“I’m gonna be late!” Da Qing exclaimed as he woke up, seeing on his phone that it was already 7am. He wore what he considered as his best clothes,grabbed his bag and portfolio, and almost bumped into his groggy roommate Zhao Yunlan on the way out.
“Get ‘em, fat cat!” Zhao Yunlan yelled at him.
Da Qing and Zhao Yunlan have been friends since childhood. They grew up in the same hometown, with their houses practically across each other’s. They even both took up journalism albeit at different universities. Right after graduation, Zhao Yunlan convinced Da Qing to move with him to Dragon City.
“There are a lot of places we can send our applications to there! Plus, we can totally save on rent and stuff if we become roomies,” Zhao Yunlan had said then, waggling his eyebrows at Da Qing. The latter agreed. Soon after moving to Dragon City, Zhao Yunlan was hired by a local newspaper.
“You write what now??” Da Qing incredulously asked a smug Zhao Yunlan. “I get the latest scoops about who’s who here in Dragon City. You know I’m always game when it comes to the latest gossip,” he replied.
Da Qing continued on the commute to the office he was supposed to be interviewing at, stopping a bit to grab a tuna pie from the nearby fast food place.
“12th floor, Runway,” he breathlessly told the lobby receptionist and handed his ID.
Stepping into the Runway office was like entering a real life magazine or catalog, with everyone wearing the most sophisticated outfits, and moving around with focused energy. Da Qing stood by the door, waiting for the person who contacted him. He was uneasy about the job interview after seeing the hustle and bustle but a job was a job and he needed one. He didn’t want to gawk at anything or anyone and thankfully someone approached him already. The man had shoulder length hair with streaks of purple in them. He looked like a model, wearing a dress shirt and an ascot, with pants that fit him just right and his oxfords completed the look.
“HR has got to be kidding me. Come along,” he told Da Qing, beckoning him to follow his lead. “I’m Zhu Jiu, by the way.”
The two of them walked through the office floor, passing by numerous desks of people either typing away on their computers or busy on their phones.
“I used to be Ye Zun’s second assistant but since the first one recently got promoted, I’m now the first,” Zhu Jiu explained nonchalantly while walking.
“So now you need a replacement for yourself.”
“I’m trying to get one, but Ye Zun kicked two assistants after a few weeks. We need someone who can last longer. Got it?”
“I think I can. Who’s Ye Zun?”
Zhu Jiu turned to Da Qing and rolled his eyes. “Did you seriously just ask who Ye Zun is? He’s the editor-in-chief of Runway. He is the legend. Work for him for a year and you can get a job at any magazine you want.”
“Sounds like a great opportunity, I hope I will be considered,” Da Qing replied.
Zhu Jiu stopped in his tracks and cracked up. “You do know that Runway is a fashion magazine, right? So an interest in fashion is crucial for the job,” he said, eyeing Da Qing from head to toe.
“You think I’m not interested in fashion?” Da Qing countered.
Zhu Jiu was about to respond when his phone chimed, and he glanced at the screen briefly. “Oh no,” he said, face flushed.
“What?” Da Qing asked. Zhu Jiu held up a finger and frantically typed into his phone.
Within seconds, everyone within the Runway office saw the message on their Slack channel: “She’s on her way.” The office turned into some kind of warzone with everyone moving with even more urgency. They frantically went through the office, tidying up work spaces and meeting rooms of clutter, retouching makeup, and even Zhu Jiu was hurriedly cleaning up his desk, making it as neat and orderly as he could in a short span of time. A woman went up to Zhu Jiu, saw Da Qing, and shrugged. “Ya Qing,” she said, introducing herself. “And you are?” “He’s the latest applicant for the second assistant position,” Zhu Jiu answered from Ye Zun’s office, now tidying up the editor-in-chief’s desk.
The Runway employees finished in the nick of time. Ye Zun arrived, in a full-white outfit: dress shirt, tie, coat, slacks, and even his shoes. Zhu Jiu immediately rushed to his side. “Why is it so difficult to confirm appointments?” Ye Zun complained. Zhu Jiu was about to explain himself but was cut off by Ye Zun. “Spare me the details,” he said.
The two discussed Ye Zun’s upcoming schedule for the next few days while on the way to his office. He stopped and turned at Da Qing, who was then seated at the second assistant’s desk.
“Who’s that?” he asked Zhu Jiu.
Zhu Jiu explained, “HR sent him in for the assistant job, and I wanted to pre-interview him for you. But I don’t think he’s a fit for this job, not even for this company—”
“Well, looks like I have to do that myself then since the last two candidates you sent me were complete failures,” Ye Zun cut him off. “Do you even know how to pick the right candidate? Send him in.”
Zhu Jiu exited Ye Zun’s office and gestured for Da Qing to come in.
“You sure?” Da Qing asked, doubtful.
“Yes, now get in,” Zhu Jiu all but pushed Da Qing into the office, but not before grabbing his “hideous” bag and stowing it out of sight.
Ye Zun walked around his office before turning to ask Da Qing, “So, introduce yourself. Why are you here?”
“I’m Da Qing. I recently graduated from Haixing University and I think that I would do a good job as your assistant. I moved here to Dragon City because I heard it has a lot of job opportunities, but only Runway and White Space got back to my applications. So I’m taking my chances here.”
“So you don’t read Runway,” Ye Zun deduced, scrolling through his phone.
“Have you heard of me before today?”
“And your sense of fashion is atrocious,” Ye Zun said, looking up briefly from his phone. “You apply for this job without even going through the basics of knowing who you’ll be working for? Pathetic. Get out.”
Da Qing turned to leave then decided to make a last-ditch effort. “Yeah, sure. I may not fit in here and I neglected to do my research. I don’t know how to be fashionable, but I work hard and learn fast...”
His small speech was interrupted when Ya Qing entered Ye Zun’s office, demanding his attention with the latest updates on Runway’s upcoming features. The two then got absorbed in their discussion. Seeing a lost cause, Da Qing turned and left.
Despite seeming to make a bad impression during that so-called interview, Da Qing got a text message from Zhu Jiu later in the day informing that he got the job and that he should send all his pre-employment requirements ASAP.
He showed Zhao Yunlan the message over dinner and the latter just beamed. “They grow up so fast,” Zhao Yunlan said, pretending to wipe tears from his eyes. Da Qing sighed, and pinched Zhao Yunlan’s arm. “Hey, that actually hurt!,” the latter complained. “But seriously, I’m so proud of you. Let’s have a toast to us, getting our way up the career ladder.”
Da Qing woke up on his first day of work thanks to a call from Zhu Jiu with his first task. He rushed in late to his first day of work with Ye Zun’s coffee order—a no-foam, skimmed milk latte with an extra shot and three plain coffees. Zhu Jiu immediately grabbed the coffee upon his arrival.
“What took you so long? Ye Zun caused such a commotion because his coffee was not here on time,” Zhu Jiu said, setting the coffees on their boss’s desk.
“Ok, orientation time. As Ye Zun’s assistants, you and I both answer the phones. They must be answered at all times, whether that be a call, text, Viber message, you name it. If I’m not here, stay at your desk at all times. Miss a call or message, and it’s over for you.
You and I have totally different jobs. You get his coffee and run errands. I’m in charge of his schedule, appointments, and expenses. I’m also the one who gets to go with him to Paris for Fashion Week next fall. Ah, the couture, the shows, the parties, getting to meet a lot of designers... It’s the best,” Zhu Jiu gushed.
Da Qing rolled his eyes.
“Remember, stay put. I’m just going to the Art Department to give them the Book,” Zhu Jiu said, picking up a thick ring-bound volume with “Runway” on the cover from his desk.
“The what, now?” Da Qing asked, puzzled.
“The Book,” Zhu Jiu explained, putting the bound copy on Da Qing’s desk. “Is the mockup of everything in the current issue. We bring it to Ye Zun’s house every night. He checks it out, then returns it in the morning with his notes. This is usually the job of the second assistant, but since you’re new here and Ye Zun doesn’t like strangers in his house, I’ll be doing that for now. At least until Ye Zun decides you’re not a psycho.”
A few minutes later, Ya Qing approached Da Qing’s desk with a pair of brogues. “Thought that you’re a size 8. Try these on,” she said, handing the pair to Da Qing.
Chuckling, Da Qing replied, “Thanks, but I don’t need these. Ye Zun hired me for my skills, not my looks nor ability to keep up with fashion.”
“Oh, I think you’ll still need these,” Ya Qing disagreed and left the shoes on the table.
“Zhu Jiu!” Ye Zun called from his office. “Zhu Jiu!!” Da Qing looked around quizzically. Ye Zun sent Zhu Jiu out for an errand. Why was he looking for the assistant?
“He means you,” Ya Qing supplied.
Da Qing then rushed into Ye Zun’s office. Ye Zun turned to him and said, “Finally, Zhu Jiu. How many times do I have to call for you?”
“Uh, it’s Da Qing, not Zhu Jiu. I’m the second assistant.”
“Whatever. I’m a busy man, I don’t have the time to learn insignificant people’s names,” Ye Zun dismissively replied, waving his hand. “Get me ten or fifteen skirts from Calvin Klein, will you?”
“What kind do you need?”
