Chapter 55: The Leader Returns as a Workaholic and the Mom Becomes an Actor
This day was like any other day for Rhett, except to his team and his co-workers, they knew that there was something wrong with him. Rhett was snappier than usual, and forced his group to submit their proposals faster than the proposed deadline. When the project manager had told Rhett that their ideas still needed to be finalized, Rhett immediately called off the meeting, saying that all of their suggestions had to be handed in after lunch and that he would finalize everything. In fact, he couldn’t believe how incompetent his staff was. He’d have to do everything for himself, just like before and always.

            Keeping his office locked and shut, he worked away and typed up his own proposal. He devised his own slogans, selling points, and decoration. He spent the day creating the perfect PowerPoint to show for next week to his uncle and board of directors. This Christmas, he’d hire the right celebrities to promote the sales of the mall. He just had to survey Jaejoong and Yoochun to recommend some famous, and upcoming stars. He knew too that there had to be a catchy jingle to capture his shoppers’ attention. Moreover, the décor of the mall had to change; there would probably be an event for lovers to hang decorations on the enormous Christmas tree that would be found at the centre of the mall. There were so many initiatives running through his mind, and over time, he lost track of everything. By the time he had finished what he had set out to do, it was already past midnight. Stretching out his arms, he chuckled to himself.
“Perfect,” he cackled. “Just perfect.”
            He had a habit of complimenting himself after an arduous task. When no one rewarded him, he would reward himself. That would push him to work harder, and he thought that this time, he’d finally relax. He’d feel accomplished once more, yet he couldn’t help noticing how dark the whole office had become. There were only his lit computer screen and table lamp brightening the gloomy area. Nothing else was shining. Everything was so empty, so out of place. Why? He had already achieved perfection. He had finished this project. His stress should have been released. He should have felt elated, not disappointed. Why was he acting so weirdly?
Jaejoong and I have been dating.
Her voice resonated too clearly in his ears, and Rhett could only laugh at his own folly. So, he did care more than he had expected. So, he couldn’t actually wish for her to be happy. So, he wasn’t actually such a good friend. So much for perfection, he sighed. What else could he have done though? He couldn’t have thrown a tantrum or yelled at either of them for falling in love with each other. Kannei hadn’t cheated on him. She wasn’t even his girlfriend in the first place. She had been more than a friend, but less than a lover. He hadn’t pursued her at all, and so in the end, he could only accept the truth. He had to wish both of his friends the best of luck, and he had to live with his destined fate. His role as . . .
Knock, knock, knock.
“Going home yet?” Rhett at last lifted his head to find Hana at the door of his office. “Sorry,” she explained, “I had to ask the security guard for the key to this place. I was just worried that—“
            “You don’t have to worry about anything,” he cut her off. “I finished the job, and I’m going to marry you.”
            “Wh-wh-what . . . I mean, why the sudden change?” she murmured almost too quietly. “You seemed . . . opposed to the idea.”
            He just muttered, “I wasn’t opposed to it. I just needed some time to think. Believe it or not, I’m . . .”
            His voice had already croaked. He couldn’t go on any further, and so he waved his hand to beckon Hana to leave him alone. She must have understood what he meant for she said, “Wh-why don’t I just wait for you at the lobby when you’re done?”
            Rhett simply nodded, and once he heard the door click, he placed his head on the table. He was already a grown man. Why was he acting like a silly elementary kid? Why was he crying in the shadows by himself like before? When he faced failure in elementary school, he used to bear with everything from his father’s shouts to his mother’s disdainful look until his bedroom door closed behind him. A slam signaled the start of his downpour of tears. He’d cover himself with a blanket and bury his head in a pillow. He would cry himself to sleep and the next day he woke up, he’d be himself again.
            Maybe, this was what he had to do, except the office wasn’t his home. There was Hana waiting for him at the lobby, and so, he packed his belongings and walked to the elevator. By the time, he reached his destination, there was Hana staring at the windows. Instantly, he felt guilty for making her wait so long. He felt sorry too for having his heart and mind elsewhere than on her.
            “Hey,” he greeted her with a courteous smile, “I know we haven’t gotten some time to know each other, so why don’t we try out a date together?”
            “Really?” Hana’s eyes quickly brightened.
            “Yeah, why . . . don’t we go watch a movie together?”
            “Sure!” Hana cheerfully answered. “I’d love to go with you.”
            Yes, this was exactly what a girlfriend should have told her boyfriend, but somehow, something was missing. This was too simple for once, maybe a bit too expected. Rhett just sighed and forced a smile to creep out of the corner of his lips. Everything was going to be perfect, he kept reminding himself.
