First Published on Chaleuria
In less than five minutes, Fang Chi was fully dressed and driving his Volvo up the slope to the exit of the underground parking garage in total darkness. It was not much brighter outside: there was no moon in the sky since it was the beginning of the lunar month; only the weak yellow light from the street lamps offered any illumination in the night. Bringing his speed to 120 kph, he tore down the road wildly with all the recklessness of a rebellious youth.
Fang Chi was surprised by his own impetuousness. In his first relationship, he once cycled across nearly the entire city just to catch a single glimpse of his girlfriend. But even then, he never felt the way he was feeling now. Adrenaline roared through his system and his chaotic heartbeat thundered in his ears. He reached Gao Zhun’s estate in under twenty minutes and saw a lone figure in the distance, standing frail and thin under the only street lamp in sight.
Fang Chi turned off the ignition and dashed out immediately, abandoning his car haphazardly by the roadside. Gao Zhun looked in his direction. He must be scared out of his wits. He was too terrified to even fall asleep… Fang Chi could not imagine how he managed to walk so far in the dark all by himself.
Despite having seen Fang Chi, Gao Zhun still could not bring himself to walk out of the ring of light. Standing in his suit and tie, his hair falling loosely over his brow, Gao Zhun seemed more fragile than ever. Fang Chi came up to him, breathing erratically. There they stood, at the end of the extraordinary journey each had taken just to see the other, almost bursting with feeling: feelings that had grown with every step of their respective journeys, feelings that had to be contained at all costs.
After all, they were simply therapist and patient: nothing more than two adults – two men – rationally trying to maintain an appropriate distance from each other.
As Fang Chi swept his gaze over Gao Zhun from head to toe to make sure he was alright, he caught sight of a tightly clenched fist. “What’s that in your hand?”
Looking as if he had barely recovered from the rapture of seeing Fang Chi, Gao Zhun stretched out his hand with hesitation and slowly relaxed his fingers to reveal a crushed name card in his grip. Fang Chi recognized it with a single glance: it was the same card that he had pulled from the stack in his card holder and given to Gao Zhun at their first meeting.
“I needed it to call you. After that, I just…” Gao Zhun seemed a little shy as he began to explain.
He lied. Fang Chi peered at him with a steady gaze. It would not be possible to get into a suit and put on a tie while holding a name card; it was clear that Gao Zhun had taken it with him intentionally as he made his way downstairs into the dark. It gave him courage. “I’m here now. You can throw this away. I will give you another one.”
Gao Zhun did not reply, and so they stood together in silence, each gazing long and hard at the other. When their eyes began to ache from the strain, Fang Chi finally broke the silence. “Let’s go. I will walk you back.”
The guard on duty recognized Gao Zhun as they returned to the estate. The Henanese man greeted him with friendly warmth and watched as Gao Zhun led Fang Chi through the entrance. It was a huge estate with many ancient trees growing on its grounds. Together, the two of them walked through the pitch-black shadows under their dense, entangled crowns. Without a word or a single tangible trace, Gao Zhun clung tightly to Fang Chi’s presence. Although he said nothing, it was evident that the darkness filled him with immense fear.
Almost without thinking, Fang Chi grabbed the cold hand by his side. Gao Zhun inhaled sharply at the touch and returned the grip immediately. He held onto Fang Chi’s hand with a grip that was both forceful and desperate. “Tell me about your dreams,” Fang Chi said as they walked, hand in hand.
“I don’t dare to…” Gao Zhun’s voice sounded ethereal and almost unreal.
“What are you afraid of?”
“I don’t know.” He choked on a sob as tears rolled down his cheeks. “I’m scared of recalling… but it’s always there in my head. I’m scared that everyone would know – Linlin, my mother… But now, what terrifies me the most is the thought of you finding out as well… because I will truly be alone then…”
Fang Chi was intrigued. He held up Gao Zhun’s hand and squeezed it lightly. “I want to know.”