“Didn’t you hear what I said? I’m a busy man. Ask someone else,” Ye Zun said with a wave of his hand. He then rattled off some schedule-related things that needed to be done.
What the hell, I thought this is for the first assistant? Da Qing thought, getting increasingly overloaded with information.
After all the assigned tasks, Ye Zun looked Da Qing up and down, his disdainful gaze settling on the latter’s shoes. Da Qing started then headed back to his desk and grabbed the pair of shoes left by Ya Qing, hurriedly putting them on.
Thankfully, Zhu Jiu arrived just then and Da Qing rushed to him and told him bits and pieces of the things that needed to be done, ending with Ye Zun’s first request. The one with the skirts.
“Fine, I’ll deal with all of this. You go off to Calvin Klein for those skirts,” Zhu Jiu said, clearly exasperated.
Da Qing then left the office. Getting the skirts seemed like a doable task, until Zhu Jiu called him on his phone to add even more errands to run while he was out. He needed to pick up 25 Hermes scarves, drop off Shengsheng’s—Ye Zun’s son’s—homework, and finally, get yet another order of coffee for Ye Zun. He seemed to inhale the stuff.
Da Qing got back to the office with his arms and hands full of every single thing he had to bring back. Ye Zun arrived a while later, dumping his coat and bag on Da Qing’s desk. The two assistants rushed to put the items away.
Zhu Jiu then explained Da Qing’s next task. “The run-through will be at 12:30 so you have to be prepared. Expect a lot of calls and messages until then. During the run-through, editors will bring in options for the shoot, and Ye Zun will choose what gets in the next issue. He picks everything in every single issue. It’s a huge deal so you better not mess things up. I’m gonna have my lunch first. You can have yours when I come back.”
When Zhu Jiu got back from his quick lunch, Da Qing headed on to the cafeteria. Thankfully, there wasn’t much of a line and there were still decent choices of food. And his favorite soup, clam chowder, was one of the soups of the day. He heaped a whole ladle of soup to his bowl and added a dinner roll. It seemed like a good quick and filling lunch for the long afternoon ahead.
He fell in line, with Ya Qing in front of him.
“Clam chowder, not the first thing I’d pick from today’s selection,” Ya Qing commented, eyeing Da Qing’s tray. “Too much cellulite.”
“Doesn’t anyone here eat anything?” Da Qing knew that fashion-conscious people usually kept themselves fit and slim, but that was ridiculous!
“Oh yeah, sizes have gone smaller now and people have to keep up with the times. Two is the new four, and zero is the new two.”
“Hmm, so I’m a six.”
“Which is the new 14.” Da Qing briefly looked down on his torso, wondering if he should work out again.
Eager to finish lunch right away, Da Qing took a sip of his soup, but some of it spilled on his sweater. “I’m sure there’s more poly blend from where that came from,” Ya Qing commented.
“Fine, I get it. You all think my clothes are horrible. But I won’t stay in fashion forever, so I don’t really have to change myself just because I have this job.”
“Of course. For you this is just a step towards your actual career, so why bother changing?”
Ya Qing’s phone rang. “Hello? Oh... Right.” She ended the call, got Da Qing’s remaining food, and tossed them in the nearby trash can.
“What happened?” Da Qing asked.
“Ye Zun pushed the run-through up by half an hour. He’s always 15 minutes early, which means you’re already late,” Ya Qing explained while heading back to the elevator. “Let’s go.”
When the two got to the run-through and settled themselves on the side, Ye Zun was already examining the racks of clothes, shoes, and accessories, and stylists were dressing their models up.
“No, no, no, I’ve seen all these before. Doesn’t anyone have something new? Where are the dresses?” Ye Zun sighed.
“Watch and learn,” Ya Qing said to Da Qing. The latter got his notebook and pen ready.
Ye Zun was clearly starting to get frustrated and went through the racks aggressively. “I’ve given you hours to prepare, and for what? Nothing for a decent run-through? Is it too much to ask?” He paused at a rack. “Aha. This may work.” He finally found something that sparked his interest—a long black dress with a full skirt and an illusion neckline, partnered with a cape with sleeves and a feathered collar.
He got the dress and gave it to a stylist.
“What do you think, Ya Qing?” Ye Zun called.
“Yeah, looks good to me. The lace, the neckline, the cape... But it just needs the right accessories.”
Someone rushed to the rack and presented two seemingly identical belts to Ye Zun. “We have these, but it’s a tough call. They’re just too different.” Hearing that, Da Qing chuckled a bit to himself while jotting down notes.
Everyone turned to him.
“Is something funny?” Ye Zun asked, unamused.
Da Qing saw all of their serious expressions and explained, “Not really, just that both the belts look exactly the same to me. I’m new to all this stuff, so...”
“This stuff?” Ye Zun gasped in disbelief.
Ya Qing turned away, knowing that someone’s head was about to be chewed off.
“Oh I see, I see,” Ye Zun said, slowly approaching his assistant, getting into Da Qing’s space. “You think this has nothing to do with you. You, with all that basic wear you think is appropriate to wear in this office. You, who is trying to tell the world that you’re too serious to care about what to wear.”
Ye Zun backed away and looked through the racks for accessories for the dress. He continued, “Well, did you know how your cerulean—not turquoise, not even lapis—sweater got its color? Of course you don’t, you can’t be bothered with trends nor fashion. It’s Oscar dela Renta, then Yves Saint Laurent who started using cerulean in their collections, until more designers used it and it trickled down into mass produced, ready-to-wear items. Did you really think you could make a choice without being involved in the fashion industry? How naive. In fact, it’s people like us who have made the decision for you, selected from a pile of... Stuff .”
“Can you believe that? I just said that I couldn’t tell the difference between the two totally identical belts, and he just exploded,” Da Qing ranted to Zhao Yunlan that night.
“Looks like someone hasn’t had their coffee for the day,” Zhao Yunlan commented, continuing on making dinner for him and Da Qing.
“No way. I must have bought eight coffees for him this morning. At least one of those would have gone to him. Ye Zun’s just such a dick, not stopping until everyone is panicking or crying. Does that stop everyone in the office from worshipping him? No! And they all think that they are doing some noble cause for humanity or something.”
Da Qing sighed. “I just have to endure this for one year. One year. Then I’ll be able to move to another company, somewhere that isn’t this toxic.”
“Noodles?” Zhao Yunlan offered, handing Da Qing his newest experiment—bacon cream noodles cooked in coffee.
The next few weeks were a blur for Da Qing. Day after day, Ye Zun would arrive, dumping his coat and bag on Da Qing’s desk and giving him all kinds of errands, ranging from work-related or personal errands. Ye Zun even had him pick up a set of lingerie because shipping was taking too long! Da Qing was burning with embarrassment—and a bit of curiosity, actually—when he did that particular errand.
Thankfully, Ye Zun was going to be out of town that weekend and so both assistants had a rare weekend off. Zhao Yunlan’s mother was in town that Saturday and so she and her son would have dinner out together. Of course, as her Lanlan’s childhood friend, Da Qing was invited as well.
“Da Qing, my dear, how have you been? How’s your job? I heard from Lanlan that it’s quite demanding, I hope you can cope. Are you seeing anyone right now? Has my worthless son caused you any trouble?” Madam Zhao fired off upon getting seated with the two friends in the restaurant.
“Oh, and here’s some money for your rent,” she continued, giving an envelope to Da Qing.
“Ma, why are you giving it to him, not me?”, Zhao Yunlan complained.
“Because I can’t trust you with the money, that’s why,” she shot back.
Ah, just like back home, Da Qing thought, smiling slightly.
“Don’t worry, Auntie. Working in Runway as Ye Zun’s assistant would open doors for me,” Da Qing reassured Madam Zhao. “His other assistant will be going with him to Paris in a few months, and he’ll be meeting writers and editors from all the big magazines. In a year, that could be me. The long hours, low pay, not actually writing for my work, AND my boss’s attitude would be worth it.”
“Ma, I had doubts about this Runway gig at first, but if Da Qing says that he’s got it, I believe that he’s got it. He can make it to Paris in a year,” Zhao Yunlan said, backing his buddy up.
“If you two say so,” Madam Zhao said, still not entirely convinced.
Da Qing’s phone suddenly rang. “Excuse me, I have to take this. It’s Ye Zun.”
“Isn’t he out of town? What does he need you for?”
Da Qing motioned for Zhao Yunlan to stay quiet, and answered the phone.
“Finally, you picked up. My flight has been cancelled over some stupid weather problem. I need to get back to Dragon City ASAP. Shengsheng has a recital tomorrow and I cannot afford to miss that one.”
Is that a storm I’m hearing over there? Da Qing wondered. He somehow worried about his boss and tried to dissuade him. “Are you sure? It sounds stormy over there.”
“Oh please, it’s just a drizzle. There must be someone flying out.”
If you say so, Da Qing thought. He left dinner with the Zhaos early, trying to find a way for Ye Zun to return to Dragon City. He called all the airlines and asked all Ye Zun’s contacts who had private jets, but with winds at 150 kph, no one was flying out. Even mentioning Ye Zun’s name didn’t work. The storm was that strong for anyone to be risking their planes and pilots.