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            Jaejoong felt so trapped every day. There would be reporters or photographers stalking him. All of them wanted a few answers. Who was his girlfriend? Was he actually Adalia Reynolds son? What were his relations with Yumi? He, though, could have just explained everything on the spot, but he knew how twisted and cruel the entertainment business was. Words could be edited and changed just to fit the day’s title. The wrong photographs could be used to depict his mood. Whatever the media wanted, they could do, and so, he settled on hindering all of their processes by avoiding the spotlight. He took the long route home, and borrowed different cars to confuse them. He’d wear disguises, especially a dark wig to cover his hair. He didn’t go out to drink after work, and instead, chose to roam around the city to bore the reporters. He also hadn’t seen Kannei for several days.
            By the time, he couldn’t contain his solitude, he had phoned Kannei, and scheduled a time and a place to meet her. He had also told her to wear sunglasses, a mouth cover, and a hat. On his way to seeing her, he had already suspected someone following him. He would have confronted this stalker if he hadn’t already seen Kannei from the window of the coffee shop. She had a petrified gaze and was scanning the room anxiously with her head bobbing from side to side. Knowing that sooner or later he would have to stop this stalker from taking photographs, he turned the corner faster than usual and then stopped at his tracks.
            He grabbed the person’s collar and hollered, “Who the fuck are you? Who sent you?”
            His fist was now almost touching her nose, but he had recognized her light, hazelnut eyes and rounded glasses. She had suddenly handed him a booklet, uttering, “D-d-don’t hit me! I’m just here to give you your script!”
            “I thought my job wasn’t to be an actor,” Jaejoong grumbled.
            “I know,” Sora confessed while apologizing, “but, I hadn’t expected Yumi to pull this stunt. Trust me. She didn’t tell me about this beforehand. She only said that you’d be her makeup artist, and that you two were dating. I’m sorry for misunderstanding everything.”
            “Then, I’ll continue to work behind the scenes,” he argued.
            “No, you can’t!” she urged. “You’ve got potential to be a star, and most importantly, you agreed at the press conference that you were going to—“
            “Okay, I didn’t deny anything, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve agreed to anything that Yumi said.”
            “I apologize on her behalf, but please . . . do carry on with this task,” she begged on her knees. “I really need to keep this job. Please. Please.”
            Jaejoong bent to her level and asked, “And why should I help you when I’ve been screwed over by your client?”
            “Be-be-be . . .”
            “Because I will go sing at the Winter Festival, and I will make sure that no one knows about your relationship with Adalia Reynolds and your relationship with your girlfriend. I will also make sure that your family and your beloved are safe.”
            There was Yumi standing paces away from her worn out manager, Sora. Yumi had appeared out of nowhere like a superhero, and if this were a prank show, Jaejoong would have laughed, but knowing Yumi, she had planned everything. She had anticipated Sora’s movements, and had followed her here to meet him. Yumi then presented him with an offer that he couldn’t possibly refute, and indeed, she had. She had solved his problems with a few promises, but how could he be so sure that she would help him?
            “How will you protect my family and Kannei?” Jaejoong questioned.
            “Those are easy,” Yumi explained. “I’ll just hire a few bodyguards. The hard part is Adalia Reynolds, but I bet her agency is more worried than you. Don’t sweat it, Jaejoong. I’ve got it covered. I have connections and I know people working with the paparazzi and the news agencies.”
            “You know that I don’t even want to act,” Jaejoong rebutted.
            “What’s going on, here?”
            Of all the people in the world, Kannei had to arrive. She must have seen him walking by and was wondering why he hadn’t entered the store. Jaejoong was at a loss of words, so he simply eyed her. He wasn’t sure where to start. He was supposed to discuss with Kannei today as to what he should do, yet he hadn’t expected her to ask so soon.
            Luckily, Yumi stepped in to say, “If we’re all going to discuss things in the open, then there’s going to be a mess. Now, let’s go to the shop first and then we’ll talk some more.”
            As soon as they arrived, Yumi already called for the manager, and somehow, managed to convince her to send the guests away. Once the whole café had become booked by them, Yumi walked to a table in the corner that was covered by blinds and took a seat. The others just followed her, and immediately, she opened her mouth.
            “All right, so you must be Jaejoong’s girlfriend, Kannei,” Yumi noted. “You see now that you’re dating an upcoming star, you understand that normally, you two would have to meet secretly, right?” At Kannei’s timid nod, Yumi continued to explain, “Well, because Jaejoong here announced at the press conference that he was taken, we have to make sure that you two become the sweetest couple in the industry, meaning that you two . . . will probably have to move in together and later on, marry within a few years.”
            “Wh-wh-what?” Kannei uttered. “You can’t just . . . decide someone’s—“
            “Sweetie,” Yumi snapped her fingers and scoffed, “you’re hilarious.” Once a waitress walked by, Yumi ordered, “Iced black coffee. No sugar. No whipped cream. Just iced.”
