Openness and secrecy.
“He really does have his own bathroom,” she said to herself. “Look in the medicine cabinet. He could be hiding drugs in there and you can use that to blackmail him to let you go,” she said to herself and struggled to scoot herself in a position so she could stand.
“But I don’t blackmail people. That goes against what I, we, believe in. We do honest work in exchange for things we need or want.” “We are desperate. Need I say more?”
“Elle, you have a visitor,” said One Word like he was sending a voice message to his neighbor three doors away.
“I don’t want!” she said back as loud as she could, but hurt her face anyway.
“Your visitor really wants to see you.”
“I don’t want anyone to see me.”
“No problem,” One Word responded, finding an easy loophole.
Elle heard steps come closer to the bathroom, then saw a hand sliding One Word’s phone in on a napkin through the open bathroom door, and the steps went away. Then the phone rang one of JZ’s songs. She scooted closer to the edge of toilet to try and reach it. “Missed Call.” The phone rang again and Elle continued her struggle.
“Put your hands on the toilet seat!” she yelled at herself. “You don’t want to fall in. That’s even more embarrassing than your struggle, and you’re going to get another shower with him.”
She hesitated to move her hands, but knew she had to with the shower only a meter away, constantly keeping an eye on the door as she scooted herself closer to the edge. “Missed Call.” The phone rang again. She finally got to a good position then said to herself, “Damn, the phone is too far, and I’m too far from the back to move it with my foot.” She stood up and grabbed onto the door to balance herself, and to catch her breath. “If I close the door now, the phone would move. If I lean against the door, it would leave a dent or hole on the wall.”
“Missed Call.” The phone rang again. “Do what you gotta do to stop the ringing.” Elle hopped to the wall, braced herself for pain, then leaned her hip and arm against the wall and slowly bent her knees and she slid down. She picked up the phone to see “Missed Call” then stood up, and caught her breath.
The phone rang again.
“Hello?” Elle answered breathing heavily.
“Hey Elle, it’s CeeCee,” she said with a slightly sad tone in English. “You’re on speakerphone.”
“Who else is there?”
“Hero, the receptionist, Hong, New Guy, The Guys, and Xiao Li. She’s another lyricist. How are you feeling?”
“Aren’t you all concerned that JZ will see and hear all of you when he gets back?” Elle heard Hero translate in the background.
“We are, however, you’re a greater concern at the moment.”
“If you’re calling to apologize, it’s not necessary. Didn’t Hong tell you?”
“She did. What’s confusing is why you’re not mad at us. We stopped you from…hurting JZ, something you clearly wanted to do. We didn’t want you to do anything that you’d regret.”
“Is there anywhere safe for you all to be?”
“Do you have cameras in your workroom, Xiao Li?” CeeCee asked.
“No. Let’s go,” she answered.
“Hey, is that Miss Elle you’re talking to? Why so secretive?” asked Xiong.
“We’re just checking up on her. You’re really sick, right Elle?” CeeCee switched to Mandarin.
Cough, cough. Sneeze, came from the phone. “Is that Xiong?” Elle asked weakly.
“Yeah, Miss Elle. I need you to help me solve a problem. Tell her, CeeCee.”
“Can’t it wait till she gets better?” Hero asked.
“Xiong, I’m too sick. How about I help you tomorrow,” she whispered weakly and coughed again.
“Can I come visit you?”
“Aiya,” she said with strain in her voice and coughed again. “You’ll get sick, too. If you can’t wait, Hero can help you,” she said weakly and sneezed.
“I can wait. Get better soon,” he said and left.
“He’s so obedient,” Elle said sickly, giving herself a safety net.
“He’s gone,” Hero said.
“Go while I sit back down,” Elle whispered.
A minute later Elle asked while heavily breathing, “Does anyone know if One Word has any games on his phone?”
They looked at each other and laughed. “One Word is not the type of man who has games on his phone,” answered CeeCee.
“I know, that’s why I’m asking. I don’t quite know how to use a smartphone, because I’ve never had one, but I’ve seen many people use it. You know what, if I accidentally hang up, just call back.” The group got to Xiao Li’s workroom a couple of minutes later.
“Ok, we’re somewhere safe. Are you still there?” asked CeeCee.
“Yeah. Thanks everyone, for hiding this from Xiong. He’s so young, he doesn’t need to get involved in adult matters. I would tell you guys to hide this from Shen, too, but I have a feeling you guys share it with him.”
“Shen and Xiong are kind of similar; they invite themselves to whatever we’re talking about,” said CeeCee.
“I know Xiong likes you, CeeCee, that’s why he spends more time talking to you than actually working with me. I also know Xiong likes Hero, because she’s someone he can jam with. Shen said that he has a special lady in his heart, but I don’t think I should say more. I wouldn’t want to destroy his trust in me.”
“Yeah, Xiong is really obvious, like JZ. I’m sure New Guy likes someone in this building indeed,” said CeeCee.
“You want to bet that New Guy doesn’t like someone in this building?”
“You don’t have anything I want.”
