Jongin leaned heavily over the railing inside the elevator, the doors sliding shut silently and ascending above the ground. He stared blankly out of the glass walls of the elevator, watching the people down below grow smaller and smaller as he rose rapidly to the twentieth floor where his office was located.
If he had his way, he wouldn’t be seeing what looked like a million people scurrying across the white sandstone of the lobby at this ungodly hour of the morning. If he had his way, he wouldn’t have to be up at seven in the fucking morning, choosing outfits just to attend some boring morning meeting with the board.
He sighed heavily, yawning. If Kim Jongin just had his own damned way, he wouldn’t even have to come into the office all the time, were it not for his overly hardworking PA, Sehun, who constantly pestered him on his personal number and informed him of every other meeting the board wanted to hold every other day. Jongin didn’t even know why he decided to attending this meeting. He supposed it was because Suho had personally called him up and pleaded with him for him to come. Suho never usually did that.
The elevator came to a stop and dinged. Jongin heaved himself away from the railing of the elevator, eyes lingering at the lobby below him. There were more people working in this building than he thought. Do I really support all of these people financially? He thought wonderingly.
His eyes shifted upwards for a brief moment as the doors slid open, inviting him to take a step out onto the lobby.
He would’ve walked through and greeted Sehun with a brusque good morning at his desk just eight steps away from the elevator, were it not for the fact that he noticed a man—no, a boy really, from his stature—at the opposite side of the building. And he would’ve brushed away the sight of it as soon as he saw it, except the boy had a smart phone lifted to block his face, its camera focused directly on Jongin.
As soon as he saw the smart phone, Jongin immediately thought paparazzi. But this was the twentieth floor; how would any of the sleazy reporters get in through all the tight security? Another pressing question came to mind: why was he snapping a picture of Jongin?
The boy seemed to realize Jongin was staring blatantly at him through the glass walls of the elevator. He visibly gasped and turned at once on his heel, smart phone gripped tightly in one hand as he marched in the other direction.
Jongin frowned. That was… unexpected.
“Jongin? Jongin, are you listening to me? Jongin, will you just step outta the elevator already?” someone said in exasperation, grabbing Jongin by the arm and tugging him out of the elevator just as the doors began to slid shut.
He whipped his head around, expecting to see Sehun (How dare he grab me out of my own elevator, Jongin mentally huffed), but it was Suho, rattling off about being late and scowling at him.
“Who—Wait, did you see that kid just now?” Jongin asked, frowning as he tried to see if the boy was still walking in the other direction, where an elevator for regular employees was located.
Suho blinked midsentence, leaning back just a bit to look past the elevator. Whoever that kid was had fast feet. He had already disappeared off to who knew where, to Jongin’s disappointment.
“What boy? What was he doing?” Suho frowned. Jongin removed Suho’s hand from his suit. It was Ralph Lauren, he wasn’t about to let Suho ruin it so early in the day. “Nothing, I guess. He was taking a picture of—of me,” Jongin replied, straightening out his suit jacket. Suho wasn’t dressed badly too. He was wearing Hugo Boss, that much Jongin could tell from the fit.
Suho lifted an eyebrow in mild disbelief. “Self centered much?” he said flatly. Jongin looked indignant. “I’m just telling you what I saw. It could’ve been paparazzi—”
“Oh, then how would they have gotten in without a visitor’s pass? As far as I know, no reporter’s been allowed access to the building today,” Suho answered, holding up his tablet in his hand. Too late, Jongin realized Suho’s PA was standing a little ways behind him, pretending with all his might like he wasn’t listening in.
“Baekhyun,” Jongin said dryly in greeting. Baekhyun blinked and looked at him, bowing politely. “Good morning, Mr. Kim,” he replied, a cheeky smile on his face.
Suho and Jongin had worked together far too long for Baekhyun to not be comfortable with them. He was there wherever Suho was, like a shadow, and since Jongin wasn’t the stuffy sort of guy, he had shaken hands with Baekhyun on the first day they met and said, “We’ll be seeing a lot of each other, so get cozy.” Baekhyun took his word seriously and was almost like a friend to the both of them, but still kept work and pleasure separate.
