Chapter 15: The Beginning of the Party: the Leader is Unprepared
There were many rules imposed at Jaejoong's party. These included a dress code, semi-formal, a no smoking policy for Jaejoong hated cleaning ash pits, a no heavy drinking and no vomiting regulation, an anti-drug implementation, and a no dirty dancing campaign. Of course, Jaejoong would never act as the evil one who forced the rule breakers to leave. That job was for Rhett, who sat at the front of the reception counter at the entrance. In his hand was a list of questions that Jaejoong demanded him to ask the guests. Jaejoong could only trust Rhett with this job after all. He was probably the only one who could withstand any task as long as there was responsibility involved. 

By now, his voice had grown robotic and his eyes had become weary. He didn't even bother to confirm the guests' faces. He didn't know half of the guests anyways. “Name,” he muttered while covering his large yawn with his palm.
“Lee Kannei.”
Once Rhett heard that name and that voice, he was tempted to take a quick glance to confirm his suspicions. Instead, he just prayed that it wasn't her. The last time they met at his parents' house was already awkward enough. Seeing her there was a shock. Understanding his situation was a problem. Kissing her . . . He felt his cheeks grow warm after remembering what his sister had done. The pen that he gripped was quivering as he confirmed the list of guests.
So, there is a Lee Kannei on this sheet.
Clearing his throat while crossing her name off the paper, he asked, “Do you smoke?”
“No.”
“Do you drink?”
 “Of course, I drink . . . water, but no, I don't like alcohol.”
 “Do you d-d-dance in a dirty manner?” Rhett always stuttered when reading this silly question.
She chirped, “I hate dancing in general, but I've always wanted to learn how to waltz.”
 “Lastly, I have to make sure that you're wearing semi-formal attire.”
He had to examine her outfit now and just lifting his head proved to be an arduous task. No, he didn't want to face the truth. Even when he knew that no one else would call their daughter by such a masculine name, he wanted so desperately to believe that there could be an impersonator or that there were doppelgangers. Still, he forced himself to complete this task. He had agreed that he would follow all of Jaejoong's instructions, and he couldn't ever betray his job. 
So, he saw her in a ruffled corsage dress in the shade of baby milk with black pin dots. A silky, grey ribbon belt at empire waist complemented the tonal rose corsage at her scooped neckline. He even noticed that her hair was tied up to the side in a slightly messy bun, revealing her crystal, key pendant. He also realized that it was the Lee Kannei. It was her again and he was right like always. 
He accidentally spattered, “Whoa . . . what are you doing here?”
“I think you've said that about four times to me now,” she scoffed.
Before Rhett could argue, Jaejoong had stepped in between the two and swung his arm around Kannei's shoulder. “Didn't I tell you that I invited Kannei?”
“No, you didn't tell me that,” Rhett berated.
Jaejoong then punched Rhett's arm, joking, “Well, now you know!”
Rhett pulled Jaejoong aside to a secluded area and whispered, “What's your problem, Jaejoong? I've told you that I don't click with her.”
    “Well, I click with her, so it doesn't really matter what you think. She's my guest and a friend of mine,” Jaejoong declared and then waved at Kannei, who also returned the affable gesture.
Seeing Rhett's bold frown, Jaejoong shoved Rhett forward, almost causing him to lose his balance. As Rhett marched back to the podium with his hands deep in his pockets, Kannei noted, “Didn't I tell you before that I hated assumptions?”
 “Argh, all right, all right, I . . . I'm sorry,” Rhett mumbled.
“You're not forgiven,” she answered.
 “What kind of statement is that?” His voice shrilled and his palm almost slammed the podium.
 “Actually, you're not even worth forgiving,” she cocked her head to the side and announced. “There's just this rudeness that encompasses your presence.”
“Do you always talk like this?” Rhett sighed, knowing that if this were to continue, they would stay up all night bickering. Who would take his place then? 
So, he returned to his seat and was about to ask the next guest for his or her name when Kannei stomped her foot and shouted, “Like what?”
“Like that,” he explained, pointing the back of his pen towards her.
 “You're not being very specific here. You're not properly defining your demonstrative pronoun,” she noted.
Rhett dropped his pen on the table and demanded, “Do you always have to be so blunt?”
 “I prefer being called straightforward. I don't see a point in lying,” she explained with her arms hugging her body. “So, why didn't you tell your parents the truth?” suddenly she asked.
