Chapter 52: The Leader Seals His Fate
Rhett checked his watch while waiting for the elevator. He was a few minutes early, and so he cleared his throat and inhaled a few deep breaths. There was nothing to fear. He was just doing what was right. Staring ahead, he saw his blurred reflection. His figure and features had been completely blemished; he couldn’t even recognize himself anymore. This was him now. As the elevator doors opened, he casually stepped in, maintaining his confidence.

“I . . . didn’t think you’d make it,” Hana uttered with her head low. “I thought you’d bail like . . . last time.”
“I didn’t mean to bail,” Rhett corrected. “I had to help out a friend.”
“Was it—“
“I’ve known him for ages.”
Rhett knew exactly who Hana wanted to ask, yet he didn’t want to mention Kannei. His situation was complicated enough. He didn’t need to involve her, who might not have even wanted to do anything with him.
“Well,” Hana tried to change the topic, “my parents are coming by themselves. I believe you haven’t met them before?”
The elevator stopped, opening its door. Rhett, who wore a polite smile, held the door for her, and answered, “No, I’ve never had the chance.”
“Thank you,” Hana stated as they walked out together. “I’m sure they’ll like you.”
“But . . . do you actually like me?” Rhett accidentally blurted. “You do know what . . . this dinner implies?”
Hana, who had already walked towards the entrance of the restaurant, turned to say, “I understand what this implies, and I’m willing to accept my fate. The question is . . . are you?”
“What do you mean?”
“People like us, Rhett, can’t love freely. We’re destined to be pawns,” Hana remarked. “The people we love and the people we actually marry are different, but . . . I’m trying my best because . . . I want to believe that it’s possible to be happy like this, and actually . . . being with you makes me happy.”
Wasn’t this what Rhett had wanted before? A stimulating job paired with a perfect housewife? Why was he even hesitating? Why couldn’t he appease his guilt? Why . . . did this feel so wrong, yet why couldn’t he clarify that kiss that they shared as nothing? He felt a pat on his shoulder.
“Why Rhett,” Uncle Henry declared, “you should hurry in like Hana. Her parents are arriving soon. We wouldn’t want to disappoint them, would we?”
Rhett nodded his head and followed his uncle to their table. Hana was already sitting at the table, and so, Rhett took the seat across from her. As soon as he adjusted his seat, Hana was waving her hand. Then, he turned around to bow.
“Mom, Dad,” Hana exclaimed, “I’d like you to meet my boss, Rhett.”
Rhett still bowing, answered, “Nice to meet you.”
He heard Hana’s mom say, “You don’t have to be so humble towards us. I’m sure we’ll get to know each other fairly soon.”
“That’s right,” he heard a deep voice, presumably from Hana’s father, utter. “In fact, Hana keeps telling me how wonderful you are. We thought we’d take this chance to get us all acquainted with one another.”
Rhett felt his cheek muscles tense from forcing himself to smile. “I think Hana thinks too highly of me,” Rhett said. “I believe . . . Hana is the one who deserves to be praised. She has been a diligent, and keen intern. We’re glad to have her on board.”
“Haha!” Uncle Henry chuckled. “I’m glad to find that the two think well of each other! What a wonderful start to our evening. Come, let’s all sit. I already have the wine in mind for us to celebrate . . .”
Rhett tried his best not to listen to what his uncle was saying. Nonsense. His uncle’s words were all bogus. Even this whole dinner was a show. Everyone had his or her own roles, and he was playing along as the interested pursuer. He stared ahead at Hana, thinking of what she had said earlier. Who they married and who they loved were separate. Wasn’t marriage supposed to arrive from love? Hadn’t he also thought that he would have never felt anything for someone like Kannei? This situation was the same as before, but why did this feel so unnatural?
“I think we’re making the youngsters too uneasy,” Hana’s father announced. “How about we let them go for the night, let them have some time to get to know one another?”
“Rhett, why don’t you take Hana out for dessert and then send her home?” Uncle Henry advised.
With a nod, Rhett stood up, beckoning to Hana to follow him. He was walking too fast for her speed, yet she didn’t complain. He still opened the door for her like a gentleman would. Instinct had told him how to act.
“Rhett,” Hana stated, “we can take things slowly if you wish. I understand that we barely know each other, but we could take the time to—“
            “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel very well,” he grunted while holding onto his stomach. “Can we discuss this later?”
            “Sure,” Hana mumbled. “I guess . . . dessert is off.”
            “I’m really sorry,” he said. “I just need a day to rest, and I’ll be okay.”
            Yes, he just needed a day to think, but he had already thought so much. Staggering to his car, he dialed the number he had already memorized.
            “Hello? Are you there?” he asked in a muffled voice.
            “Yunho?” Kannei answered. “Are you okay? You sound horrible. Is your stomach—“
            “Can we meet o-o-over lunch to talk? I really need to talk to you about something,” he mumbled.
            “Actually . . . I . . . I need to talk to you about something too.”