Ye Zun was hysterical. “What do you mean you can’t find someone who can fly me home? I need to get back home! This is your job. What’s the sense in hiring you if you can’t even do your job properly?” Da Qing heard a crash, then the line went dead.
What’s gotten into him? It’s not worth risking his life over some recital that someone can record for him anyway. Da Qing shrugged and returned to his and Zhao Yunlan’s apartment, where the two went for dessert.
Da Qing didn’t expect that Ye Zun would still not be over missing the recital when he got back to the office the following Monday.
Ye Zun went for the passive-aggressive approach. “Oh the recital was just spectacular. Everyone loved it. Shame that I wasn’t there because someone didn’t do their job.”
Da Qing decided that this was not the time to point out that Ye Zun’s request that weekend was downright impossible. “I did try all the possible options. I asked everyone I could, but no one wanted to fly.”
“No excuses. Do you know why I hired you? I always hire the same kind of person—stylish, slim, a Runway fan. They fit the job, sure, but they never fail to disappoint me. So I took my chances on you, who gave that big speech about making up for it by being smart and working hard. I hoped that you’d be different, surpassing all my expectations. But in the end, you were the most disappointing of them all. That’s all.”
With that dismissal, a stunned Da Qing roamed aimlessly through the Runway office. All that hard work he did, undone in a single night because of something he didn’t even have control over? It’s only been a month. Could he handle more of these unreasonable demands from his boss from hell?
In his wandering, he ended up in the Art Department. He saw that Ya Qing was inside, and so he entered.
“Well, Ye Zun officially hates me now,” he told Ya Qing.
Ya Qing didn’t even look up from the publication materials she was working on. “And I care about this, why?”
“I don’t know what I should do next. If I do something right, he doesn’t even acknowledge it. But the minute I do something wrong, he swoops in like a rabid cat, ready to claw you to death,” Da Qing ranted away.
“Why not just quit?”
“Quit?” Da Qing asked, eyes wide in disbelief.
“It’s not like you’re irreplaceable. I can get someone to take your job in five minutes. Someone who really wants it.”
“But I don’t want to quit. It’s just that I want credit when I almost kill myself from trying to do all that Ye Zun asks from me.”
Ya Qing finally faced Da Qing. “Are you really trying? Because from what I see, you’re whining, not trying. Did you expect me to hold your hand and give you a shoulder to cry on? Wake up. Ye Zun is just doing his job.”
She gestured to the latest version of the Book. “You think this is just a magazine? This isn’t just a magazine, it’s a way of life. It’s a symbol of hope for those who feel trapped in gender roles, or in the mundanity of life. You don’t care about the magazine or the people who make it happen. Because for you, think this is just a job, not the job,” Ya Qing finished her sermon.
Minutes later, Ya Qing and Da Qing burst into Runway’s expansive closet, which had rows upon rows of all kinds of clothes and accessories.
“Let’s see if anything fits you first. We don’t exactly carry sizes 6 and up,” Ya Qing said, settling on a rack of blazers and cardigans.
Da Qing finally got back to his and Zhu Jiu’s office area. Whatever scolding Zhu Jiu was going to give him was cut off as the senior assistant stared at his new look.
Da Qing looked like a brand new person in his fitted navy suit and pants, crisp white shirt, checkered vest, with a red tie to complete the look. His hair looked much neater too thanks to a haircut and hairstyling from the Beauty Department. He immediately got back to work, feeling refreshed and confident.
It took a few days of Da Qing wearing his new outfits from the Runway closet before Ye Zun finally noticed his transformation. Da Qing was fixing up Ye Zun’s desk when the latter arrived, talking to someone on his phone. Seeing his glammed up assistant, he stopped in his tracks, and ended his call. He looked at Da Qing from head to toe slowly, making it obvious that he was scrutinizing—no, ogling—him, then licked his lips slowly.
What just happened? Da Qing thought. Is he actually checking me out?
Since then, when Ye Zun would call for Da Qing to assign him a task or run a small errand, he would instruct Da Qing on the specifics, followed by a bit of silence between them. Ye Zun would then either stare at Da Qing before complimenting something about his accessories or his clothes.
One afternoon, almost at sunset, Da Qing stepped into Ye Zun’s office to drop off some documents and materials for him to review. He was expecting to be told a few more small errands but Ye Zun didn’t.
“Looks like someone’s fairy godmother is hard at work dressing you up like this,” Ye Zun started. He had his eyes on Da Qing’s face for a change. “You know, good enough to go out for dinner.”
I would go out with my friends for dinner if I could actually have some time to myself? Da Qing muttered in his head but he remained quiet and only gave Ye Zun a shrug. “I suppose. Some day. Anyhow, did you want me to do anything else for you?”
“Hmmmmm…” Ye Zun lightly drummed on the desk using his fingers. “You could accompany me to dinner.”
Da Qing wanted to laugh. Ye Zun couldn’t possibly be asking him out for dinner? Him? A lowly unfashionable assistant who sometimes seemed more like a slave than anything. Nervous laughter erupted from him, making Ye Zun glare.
“I said what I said,” Ye Zun scoffed. “But you don’t seem to believe me?” He stood up from his seat and stepped closer to Da Qing.
Da Qing had never been that close to Ye Zun. They stood so closely that he could see the man’s perfect skin had no pores and smell that his cologne had woodsy-citrusy notes in it. Too close for formalities, and it emphasized how Ye Zun was so attractive that Da Qing felt his heart quicken.
“So. If you’re done with your work for the day, you could accompany me for dinner,” Ye Zun said, his tone low and steady. He was truly a man who knew what he wanted and said so.
How could Da Qing say no to such a desirable man whose very words were a command? Da Qing nodded and said, “Done for the day. Just need to pack up.”
“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear,” Ye Zun said with an approving tone. “Carry on. See me in five minutes back here.”
“Da Qing, bring me the Book tonight, will you?” Ye Zun instructed Da Qing one day, seemingly out of the blue.
Da Qing beamed at Zhu Jiu. “I must have done something right for Ye Zun to instruct me to bring the Book tonight.”
“Joy,” Zhu Jiu deadpanned, handing Da Qing Ye Zun’s house key. “Now, it’s very important that you do exactly as I’m about to tell you. The Book would be ready by around 10-10:30. Wait for it ‘til then. Once the Book is ready, bring Ye Zun’s dry cleaning along and take the car. It will take you straight to his place. Let yourself in with the key. Most important of all, do not talk to anyone. Don’t even look at anyone. Be invisible. Are we clear?”
With a gulp, Da Qing nodded. Zhu Jiu continued, “Hang the dry cleaning in the closet across the staircase and leave the Book on the table with the flowers.”
Hours later, the Book was completed for the day. Da Qing followed Zhu Jiu’s instructions to the letter, until he saw that there were three doors across the staircase and five tables with flowers. Where should he put the dry cleaning and the Book now?
“It’s the door on the left,” Da Qing heard from above. He looked up and saw a boy—Shengsheng—on the staircase. He hurriedly stowed the dry cleaning away. He turned back to Shengsheng and pointed at the Book that he was holding.
“Oh, that? You can give it to me,” Shengheng said, holding out his hand.
Da Qing pointed at the various tables with flowers. “No, which one do I put this on?”
“It’s okay, come on up. Bring the Book up here. Zhu Jiu does it all the time, don’t worry” Shengsheng reassured Da Qing with a toothy grin.
Da Qing was confused. Was Zhu Jiu just messing with him? Oh well, just leaving the Book upstairs and dashing out of the apartment won’t hurt anyone , he thought, and went up the stairs. He was almost at the top when he heard raised voices. One of those was his boss’.
“I was in the middle of a shoot. You can’t just expect me to walk out of there,” Ye Zun said.
“Oh it’s always work, work, work for you. You don’t even make enough time for me nor Shengsheng,” the other man argued. Oh, this must be Ye Zun’s husband, Da Qing concluded. The man did look familiar.
“What you do make time for is other people. What’s this I’m hearing about you flirting with your assistant? And that you even had dinner with him?” the man continued. Da Qing froze.
“You do know that he and I are not a thing, right?” Ye Zun said, with a raised eyebrow. “I just like teasing him.” He wound his arms around his husband’s neck and tried to kiss him.
The husband pushed him away. “Yeah, right,” he said.
Feeling the tension brewing, Da Qing started to go back down the stairs, but not before being noticed first by Ye Zun’s husband, then the boss himself. The two stared wide-eyed at him and he finally dropped the Book on top of the stairs. The look that Ye Zun gave him that moment was full of contempt and Da Qing rushed back down, not looking back.
Ye Zun was out for revenge and Da Qing could feel it in his bones. Just when he thought that things were already going well between the both of them, that his tasks were becoming manageable, the whole incident during the Book delivery just had to happen. So now his tasks were tripled with demands more ridiculous than he could ever imagine. Even Ye Zun’s coffee order became more complicated than ever before.
Like what is: 2/3 caff triple ristretto affogato venti, 5 pump mango 1 pump classic, 2%, mango to the first line, 3 scoops protein, 2 scoops berries, 1.75 scoop matcha, add banana, double blended with whip, salted caramel topping no caramel drizzle, vanilla bean frappuccino.
But being Ye Zun’s assistant, that monstrosity of a drink must always arrive on his desk, at the exact time he needed it. Neither sooner nor later.