“Wait,” chimed in Hero. “If you lose the bet, will you be willing to go on a girls’ night with us?”
“I’m not a fun person. All I do is work and think about work. I’m working as we speak. I don’t think you girls need a person to bring the whole group down.”
“We go to clubs, dance, and drink the drinks guys buy for us. You know, relax.”
“I don’t drink and I prefer to stay conscious when I’m awake. I also don’t dance, and I don’t go to clubs.”
“Just think about it,” said CeeCee. “You may not be fun or go to clubs, but I know you dance.”
“I already thought about it. I think really fast, remember? That time was an exception.”
“Yeah right,” said CeeCee.
“I’m really sorry I tackled you,” said Hero and CeeCee quietly translated.
“We’re really sorry. We didn’t expect him to hit you,” said CeeCee.
“Tell her we tried to correct his behavior. It’s up to him to not hit girls again,” said Big.
In her firm and serious voice, Elle said, “Apologies are not necessary. I know you all work for him so it’s implied in your jobs to take his side. All of you need to stay out of this, unless he summons you. This is between he and I, nobody else needs to get involved to get hurt.”
After CeeCee translated, Hero said, “But we want to protect you.”
“Nobody should be sacrificed on my behalf. This part of the conversation will become very clear when I hand in my next lyrics.”
“You’re still working? Here? For him?” confusedly asked Hero, not believing Elle was still going to work for the same person who abused her.
“I’ll be leaving to return to teach when the school year starts. One Word allowed me to continue working as a lyricist while I’m teaching. As a teacher on a contract with the government, they pay me enough and they don’t pay me enough to send money home to my family. My students aren’t financially stable and school supplies are expensive in their part of the country, which is why I spend the remainder of my money to buy school supplies for them. After buying all those train and subway tickets to get to Beijing to find work during the summer, I don’t have much left to survive on. I only took this job because I thought I could make a lot of money, enough to make up for all the years I didn’t send money home. Once this school year is over, I’ll probably go to Hong Kong instead to be a bartender in a nice hotel. It’s a longer ride, but it’s much better than here.”
After hearing CeeCee translate, a shrill voice said, “No, you can’t leave!”
After a moment of Elle trying to figure out what was said, she asked, “Who was that?” she asked in Mandarin in her normal voice.
The room was silent with really loud stares.
“Why?” Elle asked calmly in Mandarin.
Again, the room was silent with really loud stares at Shen. He opened his mouth to answer, but heard Elle quickly whisper something in English instead. Click.
“Who were you just talking to?” JZ asked from the bathroom’s doorframe. He saw Elle’s expressionless face and thumbs playing a game on One Word’s phone. He went closer to her and saw her score continually increase and said to himself, “Wait, 430,578 points! I should enter her in a contest.”
JZ went out to find One Word in his workroom. “Thanks for babysitting her, or should I thank your phone.”
“You said to babysit her and I didn’t want to be in the same room as her. She is on the toilet and she is dressed very inappropriately. Besides, I couldn’t let her do nothing; she would die of boredom. I’m glad you decided to put on another shirt.” JZ turned to go away, but stopped when he heard One Word wasn’t done, “Do you still want to address her concerns?”
“Might I suggest you two talk to a marriage counselor?”
“We’re not married.”
“She typed very real issues that need to be addressed. They’re very personal and deep, and I don’t want to get involved. If you really want to try to pursue her, I’m suggesting a marriage counselor. JZ, I really see this as a last chance for you. My gut tells me she’s dead serious about not wanting an intimate relationship with you, but I know you really want one with her.”
“Marriage counselors are all fake. They’ll either side with me or with her.”
“How else do you plan on impartially addressing these issues with her?”
“Get an impartial panel.”
“Old people. They also have wisdom.”
“Where and how are you going to get a panel of old people?” One Word asked laughing.
“Hmm,” JZ sounded as he was thinking. “I’ll ask all the employees to ask their parents and grandparents, 70 and older, to come and call it a company party to be held on a weekend or something.”
“Better make sure it’s immediate family members only and no cameras. You also have to make it fair, for example, have one on your side, have one on her side, have one who wants to know where the food is.”
They both laughed. “Will you promise me that if this ‘panel of old people’ doesn’t work out, you would try a marriage counselor?” asked One Word.
“Why are you trying so hard? You never take an interest in the girls I date.”
“Because I think she’s good for you. She’s responsible, honest, and a generally good person. She showed me the song that she was working on, said she was almost done.”
“Really? You mean this one?” JZ said, taking the folded blank music sheet out of his pocket.
“Yes, that one. Thank you for interrupting me. She pointed to one of the lines and said, ‘I am Yang Guifei,’ and another line that said, ‘Run, run, run.’ I suggest you take care of this as soon as possible.”
“You mean the lyrics, right?”
“No, I mean her. She won’t finish those lyrics if you don’t fix whatever that needs to be fixed. Also, if she thinks she’s Yang Guifei, there’s a lot to be fixed.” He sighed. “It’s like you lose all your common sense when you think about her.”
Something else clicked in JZ’s head, something else that fit what actually happens.