 “Because . . .”
 “Because you can't disappoint your father? Because you have to be the good boy?”
Rhett almost leapt from his seat, but he cleared his throat instead and uttered, “That's none of your business.”
 “Well, whether you like it or not, it is, now that you lied to them!” she hollered. “Besides, I deserve to know why you lied.”
 “I thought I told you already that this doesn't concern you,” Rhett reiterated. 
This argument would have continued had not a guest complained, “Stop quarrelling, you two lovers!”
 “We're not lovers!” Rhett and Kannei shrieked in unison.
Jaejoong immediately took Rhett's spot while clarifying, “Sorry, Miss, these two are always fighting over little things, so don't mind them. We just call them the squabbling couple.”
Before Kannei could explain to the world their complicated situation, Rhett dragged her upstairs to his bedroom and locked the door. “Okay,” he stated, “we need to work this out. Since most people think we're a couple now, just help me out here and pretend that we're dating in front of my family and our friends.”
 “Why should I?” She plopped on his bed and even refused to make eye contact with him. “You're the one that got us into this mess, so you should be the one to fix this." She then crossed her arms and huffed, “Now that I think of it, after I met you, all these bad things started to happen to me. I swear, you bring bad feng shui!”
 “Hey! You can't blame me for each problem you face!” He bickered. After a pause, he was already on his knees, begging, “Come on, please.”
She stared down at him and argued, “I'll consider . . . if you tell me why you lied.”
Rhett couldn't really explain why he couldn't refute his father's claims, yet he couldn't really explain why he should have argued with his father. Now that he thought of it, he never dared to defy his parents. When he wanted a BMW, his father felt that an Audi was more suitable for his age. When he felt like being in love, his father said that he wasn't mature enough. When he wanted to stay out with his friends, his father told him that he needed to study to maintain his grades. When he wasn't sure what to study for university, his father already decided that he would go into business. When he asked why, his father could always convince him why his father's way was right.
He knew the path to his aikido lessons too well. He would walk past every story and sometimes, he would run too if he were late. If he had time to spare, he would even enter a store. That day, a new shop had opened and it was too early in the morning for a crowd to form. He remembered dashing past the store and suddenly trailing backwards after glimpsing at the display window. 
His eyes were glued at the intricately decorated chocolates. How long had it been since he last devoured a piece? His father had forbid him and his sister from tasting any sweets. Desserts, his father claimed, were a source of temptation. Temptation was toxic and had to be avoided. The only way to evade temptation, in this case, was never to taste it. One taste could lead to his demise.
          “Excuse me, we have to place a sign here,” a lady in her early twenties said, “but you can come in if you like.”
He remembered running away. He sprinted as fast as he could to his proper destination. His cheeks were so red that his master asked if he needed to go hom to rest. He also remembered always taking an extra look at the shop, wondering what it would be like to step in and to order his choice. It wasn't until Julie begged him to pick a chocolate for her high school crush for Valentine's Day did he enter the store for the first time.
There was the lady again, now in her early thirties, at the counter. She smiled at him like she had before with her eyes half closed and her nose flattened. “Would you like to try the latest design?” she asked.
 “Sure!” Julie cheered.
 “This is the champagne truffle,” she explained while handing his sister her share. “There's a soft creamy ganache inside with a dash of champagne.”
“Wow! This is so good!” Julie grinned with the corner of her lips smothered with melted flakes of chocolate. “I think I'll get this one for him,” she uttered and then headed to the counter to pay for the gift.
Once Julie returned, Rhett sighed, “Look at you.” He reached for his handkerchief in his blazer pocket and quickly wiped her mouth. “Always a messy eater.”
 “Shut up!” Julie grumbled before handing him a small box of chocolate. “I knew I shouldn't have even gotten you a present!”
 “I don't even like—“
 “You've been eyeing that chocolate I tried for so long,” she interrupted. “Plus, it's not like Dad is watching us right now and honestly, what's so bad about eating some sweets once in a while? Life is supposed to be filled with different flavours.”
 “You were right,” Rhett unexpectedly blurted. “I didn't want to disappoint my father.”
 “Ha! I knew I was right!” Kannei giggled with too much force that she toppled backwards onto his bed.
“Careful there!”
He leapt forward, tugging her wrist. He had expected her to sit upright, yet she hadn't expected him to pull her towards him. She ended up wrapping her arms around him for support while leaning her chin on his shoulder. 