However, even with Ye Zun’s very creative mind when it came to demands and tasks, nothing would beat the next request that he asked of Da Qing.
“I need the new book of ‘The Grave Robbers Chronicles’,” Ye Zun said calmly, as his eyes gazed over the pictures spread on his desk. “Shengsheng finished reading all their novels and wants to read the next one.”
Da Qing nodded, jotting down on his notepad. “I’ll check with the bookstore if they have the latest novel.”
Ye Zun giggled. “Did something happen to your brain that you fail to understand? He finished all the books that were already available but he wants the next one.”
Ye Zun’s cold eyes lifted from the photos and found Da Qing’s face. They were mocking as usual and yet it sent a shiver down the assistant’s back by how predatory they seemed to be.
Da Qing, for a moment, felt small but he pushed those feelings aside and dared ask, “So you want a book that’s not yet published?”
Ye Zun’s lips pulled into a smirk, tongue slightly peeking when he licked his teeth. “Exactly. And I want it on my desk at 3PM today.”
“Today?” Da Qing couldn’t even reel in the rise in his voice. That was beyond impossible!
And yet Ye Zun just pulled his sleeves and looked at his watch. “Are you sure you want to stand there? You just have six hours left.”
Da Qing pulled out his phone, turning a heel to leave the office.
“Oh, and by the way,” Ye Zun added, making Da Qing look towards his boss again. “If you don’t have that novel by 3... Don’t bother coming back here anymore.”
Da Qing gritted his teeth in an attempt to smile before he left the office and rushed towards the nearest bookstore with his impossible request.
So he tried the bookstore, talked to the owners of those bookstores, talked to the publishers of the book, and even tried to get the author’s personal number. But even using Ye Zun’s name did not help him a single bit. Time was running out. Da Qing skipped lunch in order to acquire this novel but no matter where he went or who he talked to, he still didn’t make any progress at all.
“So you want an unpublished book? Are we even sure it’s finished?” Zhao Yunlan asked at the other end of the line. Da Qing even asked his roommate for his help, with a side of ranting.
“There is rumor that the novel is already completed. So there has to be a manuscript out there in the world. I just need to find it and give it to Ye Zun by 3.”
It was 1 PM.
“I don’t know if I can do anything but I’ll make some calls…” That wasn’t really reliable, but Da Qing accepted his friend’s assurance. If Zhao Yunlan said he would do something, you could bet on him that he would do it.
“By the way have you had lunch? Have you eaten at all?” Zhao Yunlan followed up with that question.
Da Qing laughed. “Don’t worry. I’m eating while walking. I’m on my way to this unknown bookstore. It’s shady but they said they know people. I need to check on the owner so I’ll call you later, yeah?”
“Sure sure. I’ll call you as soon as I have some news.”
The shady bookstore was not a bookstore at all. It was this weird hangout place with a few books on the shelves. Da Qing’s contact was there but was proven useless when they could only provide the manuscript after a week. If only he had a week!
As Da Qing walked out of the shady bookstore, he felt like he wanted to give up. Giving up seemed so easy. He didn’t have to go back to the office for that. He could just go directly to his apartment, flop on his bed, and forget everything while he slept peacefully.
But that was if he could sleep at all. He knew himself too well and he was sure that even if he told himself that he would give up, he would be having nightmares about this moment, of the task he failed, of the eyes that looked down on him. He would think of Ye Zun, shrugging with that disappointed frown on his lips. And he hated the whole idea of it.
Then suddenly, the phone rang.
“Da Qing. Do you love me or do you love love me?” Zhao Yunlan’s voice sounded suspiciously happy on the phone, making Da Qing sort of feel better.
“I told you before Yunlan. We’re just better as friends.” He laughed out loud.
“Fuck you! Anyway , as your purely platonic partner, I did everything in my power to get a copy of that novel for you… And guess what? I got a copy of the novel.”
The world froze. The busy street suddenly became silent as nothing. Even Da Qing’s heartbeat skipped a few beats, and when he finally came back to reality, he only had two words for Zhao Yunlan.
It was 3PM. Ye Zun came back to the office and as per usual he dumped his coat and bag on top of Da Qing’s desk. He strutted towards his own desk, as his brain buzzed with all the things he needed to remind himself and his internal to-do list. Ready to continue work, he sat and faced his desk
—Only to be greeted by a book on top of it.
“Da Qing.” He called and the boy came into his office, holding a cup of tea that he settled on top of Ye Zun’s white designer coaster.
“What is this?” Ye Zun asked, pointing to the book.
“That’s the manuscript of the author. Don’t worry, that's an extra copy. I had Fusheng’s novel, covered and bound so it wouldn’t look like a manuscript. That’s for you, just in case you want to check it out. I heard it’s a good story,” Da Qing explained.
Ye Zun stood up, picking up the book and lazily scanning a few pages of it. “So where is Shengsheng’s copy that you so brag about?”
“They’re with him. He’s probably reading it by now on his way to his Uncle,” Da Qing answered confidently. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
Ye Zun looked at him from head to toe. Again with that leer so chilling and yet so gorgeous. “One more thing…” he said as he dropped the book on his desk.
Da Qing waited for his next impossible task. His hands were already reaching his phone when he felt Ye Zun pulling him closer. Their lips instantly caught each other, melting into a kiss that they had been wanting to do for a while.
“Why… What? Why are you kissing me?” the words tumbled from Da Qing’s lips, their mouths still very much close to each other’s. He gasped for air as he spoke, assuming that maybe lack of oxygen was causing him this illusion.
“Because that was so sexy and I want to eat you.” His boss fluttered his eyelashes before pecking at Da Qing’s lips once more.
“Noted. Kindly proceed.”
Ye Zun pulled Da Qing deeper inside the room, in a corner he knew no one would be able to see from outside. In that small corner, Ye Zun made sure to show Da Qing what exactly he meant when he said he wanted to eat him.
Ye Zun was a powerful man. As the Editor-in-Chief of Runway, he handled every single one of his staff with an iron fist. He didn’t have to speak to establish dominance, just a single look and his mere presence alone was enough to bring anyone to their knees. The Ye Zun under the sheets was also the same. Even if the clothes were shed off, with Armani, Brioni and Gucci nothing but fabrics on the floor, he still had the same air around him. He was a man that knew what he wanted and knew exactly how to get it. In the face of someone like that, Da Qing was a helpless prey.
Ye Zun was also beautiful and Da Qing couldn’t help but be tempted again and again. Soon, he found himself creeping out of Ye Zun’s house before the break of dawn, hiding in a corner of the office as Ye Zun kissed him senseless, and hoping that one day, he could be the man beside Ye Zun under the spotlight and in front of all those cameras.
That was the tenth? twentieth? time today that Zhu Jiu sneezed within the hour. The poor guy, despite his eyes red and nose runny, still had to work that day. His clothes were even thicker than usual as Da Qing could assume that he was probably cold. It was a good thing that he was wearing a face mask, but every once in a while he had to lift it to wipe his nose.
“I can’t believe I’m sick! Out of all the days it had to be today,” he whined as he aggressively moved the mouse around. “Today is the charity ball and this will ruin my makeup!”
‘Ah. So that’s tonight.’ Da Qing was reminded. He knew of it but really didn’t care enough. He wasn’t going there anyway so it was just a free night for him. Perfect timing too as it was Zhao Yunlan’s birthday.
“Well, good luck! If I don’t answer my phone, I’m probably taking care of my very drunk friend. It’s his birthday tonight and we’re throwing him a party.” Da Qing smiled. Just thinking about it made him so excited, he couldn’t stop talking, “I even said two rounds of drinks will be on me and I don’t drink that much. But who knows maybe tonight I could also get wasted.”
Throughout the time he was talking, Zhu Jiu didn’t even spare him a glance. So after sighing and containing his excitement, Da Qing went back to work and faced his computer.
It wasn’t long after that Ye Zun called for them.
“As you know the charity ball is tonight so we have to make sure all the items on our checklist are thoroughly checked. The limousine must be here on time and you two must be dressed thirty minutes before it arrives. Am I making myself clear?”
Da Qing raised a hand and Ye Zun lifted a brow to acknowledge him. “You said ‘you two’... I’m the PIC of the limo driver but I don’t have to get dressed for him.”
Ye Zun fluttered his eyelashes, blinking at Da Qing with his large doe eyes. “You’re dressing for the ball of course. Not for the driver.”
Da Qing looked surprised. “I—I thought that the ball is only for the first assistant.”
Ye Zun casted a sharp glance towards Zhu Jiu. “Not if the first assistant is a human ball of virus.”
The moment he stepped out of the office, Da Qing quickly went to the nearest fire exit in order to make a phone call. The charity ball was tonight and he was sure that he would miss most of his best friend’s birthday. Zhao Yunlan wasn’t answering his call so he assumed that he might be busy with something at work. Da Qing left him a message just in case, his roommate scolding him and whining about it could wait until later.
When Da Qing came back to his desk, Zhu Jiu was there standing in front of it. He looked panicked behind his facemask, snapping his attention to Da Qing instantly. “Where were you?”
“Making a phone call. Why? You look worried. Isn’t it too early to worry about what to wear? The ball is later tonight.” Da Qing laughed, pulling his mouse towards him.