Rhett wanted to explain everything to Kannei today. He was so anxious that he had forgotten to tell her to dress properly for they happened to be dining at a high-class Japanese restaurant. So, she showed up in a pair of straight-legged jeans, a simple sweater, and a pair of Coach sneakers. He saw the horror on her face when they arrived at the scene. He straight away muttered, “Don’t worry about your clothes. They’re fine to me.”
“They make me seem like an impoverished orphan compared to you,” she growled while pointing at his outfit, a suave, grey pin-striped suit and dress shoes. “I think you hate me. Who else makes the same mistake twice?”
He put his arm around her shoulder, but because of their great difference in height, he ended up putting too much weight on her, causing her to shrug her shoulder. “I don’t hate you,” his hands now held onto her shoulders, forcing her to make eye contact with him. “How could I hate someone that makes me happy?”
Then he walked away to speak to the waiter at the entrance of the restaurant. Kannei aimlessly followed him for her mind was still pondering about what he said. His words were stabbing at her insides. They were like dark chocolate, bitter and sweet at the same time. The problem was that she adored dark chocolate. She could never resist taking another bite. It would be difficult to oppose him. He was becoming more and more like dark chocolate to her.
“Where are you going?” Rhett gently laughed at her walking too far ahead of their table. “You want to stalk the waiter? I didn’t know he was your type.”
Scratching her head in embarrassment, she walked back to her seat, which was across from Rhett. “Oops,” she chuckled. “I-I’m just a little tired.”
“From what?” he asked.
She didn’t know what to do, except to partly lie, “I-I stayed up late to finish this manga that I loved.”
“Oh.” he just blankly looked at her.
“You should read it too!” She tried not to raise his suspicions, knowing that sooner or later there was going to be awkwardness after her confession.
“No thanks.” He sipped on his glass of water. “I’d have to pass up on that offer. The last time you made me translate that manga was not what I considered as fun.”
Her throat was growing a bit sore now. “I think I’m getting sick,” she mumbled.
“My throat feels funny.” She then sniffed to test her sense of smell. “Now my nose is a bit stuffy.”
He couldn’t stop himself from laughing. “That’s weird.”
“I think it’s because of you.”
“What? How is it my fault?” he wondered. Somehow, Kannei had a way to blame people for anything.
“Well, you splashed water on me when we were at the beach,” she argued.
She hated becoming sick. She was so grateful for being sick-free the past couple of months, but now she was infected. It must be because of that time, she mumbled to herself.
 “That was ages ago!” he hollered.
“I don’t care.” She eyed him. “I know it’s you. No one else splashed frigging cold, salt water on me.”
“Didn’t I apologize for that already?” He rolled his eyes, and accidentally blurted, “You’re being unreasonable now. I don’t get why you can’t learn to stop complaining. I really think you should learn from Hana. You’ll get more guys that way.”
What Rhett said was true. Hana attracted all of the boys Kannei knew, while Kannei either scared them off or remained as their friend. Kannei had learned to guard part of herself, which helped to keep them as her friend. Even with her family, she barely complained to them. No one listened to her. When she tried to voice her concerns, they would start to interrupt her thoughts. They never gave her the chance to complete her ideas; they only offered their notions. Only to her closest friends did Kannei ever whine and even then, they had an unspoken deal. Kannei could complain to them and they could complain to her. She had assumed that this applied with Yunho, yet she was beginning to realize that he was like those boys, unwilling to tolerate her. She wondered why she bothered trying, why she gave him an opportunity, and why she was in love with him. She was completely sure now that Yunho and she weren’t meant to be together. Perhaps, it was better for them not to be friends. He wasn’t worth her time.
After they had ordered their food, Kannei finally faked a smile. “Haha, I don’t need those guys.”
“Don’t be a lonely, old lady,” he lectured. “Anyways . . . what I wanted to talk to you about was—“
“Jaejoong and I are dating,” Kannei announced.
“What?” Rhett uttered.
Kannei repeated, “I said . . . Jaejoong and I are dating now, so I can’t help you anymore.”
Rhett didn’t know what to say or think. Since when had they fallen in love with each other? Had Kannei never felt anything for him? He had so many questions badgering his mind, yet he couldn’t ask any of them. He didn’t have the right to investigate. She had chosen Jaejoong, and likewise, he had already met with Hana and her parents.
So, he did what he could only say, “C-c-congratulations. You’ve found yourself a good guy. He’ll treat you well . . . I know it.”
Kannei pushed herself to return a smile. “Congratulations to you too,” she noted. “You’ve found yourself a perfect girl. I’ve heard all about it from her.”
Hana had talked to Kannei? When? He wasn’t even informed of this before. “What . . . did she say?” Rhett pondered.
“She said that you two were getting engaged soon,” Kannei explained after taking a sip of her water. “She said that even though it’s a like a political marriage, she doesn’t really mind because she knows that you and her match.”
Rhett couldn’t believe what Hana had said or maybe . . . he hadn’t been listening carefully during their dinner. Frankly, he couldn’t remember what he had said or what they had told him to do. He just remembered nodding away, agreeing to everything that was instructed, just like his own career.