“No, don’t let Baekhyun interrupt you. What were you going to say?” Suho said in a snarky tone, folding his arms. Jongin squinted at him. “You know, just because you’re older than me doesn’t mean you get to talk like that to me. I’m still your boss,” Jongin said. Suho rolled his eyes at Jongin.
“What’re you gonna do, fire me? Besides, you don’t have that authority. Only your dad does,” Suho said, jabbing a finger at Jongin’s chest. It was Jongin’s turn to roll his eyes. Just because he knew Jongin from college and managed to climb the social ladder quickly…
“Can we talk about this while we walk to the meeting room?” Suho said, motioning down the hallway. Jongin gave a shrug of the shoulders. If the boy was gone then there was no point hanging around here. They walked together side by side with Baekhyun trailing a safe distance from them.
“He was taking pictures of me, I swear,” Jongin muttered. He knew what it was like to be on this side of the camera, there was no mistaking it. Suho wasn’t all too bothered.
“So? Did you ever consider the fact that this building is relatively new and is quite the architect’s dream?” Suho gestured around the smooth walls of the building. Yes, it was lovely, with its steel and glass finishes and all that, but the boy had had his phone directed right at Jongin. Frankly, it was hard to miss.
“What do you think, Baekhyun? Was the guy snapping pictures of Jongin here, or admiring the work of a genius?” Suho said, turning his head. Baekhyun cleared his throat. “I think the guy could’ve been admiring the view and Mr. Kim just happened to be in it.”
“Exactly,” Suho declared. Jongin didn’t understand at all. “It was just weird to see someone taking photos in here, that’s all,” he said, almost defensively. They turned a corner, where a glass walls separated a large space from the rest of the floor. About ten people or so were in the meeting room, seated around the table with their personal assistants standing against the glass walls.
Jongin caught sight of a familiar but unwelcome face about the people in the meeting room and made a face at Suho. “You didn’t tell me Yifan was coming,” he said. Suho smiled lightly, placing a hand on the door handle. “If I did, would you be here?”
Suho had a point. Jongin had no idea Yifan was going to be here, otherwise he’d be sleeping peacefully on his bed. His father wanted to expand the company into China and open up a few factories to manufacture microchips in Guangzhou. Apparently collaborating with Yifan, a multibillion dollar tycoon with a string of companies under his sleeve, would ensure the smoothest of transactions.
That also meant, unfortunately, buttering up the tall and handsome guy. Even for a guy, Jongin had to admit, Yifan looked like he’d be a hit with women. And that, did not slide with Jongin very well. Just something about the guy that was a little too sneaky, too calculative and menacing somehow.
Furthermore, Suho knew he didn’t like Yifan, and that was exactly why he was here at this meeting without knowing what the meeting was held for. For all he knew, it could’ve been Yifan’s birthday party (albeit a boring one).
When Suho pushed the door, everyone glanced up at them, and most stood up to greet Jongin. Baekhyun gave an overall bow to them and stood aside with the rest of the PAs, mingling with Minseok and welcoming Tao to Korea.
Jongin on the other hand, bowed to most of the board members; old, balding men or middle aged women with thin lips and an indifferent air to them. He greeted Jongdae, the lawyer who was more or less the middle man between Jongin and Yifan, and then shook hands with Yifan, who gave him a warm smile that didn’t meet his eyes.
“Hello, Wu, good to see you. Thank you for coming all the way out here,” Jongin said, smiling back. Yifan lifted an eyebrow, and this time his smile was amused. “No, thank you for coming, Mr. Kim. I was starting to wonder if morning meetings were a problem for you,” he replied.
Just that playful jab, that one remark and it soured Jongin’s mood completely. Yifan knew next to nothing about what Jongin was really like, had only heard of ridiculous rumors floating around. So what if Jongin liked coming into the office only during the afternoons, if he ever came in? It wasn’t like there were tons of things for him to do; Suho and Sehun did their jobs very well. That much he could admit. The company wasn’t falling into shambles anyway, so really, what was the big deal about morning meetings?