            Sora nudged Yumi in the ribs, “Yumi . . . that wasn’t very nice.”
            Yumi gave a forced grin at Sora before stating, “Well, you should have thought twice before dating Jaejoong Kim here.”
            Jaejoong quickly interjected, “Yumi, don’t say things if you don’t even know what happened between Kannei and me.”
            “Okay, okay,” Yumi shrugged, “but, there really is no other route. You wouldn’t want the media to dish up more dirt, would you?”
            Biting his bottom lip, Jaejoong whispered, “No.”
            “Good.” Yumi now took a gulp of her drink that had just been in the waitress’ hands. “Now, what about you, Kannei? I believe you were or still are rather close with the director of the marketing department. Was he called Rhett or was it Yunho?”
            Jaejoong saw from the corner of his eye that Kannei’s face had immediately turned grim. So, mentioning Rhett’s name was enough for her to consider Yumi’s plan? He felt his fist clench on his lap. Rhett, Rhett, Rhett . . . was that all she cared about? He didn’t want to believe that Rhett could mean so much to her, but then again, Rhett was always the one who garnered the most attention. Rhett was always the winner in their group. From the start, there was nothing to compete. Rhett had everything in his life: a loving family, an amazing career, loyal friends, and a perfect girlfriend. Jaejoong remembered those days in high school and in university.
            “I was wondering if I could talk to you after school?” one of the most popular girls, Sayuri, asked during lunch break at one of the hallways.
            Yoochun had been by Jaejoong’s side then, and had chanted once Sayuri left, “Woot! Jaejoong, who said you’re not popular among girls? Even I can’t get Sayuri out for a bite!”
            “Haha, right,” Jaejoong murmured. “It’s probably just something stupid.”
            “No, man,” Yoochun chirped, “she looked interested in you. I’m serious.”
            So, Jaejoong followed Sayuri’s request, and the two walked to the school gardens to speak. Then, Jaejoong asked, “So, what’s up?”
            Sayuri with reddened cheeks murmured, “Say, Jaejoong . . . do you think you could . . . ugh . . . by any chance get me Rhett’s number?”
            Then, there was that time in university when he was invited to a blind date with other girls from a neighbouring university. This was his first and only year at university before he quit to be a full-time makeup artist. As he was heading to the men’s washroom, he heard the girls chattering at the powder room. They were smothering their faces with makeup and a few even started to smoke.
            One of the brunettes complained, “I can’t believe you invited that weird blonde guy.”
            “Well, supposedly, he’s the best friend of Rhett Jung,” the fake blonde explained. “You know how hard it is to get to Rhett.”
            “Yeah, I guess,” the brunette groaned, “but seriously, he’s so . . . like . . . weird. Who would ever date him?”
            “Fine,” Kannei said. “I’ll follow your plans.”
            “You don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” Jaejoong grumbled and placed his hand over hers.
            Looking at Jaejoong rather sadly, Kannei muttered, “I have to, Jaejoong. I—“
            “I don’t want to hear it now,” he interrupted.
            Yumi instantly announced, “Well, then, that’s all settled! I’m sure Sora has given you your script. Now, I’ll be off to work. Oh, and don’t worry about renting a new place. Sora will find you and Kannei a safe area. See you Monday morning!”
            Jaejoong watched Yumi leave with a sense of admiration. He wished he could have left like that. He didn’t want to speak or hear Kannei talk for the day. He didn’t want to listen to hear explain about her feelings for Rhett. In fact, he couldn’t wait to move out of the house for a few days or even more. He couldn’t stand seeing Rhett. Whatever Rhett did, Jaejoong knew that he’d probably grow crazy to the point where he could throw a punch.
            “Look, Jaejoong—“
            “If it’s about him, then don’t even mention it . . . please,” Jaejoong muttered, placing his head into his arms.
            “I don’t want to lie to you,” Kannei softly made clear. “I don’t want him to waver, and I don’t want myself to be that way anymore. I . . . really want to move on, and I think . . . with everything happening, we’re bound to move on . . . together.”
            He lifted his head, stuttering, “Wh-what?”
            “I’m saying that I think living together wouldn’t be so bad. I mean, we’d actually know if we were good together.”
            “But what about your apartment?”
            “I’ll just rent it out somehow.”
            “If . . . no one rents it or if you can’t rent it out, then I’ll pay for your losses,” Jaejoong suggested.
            “Thanks, Jaejoong.”
            She had one of the sweetest grins that Jaejoong had ever witnessed. It was one of those smiles that she would have flashed at Rhett. Jaejoong felt the heaviness in his chest dissipate. There was hope at last. There was a chance that he could have the life he wanted with her by his side. With her, he could be complete. He just needed her, and that was all.

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