“That’s not the only thing you need to worry about.” Zhu Jiu still looked panicked, even as he dropped the two thick binders he had been hugging while he waited for Da Qing to come back.
Da Qing didn’t even have to ask, Zhu Jiu was already flipping the pages as he started to explain, “Ye Zun tends to forget people’s faces and names so it’s our job to make sure that he looks like he knows them. So this is a complete reference of all the people attending tonight’s ball and we have to memorize their faces and all the information about them.”
Da Qing flipped some of the pages of the bulky binders. There were photos of famous people in there: designers, celebrities, athletes, their spouses, and even their mistresses.
Da Qing looked up at Zhu Jiu incredulously. “The ball is tonight though…”
“So you have five hours to memorize all those. Also, don’t show Ye Zun that you’re memorizing. He hates it.”
With a turn of a heel, Zhu Jiu walked back to his desk and continued whatever he was doing. He sneezed a few times more and Da Qing could see the small mountain of tissues accumulating on the side of his desk.
If Da Qing was in his shoes and was sick, he would not even be there in the first place. Ye Zun could fire him for all he cared, but he didn’t want to endure all this if he was sick.
Da Qing breathed and looked at the thick binders before him, as if they would bite him at any given moment. If those came from Ye Zun himself, he wouldn’t be surprised if they did bite. He sighed again and supposed that he should start memorizing, maybe by lunch time he could finish at least one binder.
The Dragon City charity ball was one of the major local events that they had on the pipeline. They had been discussing this event for months and all the preparations, including who to talk to during and after the party, were already planned beforehand. Zhu Jiu had been talking about this since Da Qing’s first day, but back then he didn’t expect that he also would be on the red carpet greeted by a swarm of reporters and photographers.
Good thing Ya Qing had Da Qing’s back for the event as well. The full black three-piece suit she picked for him looked so elegant compared to any suit Da Qing had worn before. When he arrived at the venue and saw Zhu Jiu gawking at him, he knew that even his co-worker approved of it.
Zhu Jiu guided Da Qing as they went inside the large venue. Quickly, they found Ye Zun and stationed themselves on his flanks.
Da Qing observed and looked around, trying his best not to open his eyes and mouth too wide even as he was in awe of the building. Everything was so extravagant, from the flowers and banners that hung all around, to the food and alcohol served. It was nothing but the best, perfectly fitting the kind of people that they had on their guest list.
The night was young and Da Qing had not said a single word. Zhu Jiu was managing himself pretty well. Despite the constant sniffles, he continued to whisper to Ye Zun the names of the people they approached.
“...and that is Minister Gao...” Zhu Jiu whispered behind Ye Zun’s head. He then turned away and blew his nose, hoping that Ye Zun and everyone else would ignore him.
“Minister Gao! How lovely it is to see you here,” Ye Zun greeted him pleasantly, exchanging cheek kisses with him.
One part of Da Qing’s attention was on Zhu Jiu. The poor guy was clearly sick but he was still doing his best in this party.
“Oh no. She’s here… This snake.” Da Qing heard Ye Zun gasp.
Da Qing turned his eyes to look at the direction where both Zhu Jiu and Ye Zun were looking at. For this particular person, Ye Zun didn’t have to ask his assistants to identify her.
“That’s Zhu Hong, she's the Social Media Manager of Runway.” Zhu Jiu whispered to Da Qing.
The fashion world was truly something that was beyond clothes. As Da Qing watched Ye Zun exchange pleasantries and cheek kisses with Zhu Hong, he supposed that it was the kind of face one needed to wear during social events. Ye Zun handled talking to Zhu Hong so well that Da Qing would never know that he hated her.
“Zhu Jiu, next time you see Zhu Hong... Tell me so we can move into another area. Somewhere that is not contaminated with her presence,” Ye Zun ordered Zhu Jiu through gritted teeth.
‘He really hates her.’ Da Qing took a mental note.
Another gentleman then caught Ye Zun’s eye and with a smile started walking towards them. Ye Zun casually side-glanced at Zhu Jiu, waiting for a name. However, even after leaning forward Zhu Jiu couldn’t seem to remember the gentleman’s name.
“It’s… He’s the Vice-Minister… Oh god. I know this. I know this…”
Zhu Jiu was in panic. He stepped back as he blinked. He looked up as if the answer was on the beautiful chandeliers on the ceiling. But there was no information there and nothing around could help him.
Until Da Qing leaned forward to Ye Zun and whispered, “It’s Vice Minister Guo and the young man behind him is his nephew, Guo Changcheng.”
Just in time, Ye Zun held out his hands and greeted the approaching gentleman.
“Vice Minister Guo! You look more and more dashing every time I see you.” After greeting him, he then turned to the young man looking awkward behind him. “And you brought your nephew tonight. I hope you two are both enjoying the party.”
Zhu Jiu then looked at Da Qing with sparkling eyes. “Thank you,” he mouthed at him and Da Qing answered with a wink and a grin.
Da Qing was getting more and more anxious as the night continued. He kept on looking at his watch and taking out his phone. He couldn’t even eat as he was always minding the time.
“Oh just go. I’ll take over from here,” Zhu Jiu finally said to him.
“Are you sure?”
There was probably enough time if Da Qing would leave already, the bar would still be open.
“Thanks man. Tell Ye Zun I’m leaving.” He gave Zhu Jiu a pat and left.
The bar was open when Da Qing arrived but unfortunately, all his friends already left. Da Qing called Lin Jing and Chu Shuzhi. Both told him that Zhao Yunlan wasn’t in the mood to stay longer. Even if it was still early, they all packed up and went home.
Inside the cab, Da Qing was already thinking of what to say to Zhao Yunlan. That was the first time he had missed his birthday and he was sure that Zhao Yunlan would be upset because of that. They never missed each other’s birthdays. Even if the other was sick or in a relationship, they would always find time for each other during that special day.
He was in the middle of practicing his apology when his phone rang with the special ringtone he had specifically for Ye Zun. It didn’t even reach the second ring when Da Qing answered it.
“Hello, sir? I’m sorry I left early, do you need me for something?”
“No worries, Zhu Jiu explained everything. But I was disappointed that you left early.”
“You’re always disappointed. What’s new?” And yet it made him smile a bit with the thought of Ye Zun looking specifically for him.
“Anyway, I need you to start preparing for Paris. There was a change of plans and we’ll have to leave sooner.”
Da Qing was stunned. “Come...come again? Paris? Wasn’t Zhu Jiu the one going to Paris with you?”
“Like I said, there was a change of plans,” Ye Zun casually answered. “Besides, this is not a negotiation—prepare to leave for Paris. That is all.”
The cold sound of the dial tone was all that was left for Da Qing to hear from the other end of the line. He didn’t know what possibly could have happened at the charity ball and to Zhu Jiu that made Ye Zun decide on it. But like his boss said, it was not a negotiation. Then again, nothing was negotiable when it came to Ye Zun.
Thinking about Paris made Da Qing forget about the whole ordeal with Zhao Yunlan. But it wasn’t for long, as he remembered it the moment he opened the door to their apartment.
The glow of the streetlight and passing cars outside dimly lit the room, making Da Qing discern the outline of his roommate who spread his sleeping body all over the couch. The soft creak of the door caused him to stir and wake up to see Da Qing removing his shoes.
“Look who finally decided to show up.”
Zhao Yunlan sounded pissed, so Da Qing pulled out a small box from inside one of his paper bags. It was the cake he bought for him. The one that he was supposed to surprise him with.
“I’m sorry I missed your birthday. But look, I bought cake. It’s from your favorite bakery too.”
Zhao Yunlan stood up from the couch and sluggishly walked towards his room. “I’m tired. I’m going to sleep. Just… Just put that in the fridge.”
Da Qing looked at the cake as Zhao Yunlan passed him by. He then placed it down the table and turned to Zhao Yunlan.
Right before he could open the door to his room, Da Qing said, “I’m going to Paris the day after tomorrow. Ye Zun asked me to come with him for Paris fashion week.”
That made Zhao Yunlan stop. He turned back to Da Qing with a mocking smile on his face. “Of course he did. I am not even surprised.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do I mean ?” Zhao Yunlan scoffed.
“You said that only his other assistant will go to this party tonight but he made you come. You also said that you don’t have enough experience to go to the event in Paris, but he will make you come.” Zhao Yunlan then paused as he laughed. A laugh that Da Qing didn’t like coming from him.
“Is it because you are also making him come?”
“Zhao Yunlan!” Da Qing raised his voice, shocked with what his friend had said.
“Da Qing, We both know you’re sleeping with your boss. Other gossip writers know you’re your boss’ new boytoy,” Zhao Yunlan pointed out, his hands wildly gesturing as he spoke. “The only reason why you’re not a blind item until now is because I pulled out all the articles about you. And you know why?”
Da Qing couldn’t answer.
“Because I’m worried about your reputation. If you still want to work in other publications, this kind of image will ruin you for those opportunities… And I don’t want that to happen.”
Da Qing could understand that Zhao Yunlan was helping him, but he was still offended that his friend thought that way.
“I’ve been doing very well in my work and Ye Zun believes in me. That’s why he’s bringing me to these events, ” he defended himself.