 “Thanks,” she murmured, “and . . . I'm sorry too for laughing at your situation. I guess . . . I could only laugh.”
“Why's that?” he whispered.
 “Because I think I can understand why you lied now.”
Releasing her from his embrace, he stared at her vigilantly. “How can you understand?” he uttered.
“I never wanted to go on this blind date,” she lay on the bed, looking at the ceiling while explaining, “but, my mother said I should meet you, that it was time for me to try to find a boyfriend and eventually settle down.”
 “And then?”
 “I'm pretty sure you know this, but I've never had a boyfriend before. It's not that I'm too busy or too focused on my studies,” she continued to add. “I've had a few chances and . . . I know what I'm attracted to, but I just don't . . . have the courage to commit. Once I commit, it'll cause a commotion for my family and friends. There's just . . . too much pressure.”
Rhett understood pressure too well. Pressure to please everyone. Pressure to live up to his reputation. Pressure to be perfect. Even love was filled with pressure.
Like her, he rested on his bed with his arms behind his head. “You know, we could always say no. We could . . . just tell them the truth,” he announced.
 “No, we won't,” she heaved a hefty sigh, sitting upright. “Even if we want to, we'll do what's right in their eyes.”
 “So . . . you'll help me?” he verified.
 “Yes, but I still want to be compensated,” she stated rather coldly.
 “What do you have in mind?”
She pressed a finger to her lips and thought aloud. “Let's see . . . I want a lot of things, but I suppose I'll be nice and just say that you'll show me around Seoul and drive me to where I want?”
 “Fine,” he sighed. She bolted from the bed to his work desk. Seeing her scanning around, he asked, “What are you doing?”
 “I'm looking for a pen and a sheet of paper,” she said.
Afraid that she would create a gigantic mess, he walked to the table and instructed, “Just stay there. I'll get what you need.” Then, he opened the drawer to her right and reached for his grey pencil case and notebook. “Okay,” he remarked, “what do you want to do?”
 “I'm creating a contract for us,” she enlightened while scribbling down what he had agreed to do. “Here, sign there.” She pointed to the bottom of the page with her finger.
He examined what she had written and furrowed his eyebrows. “Wh-wh-what—“
 “Sheesh,” she blabbed, “you don't have to act like you saw the ugliest writing in your life! It's called handwriting for a reason!”
He snickered, “And writing is supposed to be legible.”
 “Okay, okay.” She snatched the paper from his hand, accidentally swiping a cut across his cheek. “Oh my gosh! I'm so sorry!” She instantly pulled some kleenex from her dress pocket and pushed the tissue against his skin. Seeing the blood soaked tissue, she uttered, “Hold on! Wait for me. I'm going to get my purse!”
Rhett hadn't even felt pain from his injury. In fact, he wouldn't have realized that he had a cut until the next morning when he shaved. He would have told her that it was okay, but she had run off too hastily. He now chuckled at her worrisome face, wondering how fast she could sprint if she had encountered a robber. A robber though . . . wasn't a joking matter, and so he scratched that thought from his head and hoped that that scene would never happen.
 “Okay, I've got what you need!” She pulled out a band-aid from a first-aid kit and then pushed him, specifically his back, towards the bathroom. “G-g-go wash your face. We have to disinfect the wound before we put on the band-aid!”
He wasn't sure why he was listening to her, but he was already splashing his cheeks with cold water. As he wiped his face with a towel, she ripped open the packaging of the band-aid before pressing it on his cheek. “There we go,” she answered with a grin. “That should do it.”
Rhett felt his lips curve upwards while replying, “Thank you.”
With flustered cheeks, she said, “Y-you don't have to thank me. I was too careless.”
“So, I don't have to sign that contract which I can't even read?” he teased.
“You still have to sign it,” she argued.
He flashed a warm smile and said, "Then, you're not too careless. You're just a bit . . . anal.”
 “Get it right,” she corrected. “It's anal retentive.”
“Which proves my point.”
 “Point or not,” she reminded, “you're cooperating with me. Now, man up and sign the goddamn thing!”
As he wrote his signature, he realized that everything had happened too quickly and that all he could do was laugh. Judging from the way she glared at him, he knew she thought he was a big crazy. Perhaps, he was a bit crazy, but that was all because of her, driving him insane. The Queen of Spontaneity. Yes, she was that sort of queen.
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