“It won’t be a problem for me if it isn’t a problem for you,” Jongin said jokingly, and Yifan laughed on cue, even though it really wasn’t all that funny. It was just small talk between two people who wanted nothing more from each other than good business and money. Besides, Jongin didn’t want to let Yifan get an upper hand on him.
“Shall we all sit down and get started?” Jongdae said brightly. Sehun, who had been lingering in the background, moved towards Jongin and handed him a tablet, as well as a folder filled with papers.
Yifan and Jongin exchanged a few words before they sat down at their respective seats. Jongin sat at the end of the table while Jongdae went over to the other end, carrying an easel with a black cloth over it and placed it at the head of the table. While he set up his things with Minseok, Jongin powered up his tablet— which was fully charged, God bless Sehun—and read the note Sehun had left on the tablet for him.
‘Check in the folder and read everything I’ve highlighted for you. I’ve written a little something for you to say at the end of the meeting just in case. Good luck.’
Jongin did as Sehun told him to and pulled out all of the papers, skimming through most of them. In a nutshell, Yifan was updating them on the progress of opening those factories in Guangzhou, and wanted to bring to Jongin’s attention the amount of money he had invested so far.
Ten million dollars and counting, Jongin noted. The accounts seemed to add up, as Sehun noted with a pencil over the papers, and that was satisfactory for Jongin. The last piece of paper was a short speech, just a few obligatory words of thanks here and there. Jongin was going to have to throw a bonus at Sehun sometime; he had done all of Jongin’s homework for him.
Jongdae started off his talk while Yifan listened rather intently, whereas his assistant looked deadly bored behind him. Jongin listened for awhile, but there was nothing Jongdae said that wasn’t on the papers already, so he just read through everything Sehun had highlighted in yellow for him. It was all dreadfully dry and did not capture much of Jongin’s interest.
Halfway through the meeting, while Jongdae was going through the accounts, the boy with the smart phone suddenly popped up in Jongin’s mind again. Was he really just taking photos of the elevator Jongin was in?
There wasn’t much to it, but maybe it freaked the freak out of that boy’s mind with its architectural beauty. Or maybe he wanted a private elevator for his own use as well. Chanyeol wanted one too, and always brought it up whenever he came to the office with Jongin for fun.
The possibilities were endless, Jongin soon realized, but he knew it couldn’t be too hard to find out who he was. If he was in the building, then that meant he was either an employee or a visitor. Jongin hoped he was a visitor; it’d make him a damned sight easier to find.
While everyone was absorbed with Jongdae’s absolutely fascinating talk, Jongin decided to start up the tablet in his hands and look through the list of visitors who were supposed to come in today and who were usually welcome to the building, like temporary interns or janitors. Jongin suspected the boy wouldn’t be on the VIP list like Yifan was; if he was a VIP, he’d be in this boring meeting as well.
Jongin read through the list carefully, picking out any familiar names. There were pictures of the visitors included in the list, which helped somewhat, even if Jongin never did see the boy’s face. None of the visitors who were supposed to come in today popped out at Jongin. The men were either too well built or too skinny to even be the guy.
So maybe he’s a nobody in the company, Jongin thought. A nobody as in: someone who worked nine to five, five days a week like clockwork without ever standing out from the rest. That just made everything harder, but at least Jongin knew he wasn’t just some visitor. The boy wasn’t just taking his photo because he was the Kim Jongin; he was taking photos because he knew it was the Kim Jongin.
Nobodies meant one of those hundred little ants Jongin had seen at the lobby today, and just the thought of looking through the entire list of all 5000 plus employees dimmed his momentary good mood. Maybe he’s a janitor, Jongin thought, bringing up another list.
But the boy was dressed in proper pants and a blue collared shirt. Jongin knew, at the very minimum, what the janitors here were dressed like. Most of the employees here who weren’t working in the offices had uniforms, and the boy was most definitely not wearing a uniform. He scrolled through the list without really looking through them, sighing heavily.
“…that’s it. Er, Mr. Kim, would you like to have a word?”