Gao Zhun stopped in his tracks, seemingly on the verge of finally opening up to Fang Chi. But he wavered in the end. After some hesitation, he backed down again, uncontrollable tears streaming down his already swollen face. Watching the tears spill from Gao Zhun’s eyes, Fang Chi felt as if they had fallen into his heart as well, sharp and painful against the softest spot on its flesh. Gently, he pulled Gao Zhun into his arms. Like a loving mother holding her newborn child, Fang Chi enveloped Gao Zhun in a warm embrace. “Everything’s fine now. I’m here for you.”
They stood under a dying banyan tree, locked in each other’s arms. Gao Zhun buried his face in the crook of Fang Chi’s neck, and Fang Chi felt the burn of his scalding tears against his skin. Gao Zhun cried soundlessly – quiet in his despair, and just as quiet in his struggle to maintain his dignity. Unconsciously, Fang Chi tightened his arms around Gao Zhun and felt the frailness of the body in his embrace. It was far too thin, its waist and back too fragile to even withstand his grip. He stroked Gao Zhun’s back slowly along his spine as he whispered against Gao Zhun’s ear, “See? It’s possible for you to accept physical contact. You’re capable of overcoming your fears too.”
Unable to bear the heat of his breath, Gao Zhun shrank away as he mumbled, “… you’re the only one…”
A strange illusion came over Fang Chi’s senses; it seemed as if Gao Zhun had become a girl in his embrace. Fang Chi felt giddy and light-headed as an inexplicable sensation welled up within him. Gao Zhun had not put on any fragrances before leaving the apartment. Fang Chi lowered his head and inhaled furtively, catching a whiff of Gao Zhun’s natural scent – a light and calming sweetness. “I can hear your heartbeat. Can you hear mine?”
Nestled in Fang Chi’s arms, Gao Zhun nodded. They were so close to each other that it seemed as if they had become one. Seizing this opportunity, Fang Chi remarked, “You haven’t attempted the task I set for you.” As he spoke, he placed a hand on the nape of Gao Zhun’s neck while his other hand trailed upwards along the line of Gao Zhun’s waist to rest upon the small, tight knot at his collar. “It’s suffocating you.”
Like a well-trained cat, Gao Zhun lifted his head obediently as soon as he felt Fang Chi’s touch against the back of his neck. He stared at Fang Chi through the darkness with panicked eyes. “Are you disappointed in me?”
Fang Chi wrapped his long fingers around the tie knot. “I want to undo this,” he said. Gao Zhun swallowed; Fang Chi felt the movement of his Adam’s apple. He slipped his index finger under the fabric and hooked it onto the knot. “May I?”
Gao Zhun hesitated, pressing his lips tightly together. Fang Chi, in turn, tightened his hold on Gao Zhun as he repeated, “May I?”
Gao Zhun had no choice but to nod his consent. Fang Chi began pulling downward slowly. The sound of friction between fabrics seared through Gao Zhun’s ears. He shut his eyes as he allowed Fang Chi to pull his tie away entirely from his neck, a tremor ripping through his body from head to toe at the sensation.
“You’re free,” Fang Chi declared as he casually held up his prize and watched it sway in the night breeze.
Gao Zhun did not open his eyes. Noticing how badly Gao Zhun was shaking, Fang Chi laid a hand against Gao Zhun’s heaving chest and wrapped his other hand around Gao Zhun’s neck. “It’s okay,” he coaxed. “Everything’s okay. Don’t be scared…”
All of a sudden, a bright beam shone at them out of nowhere. On reflex, Fang Chi immediately pulled Gao Zhun into a protective embrace. The light came from a team of guards on night patrol, led by the Henanese man who had been on duty at the entrance just moments ago. He stared at them in astonishment, torchlight in hand.
“Mr… Mr. Gao?”
He was about to make his way over when a teammate who shared his accent stopped him. “Are you dumb or what? They’re busy!”
They moved on quickly to continue making their rounds, bantering amongst themselves. Even as they slowly disappeared into the distance, bits of their conversation continued to linger in the night.
“What did you think they were busy with, anyways?”
“What else? Busy being gay!”