Zhao Yunlan crossed his arms and looked at Da Qing straight in the eye as he asked, “So you didn’t sleep with your boss?”
Da Qing couldn’t take the way Zhao Yunlan stared at him. He couldn’t lie to him. And even if he did, Yunlan would know it instantly. So he chose the truth.
“We did… Once in the office… Thrice in his home—but it was nothing.”
“ Da Qing . He’s still married.”
“They’re processing their divorce.”
Zhao Yunlan couldn’t believe what he heard. He knew the rumors but having this kind of confirmation in his face was still overwhelming.
He was supposed to be the slut between the two of them!
“The Da Qing I used to know had integrity. He had a clear view on what was work and pleasure and would never sleep with his boss just to get ahead.”
“I didn’t sleep with him to get ahead. I like him.”
“Okay, but does he like you back?”
Da Qing bowed his head. The truth was that he didn’t know. Ye Zun was a tough boss and he would do anything and use anyone to get the job done. But Da Qing wanted to believe that whenever Ye Zun asked him to stay longer in his house after he delivered the Book, it was not his boss that asked him to stay, but rather it was just Ye Zun, a man who simply wanted him to stay.
Zhao Yunlan walked towards Da Qing and placed a hand on his shoulders. His grip had made Da Qing snap out of his thoughts and focus on their current conversation.
“I trust you and your feelings towards him, but I don’t trust your boss. He didn’t only push you to change your clothes… Ever since you started working for him, I felt that he also changed something inside you. You weren’t like this before, Da Qing. You don’t let someone else run your life.”
Zhao Yunlan smiled at the way Da Qing relaxed under his touch. He was glad his friend could understand him and maybe now he wouldn’t get into trouble because of his boss. But what he didn’t expect was how wrong he was.
Da Qing swat away the hand that ground him on the spot and lifted his face to glare at Zhao Yunlan. “Funny how you say that I don’t let someone else run my life when that’s exactly what you’ve been doing ever since we met each other. You just don’t want someone else to value me.”
“I’m going to Paris with Ye Zun,” Da Qing firmly stated. “And I don’t care what you think or what others think we’re doing but I know that he needs me to be by his side so I will be there.”
Da Qing marched to his room in anger and closed his door with a slam so loud that Zhao Yunlan slightly jerked at the sound.
”Be by his side?”
It was just a job and yet his friend had completely submerged himself in it, combining personal and professional feelings until he couldn’t even tell which is which. Zhao Yunlan felt so worried that the more Da Qing dove deeper, the worse the pain would be if Ye Zun thought of everything differently. However, as he stared at the locked door of Da Qing’s room, he knew that he couldn’t do anything about it. He could only hope for the best for them.
Paris was amazing. The glitz and glamour Da Qing had seen in Dragon City was nothing compared to it. All the fashion shows they attended had red carpets lined with photographers and reporters. Da Qing was also interviewed even if he was a mere assistant. The runway he saw and the designs that walked in front of him were so creative and out of this world that he couldn’t decide whether he was confused or in awe. Even he had to step up his game with the outfits he wore, adding more turtlenecks, wool coats, and cashmere to his wardrobe. On one occasion, he bought a kimono jacket after seeing someone else wear it. It must have looked good on him because Ye Zun’s eyes lingered on him longer than he expected. Zhu Jiu was not kidding at all when he mentioned that Fashion Week was the highlight of their whole career.
Attending all those events meant that there were more names and faces that Da Qing had to learn. Luckily enough, he did not mess up, not even once. But Da Qing’s proudest moment was whenever Ye Zun introduced him to others. Everyone in the guest list was a celebrity or a big name in the fashion world, so to be introduced with his name from Ye Zun’s lips felt like a dream come true. Certainly, it was not his dream before but it felt good enough to be.
Ya Qing was in Da Qing’s room that night, bringing champagne and a collection of meat and cheese on a board she called “charcuterie board.” Despite the fact that everyone was tired after the long day, she still looked quite energetic and happy when she came over.
“What are we celebrating?” Da Qing asked as Ya Qing popped the champagne open.
“We’re here to celebrate…” she started, pouring a glass for the both of them. “... dreams coming true.”
Da Qing looked confused. “Thank you. Paris is lovely but I’m not sure if I could really call this my dream… I mean… It could be but I’m not sure yet.”
Ya Qing stared at Da Qing incredulously. “I’m talking about my dream.” She paused and took note of Da Qing looking confused. “I just got the email from Yashou Monthly and it said that I’m going to be the next editor-in-chief of the magazine.”
“No, you shut up. You’re looking at Yashou Monthly’s new big boss!”
The clink of their glasses sounded like success and Da Qing was so happy for her. However it also meant that Ya Qing wouldn’t be in Runway anymore. Even if they would still be working together after Fashion week, the thought of Ya Qing not being there when he would need her in the future made Da Qing feel a little lonely.
“Imagine. Next month, I’d be the one calling all the shots. I can finally work with my own ideas and everyone will do what I say. I’ve wanted this for so long.” The sparkle in her eyes were brighter than the stars in the Parisian sky, and Da Qing couldn’t find it in his heart to be selfish. This was her dream.
Da Qing was then reminded that it was not only him that depended on Ya Qing. There was someone else who might feel this way too once she leaves. “So does Ye Zun know or…?”
Ya Qing smiled at him and even ruffled the young man’s hair. “He’s the one that gave the recommendation. Of course he knows.”
Da Qing felt relieved. “I’ll miss you, by the way. But I know we’ll still see each other.”
Ya Qing set her flute down on the table and patted both of Da Qing’s shoulders. “The fashion world isn’t as big as we want it to look like. We’ll see each other and I expect that you will still continue to look as charming as you are now. I mean… Who dressed you today?”
“I did.” Da Qing said quite proudly. “And I’m also frequenting the gym.”
“Good job,” Ya Qing praised.
Da Qing raised his flute and the other picked up her glass again for another toast. They drank happily, celebrating Ya Qing’s success and anticipating the time when Da Qing would see her shining brightly in the next chapter of her life.
Work never ended, nor did it decrease when they went to Paris. In fact, it got harder because Da Qing wasn’t familiar with the shops and streets. On top of that, he could barely speak the language. Fortunately, he only had to learn how to say the brand names accurately and he could still get the job done.
But the exhaustion during Fashion Week was unbelievable. He sometimes wanted to be one with his soft hotel bed and ignore the notifications and rings from Ye Zun. But his boss was his boss, and that was not a vacation.
Ye Zun was like the tasmanian devil, unstoppable in his tracks with no sign of fatigue. He could work the whole morning and talk to other people the whole night. It was amazing. It was inspiring.
Yet on the fourth night of their stay when Da Qing went to Ye Zun’s room, he finally saw his boss out of makeup and weariness was starting to draw itself on his face. His hair was in disarray, tied in a lazy ponytail behind his head. His clothes were also simple, a comfortable shirt and silk pajama pants.
“We’ll have a press conference in the morning of the day of our flight so remember to finalize my presentation and speech the night before. We also need to finalize the sitting arrangement… But if we can’t decide now, anticipate an email from me first thing in the morning,” he explained as he tapped on his tablet.
There was something different on Ye Zun’s face tonight and Da Qing couldn’t stop himself from noticing. His eyes were red, slightly puffy as if he just finished crying before Da Qing came in.
“That is all,” Ye Zun said, finishing the list of his instructions and cueing Da Qing to leave.
But Da Qing didn’t want to leave. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Not when Ye Zun looked like that.
Ye Zun placed his tablet down beside him and looked at Da Qing. “What do you want me to say? I am obviously not okay.”
Da Qing took another step forward, closer to him. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Ye Zun nodded mostly to himself. “Yes, we do need to contact Leslie... Let’s see what she can do to handle the press.” He sighed deeply. “Another divorce splashed across page six. Just imagine what they’re gonna write about me.” His voice wavered at those words and he swallowed to maintain composure. “They’ll say it’s my fault again… Of course, it’s my fault again.”
Da Qing felt the burn in Ye Zun’s stare as a small smirk pulled from his lips. “They might mention you too, but don’t worry our people can do their work. I won’t let them harm you.”
“What about you?”
Ye Zun laughed bitterly. “I don’t really care what they say about me. I’m used to it. They should even write me a check from all the headlines they got out of me. I don’t care anymore… It’s just—” he paused to blink the tears that filled his eyes, willing them to not fall.
“It’s just unfair for Shengsheng…” But at the mention of his boy’s name, the tears slipped through his thick lashes and came rolling down his face. He shrugged it off, casually saying, “Another disappointment, another failure… Another father who didn’t stay for him.”
“Do you want me to cancel your brunch tomorrow? I can.”
Ye Zun shook his head slightly. “Why would we do that?”
“I… I just thought you need a moment?” Da Qing bowed, ashamed that he even thought that Ye Zun would actually take a break. Work was his element. Even casual brunches were part of work and he would never cancel that—even for himself.
“I have tonight if I need a ‘moment.’” Ye Zun rolled his eyes.
“Do you want me to stay?” Da Qing hoped. With all his heart, he hoped that he could be enough for Ye Zun. That for another time, the man would see him not just as an assistant but as someone who could be something more.
And like a wish come true, Ye Zun nodded and invited him to stay.