Jongin jerked up in response. Suho gave him a pointed look like, were you watching porn? Jongin switched his tablet off and grabbed the papers in front of him, pretending to flip through them like he’d been in deep thought the entire time. Yifan watched Jongin with an amused look.
“I’d say good job, Jongdae, on the presentation, and um, thank you to Yifan for working so hard. Hopefully everything will continue this smoothly,” Jongin started to say dismissively. That was when Suho swooped in to rescue Jongin.
“And so it’s an okay then? We’ll go to London and sign the contract?” Suho said, lifting his eyebrows at Jongin. Was that a yes? Jongin had to assume so. It looked like a yes. “Yes, definitely. London. Who doesn’t like it there?” Jongin joked. The board members laughed a little.
Jongdae nodded while he laughed. “Very well then. I’ll email all of you the details once everything is sorted out, and we might be able to close this contract at the end of this month,” Jongdae said.
Jongin didn’t even know what contract he was talking about, but nodded anyway. With that, the meeting was summed up and everyone started to stand, collecting their things. Jongin tucked his tablet under his arm while he stood up, grabbing all the papers into a flurried mess and shoved them back into the plastic folder.
Some people had a few things to discuss with one another, but Jongin wasn’t one of them. As soon as Jongin shook hands with Yifan, a woman came up to him to speak with Yifan, giving Jongin a chance to tap Sehun on the shoulder to follow him while he made his escape from the meeting room.
Sehun walked briskly after him. “Office, before he sees you,” he muttered. Jongin’s shoes clicked against the floor of the building. He still was more than halfway to his office, and he could already hear Yifan’s voice slowly getting louder from behind him.
“I won’t make it,” Jongin mouthed to Sehun without opening his mouth. “Pretend you need to make a call. I’ll stall him,” Sehun said, before he turned around to face Yifan.
Jongin could hear the surprise and protest in Yifan’s voice when Sehun said, “Mr. Wu, it has been a delightful honor to have you here. Will you require any transportation back to your hotel?” Yifan had to stop in his tracks while Jongin made his way towards his office, apparently oblivious to Yifan behind him.
“Mr. Kim? May I have a word?” he called, ignoring Sehun. Jongin pretended to turn around and point at his office, making a regretful face at Yifan.
“Mr. Kim needs to make a few calls. He’s very busy, you see,” Sehun said politely. Tao stared daggers at Sehun while he waited for Yifan to give up. Yifan gave a humph, straightening his jacket sleeves.
“I do see. Well, if Mr. Kim cannot make time for me now, perhaps he can fit a brunch or dinner into his busy schedule before I have to take my private jet and fly back to China tonight, at midnight the latest. Will you let him know and have your people contact mine to see if we can talk business before I go?”
“Of course, sir. Now, will you need a limo, a reservation for lunch…?” Sehun’s voice faded away while Jongin successfully walked past Sehun’s desk and dumped his things on a second assistant, some boy whose name he couldn’t remember, taking only the tablet with him. “Good morning, sir,” the boy said meekly.
Jongin barely glanced at him. “You’re new, right?” he asked, walking backwards towards his door. The boy nodded at Jongin, clutching the folder with all the papers sticking out of it. “Got a job for you. Will you bring up the security footage on my computer?”
“Which camera, sir?” he enquired eagerly. Jongin pointed towards the elevator’s direction. “Any camera facing the opposite side of the elevator will do. Give me all the footage from… Say, the past hour,” Jongin said, feeling the sliding door behind him. The door slid open when he bumped into it, and he took a step inwards.
“Hey, I’m counting on you,” he called, just as the frosted glass door slid close with a hiss. The boy yelled back ‘I’m on it’ so Jongin took him for his word, and faced his office, walking to his desk. The glass walls around him gave him a great view of the city, and now that Seoul was baked in sunshine, Jongin felt just a tiny bit better about today. Maybe he could stay in the office, chat with Suho a little bit and call Chanyeol to meet up for lunch later on.