“Dad,” he said, “about university . . . I was wondering if—“
“If you’re thinking about dancing, don’t even—“
“It’s not about dancing,” Rhett muttered. “I haven’t danced in ages. It’s just . . . do you think I could also apply for medicine? I have been volunteering at the hospital for a while, and I—“
“You’re working at our company, Yunho,” his father jutted in. “I thought I’ve told you before that that’s what you have to do. We can’t let any outsiders take over. Do you understand?”
He quietly nodded, accepting his fate. He would have liked to cure other people, instead of plotting for other people’s demises. He especially hated how he would have to cater to each client’s needs. His father usually came home reeking with alcohol. With his mother, he would have to drag his father upstairs to the washroom, where he would vomit. Then, his mother would have to brew a special tea for his father to drink. His father would wake up the next day feeling awful, and would complain before he left to school about how much he hated his work.
His eyes adjusted to Kannei’s face once she proclaimed, “You two . . . really do make a great pair. I’m jealous. Haha.”
He took a large gulp of water before answering, “Well, you . . . and Jaejoong . . .”
There was that upbeat song echoing from her purse, and with that note, she said, “Sorry. I’m just going to take this call.”
“It’s fine.”
“Hello?” she asked. “Oh, you’re here already? I thought you said . . . What? You can see me? Where are you?”
Upon instinct, Rhett had turned his head to the entrance. There was Jaejoong with a joyous smile waving at Kannei. Holding onto his glass of water as tightly as he could, Rhett practiced a genuine grin.
“Hey, sorry to cut your lunch short,” Jaejoong commented before leaning towards Kannei to give her a peck on the cheek.
“Jaejoong . . . don’t,” she murmured.
“It’s okay.” Rhett swallowed down the pain gulling down his throat. “I don’t mind.”
Immediately, Jaejoong swung his arms around Kannei’s neck, pretending to drag her away. “That’s good,” he replied. “I was worried that you’d be mad.”
“Mad?” Rhett started to laugh while using his other hand to pinch at his thigh. “Why would I be mad at you? You’re my best friend. As long as you’re happy, then I’m happy.”
“That’s what I thought,” Jaejoong responded in between another peck. “It’s not like you two were actually dating anyways.”
“R-right,” Rhett whispered. Kannei was still shrugging her shoulders. She was already embarrassed that Jaejoong was being so showy. Her cheeks were reddening as his arms stiffened around her body. Rhett, who had noticed the change in her expression, gently warned, “Jaejoong, I think you’re holding on too much.”
“I thought you’d like hugs,” Jaejoong argued.
“N-n-not particularly,” she murmured. “I’d prefer handshakes.”
“But those are for others right?” Jaejoong confirmed.
Kannei hadn’t answered, and so Rhett took this time to say, “Congratulations to both of you!”
Jaejoong, snuggling closer to Kannei, uttered, “Thanks.” Then, he glanced at Kannei while noting, “If we ever . . . get married, you’ll definitely be my best man. Okay?”
 Married? They had plans to marry too? Rhett couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Jaejoong used to share his dreams and aspirations with him, yet this time, Jaejoong was keeping secrets. Looking ahead now, Rhett could tell that Kannei was uncomfortable with what Jaejoong had just proposed. She didn’t know. He hadn’t even discussed this with her. She didn’t seem ready to settle as well. What was Jaejoong doing then? Was he forcing her? But, if she were forced then, why did she accept Jaejoong?
Kannei had placed her hand on top of Jaejoong’s, and reminded, “Jaejoong . . . let’s not discuss this now. Wh-why don’t you get the car, and I’ll meet you at the front? You said that we’re in a hurry, right?”
Reluctantly, Jaejoong agreed and left. In his mind, he knew that Kannei had wanted him to leave, and so he granted her wish. He just hoped that what she would say wouldn’t give false hope to Rhett. Kannei had already consented to be his girlfriend.
Once Kannei saw Jaejoong depart, she finally said, “I’m sorry, Yunho, but the deal that we shared is over. I still . . . hope that we can be friends.”
Her hand had already extended towards Rhett, who felt obliged to accept her offer. Wasn’t this the perfect solution? Kannei would be loved by Jaejoong, and Rhett wouldn’t have to suffer at work. As he shook her hand, he almost gripped it too hard. They had started with a handshake, and now, they were ending with one too. This was it, he thought.
“I think,” Rhett suddenly declared, “Jaejoong is already out there waiting for you.”
Indeed, there was a car like Jaejoong’s, and even though Kannei was unsure whether or not that belonged to Jaejoong, she understood that this was her cue to leave. Rhett watched as she walked away from their table. This was it, he repeated to himself again. Once the door closed behind her, they’d just be friends.
No . . . his legs pushed him forward and he dashed towards her. Grabbing her elbow, Rhett shouted, “Good luck!”
Kannei turned around to give him one of the most genuine smiles he had ever encountered. “You too!” she added and tugged her elbow forward.
Rhett had already released her. She was free. He was free too. They were nothing more than friends now. They had never been more than friends from the start. This, he told himself, was just a small divergence from his original route. Hana had been right, and so had been Kannei. He would always do what was right, and he belonged in that other world.