Da Qing had been to Paris once before with Zhao Yunlan and their friends but he didn’t remember it being like this. He couldn’t understand back then why it was called the ‘City of Love’ and why his friends swooned as they looked at the surroundings with those dreamy looks. But as Da Qing gazed at Ye Zun illuminated by the pale glow of the bedside lamp, as he ran his hands across his smooth skin, and as he kissed every inch of him, he realized that the magic of the City depended on the person who would show it to you.
The next morning was business as usual. Da Qing was running around Paris, confirming with the venue for the press conference and finalizing the sitting arrangement, the menu, among other things. They were preparing for their last day in Paris, so everything had to be perfect. Although Ye Zun was also busy somewhere else, he was still in Da Qing’s ear the whole time, giving additional instructions regarding everything.
That was why when Da Qing’s phone rang a different tune, he found it very confusing at first. He answered it regardless and was greeted by the quiet voice of Zhao Yunlan.
“Hey, it’s me. Can we talk?”
“Sure. Hold on...”
Da Qing walked to a quiet corner, thinking of what to say to his friend. They still had not reconciled since their fight from the previous week. To be honest, Da Qing didn’t even think of him once, since he was up to his neck with work.
“Yunlan. About what happened before I left…”
“Let’s talk about that when you get back.” Zhao Yunlan then whispered low. “An informant told me something about your boss… Or rather your company. And I know this is important to you so I need to tell you about this.”
Da Qing looked around. From the way Zhao Yunlan spoke, he could tell that it must be some sensitive information. If his friend was being careful on the other end of the line, then he too should be.
“What is it?” Da Qing asked.
“The CEO is planning to replace Ye Zun as Editor-in-Chief. According to my sources, they will push Zhu Hong to be the new head of Runway.”
Da Qing was shocked. “They—they can’t… They can’t do that! Runway is everything to Ye Zun. He’s the one that built it into what it is today. If he loses this… It will destroy him.”
“I knew you’d care about this. Go do whatever you want to do with this information… But don’t tell anyone you got it from me.”
A small smile was painted on Da Qing’s lips. Zhao Yunlan, no matter what happened, was still his best friend. Leaking something like this must be dangerous for him, but he still did it.
“Got it,” Da Qing said with a nod. “And Yunlan…” he then paused until he heard a quick hum from the other end of the line. “Let’s talk about this when I get back... Drinks on me.”
Da Qing heard a laugh at the other end, and he joined in with a low chuckle.
“Sure,” Yunlan said. “You still owe me from my birthday. Okay now bye, I need to go.”
“Okay. See you. Bye bye.”
As soon as Da Qing ended the call, there was only one thing in his mind: he must warn Ye Zun about it.
Da Qing knew where Ye Zun was at any time of the day and according to his schedule, his boss should be in the hotel having a private meeting with the CEO of Runway. The only problem was, the meeting was quite sensitive that no assistant nor secretaries were allowed inside.
Da Qing tried calling Ye Zun so many times as he rushed towards the hotel but he didn’t answer. When he got in front of the room where they were having their meeting, the security even barred him from entering. He tried to knock, saying that he only needed two minutes with Ye Zun.
“If that is important he would answer your call,” the guard answered Da Qing.
He had a point but this was not something that Ye Zun would’ve known. So when he failed to use his hands to knock on the door, Da Qing used his feet and kicked it. The guards instantly tried to grab him and take him away.
However, that was when the door slowly and slightly opened with Ye Zun emerging from inside.
“What is all this ruckus?” he looked angry. “Da Qing? Aren’t you supposed to be at the press con event? Why are you here?”
Da Qing pulled away from the guards that eased their hold on him, he straightened his coat and answered Ye Zun, “I was looking for you. I need to tell you something. It’s very important.”
“Is it about the presscon?”
“Then you can email me about it instead. You know I’m in a very important meeting and I’ll be flying to Italy tonight, so if you’re feeling clingy… Stop it .”
Da Qing helplessly looked at the guards. He couldn’t say something about the issue with other people around. He looked at Ye Zun with pleading eyes and tried again. “I just need to talk to you… give me five—no! Two minutes.”
Ye Zun’s eyes then mellowed down at the sight. His gaze turned tender as he lifted his hand to cup Da Qing’s cheek. He then smiled as he said, “I’ll be seeing you tomorrow at the presscon. You don’t have to miss me so much.”
Ye Zun suddenly pulled Da Qing closer to him, catching him with a kiss that quickly deepened and turned into something that was not meant to be outside the walls of their trysts. The guards on the side averted their eyes but when they heard a low moan both of them still blushed. Whether it was from Ye Zun or from his assistant, they were not in the position to ask.
Ye Zun pulled away with his tongue still hanging on to the last taste of Da Qing’s mouth. “Happy now?” he asked quite coldly, a complete opposite from how hot he was kissing him.
Da Qing was just catching his breath but Ye Zun didn’t have time to wait for him. He closed the door, leaving Da Qing dazed and a bit turned on.
Da Qing couldn’t find the chance to tell Ye Zun face-to-face. He did email him but there was no reply even until the morning of the press conference. That morning was no good as well, since according to Ye Zun’s schedule, he would be flying from Italy and going directly to the press con.
Da Qing could only hope he had read the email.
Having the list of speakers, Da Qing knew for certain that Ye Zun’s replacement would be announced that day. He was still thinking of how to stop it. In his imagination, screaming “I object” felt like stopping some kind of weird wedding.
“Are you okay? You’re fidgeting like a worm,” Ya Qing whispered beside him. She looked dazzling as always, with a feathered off shoulder black satin dress.
With all the panic regarding the rumor, Da Qing almost forgot that it was Ya Qing’s special moment too. In this same event, she would be revealed as the new Editor-in-Chief of Yashou Monthly.
Da Qing tried to calm down, whispering a slightly doubtful, “I’m okay,” to her. He didn’t want her to worry one bit.
Ya Qing being Ya Qing, accepted that but still kept an eye on the young assistant.
Finally, Ye Zun was called by the host to go to the stage to make his speech. All eyes then went towards the double door at the back of the hall from where Ye Zun emerged. Dressed in an all-white suit, he elegantly walked towards the stage with grace and posture that could compete with the models they have seen that week.
Ye Zun stood behind the podium and started his speech with the usual greetings to everyone in the venue. As he spoke, Da Qing watched carefully if there was any indication that he had read the email, but from what the assistant could see there was none. Ye Zun still looked calm without a care in the world.
"... But before I present to you the exciting things Runway has in store for the next year, I would like to dedicate this moment to acknowledge our sister in this industry—Yashou Monthly, which has been proving itself to be a name to remember internationally. As they extend their reach around the globe, it is no surprise to me that they would choose someone from our Runway family to lead them in this endeavor. That is why it is a great honor for me to present to everyone the next Editor-in-Chief of Yashou Monthly. My good friend…"
The speech finally reached the part Ya Qing had been waiting for. The two smiled at each other. Da Qing knew that if Ya Qing would reach out to him, he would hold her hand for moral support. But she was so focused on Ye Zun that she couldn't even move.
She was getting ready to stand up, ready to wave at the cameras, ready to begin the next chapter of her dreams, when Ye Zun continued his speech.
It was as if everything Da Qing believed was suddenly turned around. The greatest plot twist of his week brought him to a frozen state of shock for a few seconds until he remembered the one more affected than him.
“Are you okay?” Da Qing quietly asked Ya Qing, his eyes went to the other table as well, watching Zhu Hong wave and smile at the cameras that clicked around her.
"I'm fine." Ya Qing leaned closer to Da Qing. "When the time is right, he'll pay me back."
"Are you sure about that?"
"No," she answered truthfully with the awkward attempt to look okay written all over her lovely face. "But I hope for the best." She glanced at him once more. "I have to," she whispered before she turned her whole attention to the stage where a dazzling man in white continued his speech.
At the car ride back to their hotel, thousands of thoughts came swimming in Da Qing’s head. Despite Ye Zun sitting beside him, and despite his notebook spread across his lap, Da Qing’s eyes looked at the Parisian street outside his window. Strangely, he felt the scenery gloomier than how he remembered it when he first arrived.
“—Da Qing? Have you not heard a single thing I said?” Ye Zun’s voice burst through his thoughts like a pin pricking a balloon causing a loud explosion that you couldn’t ignore.
And god knew how much Da Qing wanted to ignore him at that very moment.
Ye Zun sighed. “Are you still thinking of what happened?” he asked.
“You thought I didn’t know.” With that said, Da Qing looked at him and saw him turn his head towards the window.
As Ye Zun watched the street, he continued to speak. “I knew what was happening for quite some time. It just took me a while to find a suitable alternative for Zhu Hong and Yashou Monthly looked like a golden opportunity you can’t possibly ignore. So of course, she didn’t ignore it.”
Da Qing shook his head.
“Then I had to tell the CEO that Zhu Hong is unavailable. The truth is… No one can do what I do. Including her. Any of the other choices would have found that job impossible and that magazine would’ve suffered.”
As Da Qing listened, he had to agree. He only had a glimpse of it but he could tell that running Runway was an impossible task for any human. To be able to be as great at it like Ye Zun, one must discard something essential to their humanity.