He pulled back his leather office chair, sat in it and leaned back with a groan. His office wasn’t very entertaining unless one wanted to take his shoes off and leave his socks on to ‘skate’ on the slick black tiled floors (Chanyeol did that once for fun), but it had internet and a very comfortable seat. These two things weren’t too bad when put together. Jongin spun in his seat while the computer booted up, a thin layer of dust over the screen.
Have to get the cleaning lady in later, he mused, staring over the horizon. The computer screen soon popped up and some windows opened up at once. Jongin clicked on a few icons, and a video started playing. It was the security footage from fifty five minutes ago according to the time stamp.
This video was facing the elevator but it was placed at an angle from above so that it captured a bit of the opposite side of the building as well. Jongin couldn’t remember how close the boy came to the elevator to take his picture, but there was no harm in checking this video out. He watched his elevator arrive at the floor and saw himself staring down at the floors below. A bit of movement from the top left of the screen caught his eye and he saw a pair of Converse sneakers just as the image of himself noticed it as well.
The boy didn’t move any closer, unfortunately, and took off without ever revealing his face to the camera. Jongin closed the window at once, clicking on another icon. This time, the camera wasn’t facing his elevator, but he could see it on the left side of the screen.
For a while, nothing happened but soon he saw the boy’s figure appear on the screen, only to stop in his tracks right before the camera could capture his face. He stood rooted at a spot where the ground from the twenty first floor came into view and blocked a bit of the opposite side of the floor, thus cutting the boy’s face off till the neck.
Damn, Jongin thought. Almost had him.
Jongin watched for at least fifteen seconds while the boy stood there, holding his phone out towards the elevator. He must’ve seen me on the ground floor, Jongin realized. The boy had waited with his phone held out for far too long for it to be a coincidence. He was definitely waiting for Jongin to arrive at the twentieth floor.
Was he some kind of sick stalker? Jongin wasn’t even a celebrity to begin with. Why yes, he was rich and was friends with a few celebrities he’d met at clubs or parties with Chanyeol, but that didn’t mean he was as recognizable as them. It just didn’t work that way.
The thought of the boy actually being a stalker sickened him. He knew Jongin would arrive at the twentieth floor without hesitation, which would mean he was definitely working in the building under Accuretta Systems.
Just as he moved his mouse to the little x, he saw the boy turn on his heel and his lower half of his face momentarily came into view. Jongin quickly paused the video and replayed it again, trying to see if it was someone he could recognize.
The boy had very pale skin, from what he could tell from his cheeks, as well as a pair of rather plump lips. It was strange to see such cherry lips on a boy; Jongin had seen these sort of lips on models who were genuine fakes; plastic girls with plastic noses, plastic boobs and Botox injected everywhere into their bodies. If Jongin didn’t know better, he’d think it was a girl cross-dressing as a boy.
Maybe it is a girl, he thought. Jongin looked closer to see if there was a chance that the boy could’ve been a girl, but his answer came soon enough when he replayed the footage enough times to notice that the person had a very defined jaw line. He was no expert, but it looked more like a guy than a girl.
“JONGIN,” Suho’s voice suddenly hollered. Jongin closed all the windows on his computer in fright and looked up. The door slid aside as Suho leaned on the doorframe, squinting at him.
“Where were you?” he asked curtly.
“At the meeting. I believe you were there too,” Jongin replied coolly. Suho stepped into the office, looking around. There wasn’t much in Jongin’s office other than a small wet bar on the right side of the door and his reinforced glass desk. Suho pulled up one of the seats in front of Jongin and plopped into it, propping his legs up on his desk.
“Don’t kick my name plaque down,” Jongin said lightly, leaning back into his seat as well. He wasn’t CEO officially yet, but it was good to have a name on his desk. Made Jongin feel like it wasn’t a complete waste of time to be in the office, if ever.
“What brings you here?” he muttered. Suho motioned to him with his chin. “What brings you in here? Don’t tell me you feel like earning the money you spend,” Suho said snidely.
Jongin huffed at him. “Actually, I’m here to overlook all of you while you earn the money that I spend. And since we’re going to London soon, you’ll have to work hard to pay for the expenses.”
