, almost frantic with urgency.
The door opened; Chen Hsin fell into the darkness of the room and was caught by a warm embrace. “How did you get so drunk…?” A question was asked, and Chen Hsin heard the hint of complaint in that voice, as well as a touch of tenderness. Then the lights came on. His eyes swept over the man before him, taking in the sight of his naked shoulders, ruffled hair, and a face bleary with sleep. Unable to contain himself, Chen Hsin flung his arms around his lover and tried to kiss him on the lips.
“Eh, hold on…” Zhang Zhun dodged, almost wriggling out of Chen Hsin’s hug. “I need to check on Senior first.”
“I out-drank him. He’s out like a light,” Chen Hsin made up some nonsense on the spot. Unwilling to let the man go, he turned around and locked his arms around Zhang Zhun once more. His eyes swept downwards and noticed a pair of white sneakers on the floor. He had never seen them before. “Those yours?”
Zhang Zhun looked down as well, following his line of vision. “Oh, they’re props for tomorrow.”
A sudden shot of jealousy rushed to Chen Hsin’s head. His voice dipped into a hoarse murmur as he shoved both of his hands into the older man’s shorts. “Put them on. Lemme have a look.”
“What for?” Zhang Zhun did not quite know how to react; amused and exasperated, he tugged shyly at those groping hands.
“Put ’em on. I jus’ wanna see…” Intoxicated, Chen Hsin cast aside all scruples and began begging like a child in the soft, sweet tones of his Taiwanese dialect. Zhang Zhun gave in; he picked up the sneakers, sat down on the edge of his bed, and slipped a shoe onto his bare foot. A slender ankle now peeked over the edge of the brand new, pearlescent white sneaker, and the tantalizing ankle bone led upwards to a naked calf. Chen Hsin crouched down, staring hard, then grabbed the foot and held it tight.
Despite the oddness of the younger man’s behavior, Zhang Zhun did not think much of it; the man was drunk after all. Very, very slowly, Chen Hsin began pulling at the shoelace. When the knot came undone, he gripped Zhang Zhun’s heel with one hand and removed the shoe with the other. The next moment, cradling the foot in his palm, he slid his tongue into the sensitive gap between those toes. Tingles shot up Zhang Zhun’s leg at once, prickling all the way from his sole to the inside of his thigh, and Zhang Zhun cried out from the bizarre sensation. He fell back on the bed, tried as hard as he could to shrink away, but to no avail; clinging to the older man’s foot, Chen Hsin latched onto those innocent toes with his lips and sucked.
The wet, relentless caresses of his lover’s lips and tongue drove Zhang Zhun to tears. Eyes narrowed, he shied from the glare of the light overhead. “You…” He was not quite sure how to phrase his question. “Do you have a, um… thing… for feet?”
“Foot fetish, you mean? No.” Chen Hsin released the man’s toes, crawled up along those thighs, and draped his relaxed body all over Zhang Zhun. “I have a fetish for you – your feet, your hands, nose, eyes, mouth…” He suckled on Zhang Zhun’s chin until he turned that tiny spot of skin a delicious shade of red. “I want them all.”
No one had ever said anything like this to Zhang Zhun before; never had anyone proclaimed their love for him in such plain, unabashed terms. “Stop sweet-talking me like I’m a girl…” Shyness overcame him. At a complete loss for what to do, he clenched his fists in a helpless fluster.
“Remember dog-thrusting?” Chen Hsin asked all of a sudden as he pinched the man’s waist without warning. “Show me, will you? Roll those hips for me.”
“Wha…” Zhang Zhun did not have the courage to repeat the obscene phrase despite hearing it loud and clear. The lewd invitation filled him with more shame than he could bear. “Get off me right now!”
Chen Hsin remained dogged in his shamelessness and yanked down the older man’s shorts. “How’s your ass doing? Are we… good to go?”
At last, Zhang Zhun snapped and gave Chen Hsin a kick. “What are you even thinking of in that head of yours?!”
“You. All I can think of is you,” Chen Hsin replied in a daze, gazing frankly into Zhang Zhun’s eyes, “and doing it again with you.”
- Wu Rong is referring to the interview that took place in Chapter 47.1.
- The scene that Chen Cheng-Sen is editing occurs at the end of Chapter 44.2.
- Chen Cheng-Sen is referring to the interview that took place in Chapter 25.1.