“To convince him even more, I showed him the list. The list of designers, photographers, editors, writers, models. All of them were found by me, nurtured by me, and have promised me that they will follow me whenever and if ever I chose to leave Runway.”
“So he reconsidered,” Ye Zun smirked, his reflection visible from the window, showing Da Qing how he didn’t show any remorse after everything he did.
“But I was very, very impressed by how intently you tried to warn me.” He then paused, as his smile softened. “I never thought I’d say this…”
Da Qing looked up, seeing that he was looking at him as Da Qing helplessly clung to his words.
“... But I see a great deal of myself in you, Da Qing. You can see beyond what people want and what they need and you can choose for yourself what will benefit you the most.”
Da Qing bowed as he shook his head, “I don’t think I’m like that. I couldn’t do what you did to Ya Qing. I couldn’t do something like that.”
“You already did.”
Da Qing snapped his head up again, looking surprised.
“To Zhu Jiu.”
“But… But you told me that I’ll be coming here instead of him. We were just doing what so say… and besides I must have done something better than him.”
Ye Zun nodded slowly. “Yes, but it’s important that you think you have more rights to come here. That confidence that you are better than him, that you are closer to me than him made you ignore the fact that Zhu Jiu had been working hard for this. He could still do whatever you are doing here…. Aside from one thing—he doesn’t sleep with me.”
Da Qing turned away and looked down at the open notebook on his lap where Ye Zun’s schedule was written down up to the last second. His hands felt weak that he couldn’t even close the notebook properly.
He breathed in an attempt to calm down and refocus. Then he bravely asked, “What am I to you?”
Ye Zun tilted his head to the side and smiled. “You’re my assistant, providing me with everything I need,” a playful tongue poked out of his lips, wetting them until they pulled into a smirk. “Please, don’t tell me you actually think I’d go out with you. You work for me so I own you, your body and even your soul. What’s interesting was that you took advantage of your situation to get where you are now…”
Da Qing wanted to hit his head on the window or maybe on something harder like the street outside. Zhao Yunlan was right. He couldn’t believe that Zhao Yunlan was actually right! He thought that he could understand him, that he saw the human behind the cold king on top of the powerful mountain that was Runway. But he was another pawn, another walk-on role in this marvelous play written and directed by none other than Ye Zun.
“I… I didn’t… I don’t want to be like this.”
The car slowed down, easing onto the valet of the hotel where the swarm of media awaited for their arrival. Ye Zun prepared himself to face them, putting his sunglasses on to protect himself from the flashes of the camera and of the looks that tried to see through him.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Da Qing. This is the position that has the best view of the world around you. Everyone wants to be where you are. Everyone wants this…. Everybody wants to be us.
The two of them stepped out of the car, with Ye Zun going out first and greeting the media with his most charming smile. Da Qing on the other hand, stepped out towards the street and looked up to see Ye Zun embraced by the crowd. The cameras flashed from different directions and Da Qing could only watch Ye Zun radiance amplified by the lights.
Even as the car sped away, Da Qing stood there, staring. All his hard work, all the changes he had to do to himself, and everything he did for that man came rushing back to Da Qing and it made him sick.
Then he turned around and walked towards the open street, away from the suffocating crowd and the blinding flashes. He walked with his back to Ye Zun, not even thinking of sparing his boss a glance.
In the middle of the crowd, Ye Zun failed to realize that his loyal assistant had already left. When he looked behind him, there was no one following him anymore.
“Happy birthday to you…” Da Qing sang as he set the small round cake on the table of the diner near their apartment.
They were celebrating Zhao Yunlan’s birthday in the middle of the day—again. They have been celebrating Zhao Yunlan’s birthday ever since Da Qing arrived from Paris and they would celebrate it every day until the end of the month. Zhao Yunlan was petty like that and Da Qing was willing to do it to apologize for everything.
“How can you still eat cake? You’ve been eating cake for a week now.”
Zhao Yunlan looked up from the cake he’d been devouring alone. “Well, you’re buying different flavors every day so it’s not like it’s the same cake.”
Da Qing grumbled, “Whatever. Anyway I need to go. I’m going to be late for my interview.”
“Ah! Yes, the newspaper one. Don’t forget to demand a writing job from them, okay? Or else it’ll be the same as Runway. Having someone rely on you makes you fall in love with them.”
“Shut up. But I doubt I’ll find someone like Ye Zun in there. My new boss is probably an old man in his early forties. I heard he doesn’t even like having assistants.” Da Qing checked the time on his phone and stood up, “okay I really need to go. Being late probably will make him hate me more.”
“Okay. Go go go. Goodluck!”
They purposely chose that diner to meet as it was only a few blocks away from the publishing company’s main office. However, because of Zhao Yunlan’s pettiness, Da Qing had to run those few blocks just to get to the office on time for his interview.
The secretary by the door led Da Qing through the main floor and towards the Editor-in-Chief’s office at the very back of the building. After bringing Da Qing there he left without another word.
“Hello?” Da Qing called out towards the seemingly empty room.
The room was small, or maybe it was big if it weren’t for all the stacks of books and folded newspaper that filled most of the room’s surface. They looked pretty organized but the sheer amount of it made the room look like a warehouse of books.
“You’re already here? Give me a moment!” Da Qing heard.
Da Qing stood straight and held on to the strap of his bag. It was the beginning of a new chapter of his life and his heart was pumping so fast. It might not be as glamorous as the previous chapter, and he knew a part of him would always miss the people there but he would do his best here too.
“So I saw your resume…” a man finally emerged from behind a large pillar of books. Da Qing looked up, smiling expectantly to see the face of his new boss
—only to find that he was looking at his old boss’ face.
‘What the hell? ’ The face was exactly the same! But that was where the similarity stopped. The man was wearing glasses, his hair was shorter, and his clothes—although they still looked expensive—were more towards the business smart casual style than high end. He even looked like a teacher if Da Qing was to be honest.
“I knew your name was very familiar when I first saw it,” the man continued to speak, placing Da Qing’s resume on top of his desk. “but I didn’t expect you’re the same guy my brother was talking about.”
The man extended his hand for a handshake and Da Qing, still in a daze, lifted his hand to shake it. “My name is Shen Wei, Ye Zun’s twin brother.”
Da Qing’s eyes went wide. “You’re Uncle Shen Wei??” he pointed at him.
“Yes I am. I heard Shengsheng liked you too. Shame that you had to resign from Runway but my brother still gave a very interesting recommendation letter.”
Shen Wei smiled at him as he sat behind his desk. “Indeed, he said that of all the assistants he ever had you were by far his biggest disappointment.”
Da Qing silently laughed at himself. That was exactly what he expected from Ye Zun.
“And if I don’t hire you, I am the biggest idiot in the world,” Shen Wei finished recalling the letter.
Da Qing slowly turned his gaze up with disbelief written all over his face.
“Don’t get me wrong. He never interfered with my job ever and I really don’t know anything about what he does... But I know my brother and I know that you did something right when you were with him. He trusted your skills and I expect that you will perform excellently here.”
Da Qing grabbed Shen Wei’s hand and shook it again. Firmly and with more enthusiasm that time. “Yes!” he exclaimed, “I will do my best. You will not regret hiring me!”
Fate really had its way of tricking people and for Da Qing the coincidence was one funny joke. But despite that connection with Ye Zun, it was still a fresh new beginning for Da Qing.
“So I’ll be sending all my clothes to your place?” Da Qing asked over the phone as he walked down the street.
“Yes, someone will take care of it. If that is all, then goodbye.” Zhu Jiu said immediately, ending the call.
To make amends with Zhu Jiu, he asked him to take all of the designer clothes he had received during the Paris Fashion Week. Da Qing claimed that he won’t be needing all those in his new job and the other enthusiastically took it. He even said that Da Qing was fatter than him, but he “will manage.” He might have sounded snobbish on the phone but Da Qing could tell how his voice sounded like when he was smiling, and Zhu Jiu was definitely smiling during the call.
He continued walking down the street with a smile on his face. It was nice to be free of that phone that kept on ringing Ye Zun’s ringtone, and be able to look forward to things he could learn in his next job. With each step forward Da Qing was writing that new chapter.
As he waited on the light to turn green, he looked across the street and saw a familiar car parking in front of a familiar building. And then from inside that building came out the most beautiful man he had the pleasure of working for—Ye Zun.
As usual he was on the phone, probably scolding his new assistant or one of his employees. Da Qing couldn’t hear what he was saying but he could tell Ye Zun was unhappy even from all the way across the street. He couldn’t help but stare. It was only a week ago that he was still part of that world. If he didn’t resign, he was probably the person Ye Zun would be talking to on the phone. But there was no regret in his heart nor hate when he looked at Ye Zun. Despite everything, he grew as a better person after Runway and Ye Zun was definitely a large part of that.
Their eyes met and Da Qing could feel his heart reaching out to that beautiful man. It was painful but it was better that way. It was better for Ye Zun to be someone that he could only look at from afar.
Ye Zun didn’t pause for him, despite seeing him across the street. He went inside his car and locked the doors as usual. He gazed at the window outside, towards the people that walked on their own paths, unaware of how they were all playing on top of his palms.
He smirked, thinking that regardless of everything that happened fate was still on his side. It always was.