Suho sighed. “Ah, London. You know, Yifan wanted to have you and me for lunch to talk about London. I told him that you were going to be busy for the past few days since—”
“As you should. I will always be too busy for that tall bastard,” Jongin said. Suho snorted in response. “He’s not as bad as you might think, y’know. I’ve been to lunch with him before, and he’s not all business—”
“But he should be. I don’t want to be friends with him,” Jongin said petulantly. Suho sighed, looking at him. “Look, just because he refused your offer that one time to go to a club—”
“Nobody says no to a club,” Jongin said, offended. He had taken up one of Yifan’s offers to dinner once and wanted to end the night with some fun, only to have Yifan refuse to enter the most famous hostess club in Seoul, Club Red. It was then Jongin knew that Yifan was uptight and very proper, and they wouldn’t blend well if they went any further than business.
“I don’t like hostesses,” Suho said, pointing at himself.
“No you don’t, but you do like hookers,” Jongin teased. Suho rolled his eyes. Jongin loved the chase, while Suho only wanted girls when he needed to let off steam. Jongin preferred to let the tension build till the girl could take it no more and bring her to life under his touch. It was that much more satisfying for both of them and hey. At least he’d get his money’s worth out of her.
“Hostesses are only after money. I’m just a no-strings-attached kind of guy,” Suho said nonchalantly. Jongin thought Suho looked quite the contrary; he was always dressed well, always had a smile for almost anyone walking past him and a very easy going nature. That façade obviously faded away once Jongin really got to know him in college. This dude could chug down a six pack without batting an eyelash.
Jongin agreed. “I’m not in it for a relationship too, but it’s just,” he shrugged, smiling. “It’s easier to talk to a girl when she already knows who you are.”
“Well. I don’t know if the girls in London know who you are but if Yifan invites you out in London, for Christ’s sake, Jongin, please say yes,” Suho said, throwing his head back in exasperation. “What if he pulls out of this deal? He’s the best and we won’t be able to start up those factories this year if I have to look for someone else in China.”
Jongin sighed. “Fine then. Wanna go out with him today? Chanyeol will have to come though, so that I’ll have a reason to leave early,” Jongin said. Chanyeol was bound to want to go shopping today; he was complaining how he couldn’t seem to find any clothes that he had never worn before in his closet. Suho thought about it. “Call Yifan up and see. I could do lunch,” Suho offered.
Jongin picked up the phone, tapping a button. Sehun picked up on the other line almost immediately. “Sir?” he said crisply.
“Sehun, Suho and I are thinking of meeting Yifan up for lunch. Should we go?” Jongin asked. Sehun snorted on the other end. “I’m your PA, I can arrange that but whether you should go or not isn’t my place to say.”
“Since when did you become such a little kitty, Sehun? You used to be really snarky before,” Jongin teased, wriggling his eyebrows at Suho. He laughed a little, listening to Jongin’s conversation.
“I like how much my boss pays me. Maybe you’d like it too, if you worked a little harder to meet Yifan on his terms,” Sehun muttered.
“Ah, now that’s the Sehun I know. You should come too, y’know. I think I’ll bring Chanyeol, just so I have an excuse to leave.”
“Okay. Shall I call him up or do you want to make the call personally?” Sehun asked.
“I’ll call. Remember what happened the last time you made a call?”
“Yes. It was not a pleasant memory,” Sehun replied frostily. Jongin laughed. “I’ll call the guy. Arrange lunch with Yifan,” Jongin said. Sehun hung up without so much as a goodbye.
“Do you have bourbon?” Suho asked, scratching his chin thoughtfully while admiring Jongin’s wet bar. He lifted an eyebrow. “Seems a lil’ early for bourbon,” he said, digging out his phone from his jacket pocket because Chanyeol was a bitch and didn’t want to take Jongin’s company calls.
“I’m your friend, I don’t have to go through your PA if you want to fucking see me,” Chanyeol had yelled at Sehun (as a message to pass on to Jongin) before. That was after Sehun had called him up on Jongin’s behalf to arrange a night out with a few girls. And it wasn’t even like he didn’t know Sehun; they all went to the same college and graduated together.
“If we’re going to lunch with Chanyeol, I’m going to need it,” Suho said, getting up to get himself a drink. Jongin shrugged, dialing Chanyeol up. “Help yourself.”
The phone rang a few times in Jongin’s ear before someone picked up.
“This is Chanyeol.”
“Who answers the phone like that?” Jongin asked.
“Me. What do you want, I’m trying to see if there’s anything I can wear for tonight’s date in the closet, and let me tell you, this isn’t looking pretty.”
“The girl or your situation?”
“Both. No one is prettier than me. But seriously, why are you calling?”
“Let me treat you to lunch and we can shop for an outfit for you after that. How does that sound?”
“Is Sehun going to be there?”
Jongin frowned and told Chanyeol to hold on. “Sehun, are you coming to the lunch with us?” Jongin called towards the door. There was a momentary pause before Sehun replied, “You’re an idiot.”
“Ah. Chanyeol, are you there? He says yes,” Jongin said to Chanyeol. Glass clinked while Suho poured himself and Jongin a drink. “Why does it matter?” Jongin asked, waving at Suho and holding up two fingers at him when he picked out a few ice cubes into the glasses.
“It matters because then I know what to wear,” Chanyeol replied. Something rustled on his end of the line; it sounded like a crushed plastic bag.
“Well, he’ll be there so. Dress properly, ‘cause Wu is gonna be there. You remember Wu, don’t you?” Jongin asked. Chanyeol made a noise of appraisal in his throat. “No, but okay.”
“Cool. I’ll text you the time later.”
“I was talking to my stylist. Is Wu the really tall Chinese guy with really great eyebrows?”
“You have a stylist?” Jongin asked, a little shocked. Someone actually helped Chanyeol dress the way he did? If dressing in wrong clothes for all the wrong occasions was a crime, Chanyeol would be on death row.
“Who do you think arranges my shoes according to color? I tell you for free, it is not me. And yeah, text me the time and place later. There’s an emergency, I can’t seem to find my feather boa,” Chanyeol said, sounding a bit distressed as he clicked off.
“Chanyeol has a stylist,” Jongin stated slowly, putting the phone down on the table. “And a feather boa,” Jongin added, frowning. Suho returned with a glass of bourbon for Jongin and sipped at his own. “I know. Don’t you?” Suho replied mildly, sitting down once more before Jongin.
Jongin took the drink, swirling it around in the glass a few times. “Well I do, but. How does Chanyeol’s stylist style him? Is it even considered style to wear tight leather pants and a fur coat in summer?” Suho and Jongin stared into blank space while drinking their bourbon, both wondering what Chanyeol’s stylist’s life must be like. They were silent for so long, Jongin could almost hear the sound of Sehun working grumpily on his computer outside.
“Wanna get some food from the cafeteria?” Suho said when they were done with their drinks, patting his own stomach. Jongin stood up to leave. “Why not?” he replied nonchalantly, motioning for Suho to get up. Breakfast was starting to go down and lunch was probably in the late afternoon.
They left the office and Jongin handed his tablet to Sehun when they were outside. “I’ll be back for this later. I hope you still love me,” Jongin pouted at Sehun. His stoic friend glared at him. “What’s with you? Get out if you wanna eat or something so I can do your job.”
This wasn’t the friend Jongin met in college, who threw the craziest frat parties ever on campus and made out in public with his girlfriend whenever he was drunk. Jongin wasn’t sure what happened to him ever since he became an official adult, but patted his head before he left with Suho.
“What’s with Sehun? Did I piss him off?” Jongin said to Suho, pressing a button to open the elevator doors.
“He missed an episode of Mad Men last night ‘cause he was highlighting those reports for you. Said it completely slipped his mind and he totally forgot to record it,” Suho explained. Sehun could still hear them and called, “It was the series finale!”
Jongin nodded in comprehension. “Well, I’ll thank him later for doing my homework,” Jongin said as the elevator doors opened. He stepped in first and briefly considered making Suho take another elevator. This was his elevator after all.
Then he remembered that Suho had once punched someone so hard in the face in college that the guy only woke up two days later just because he stained a copy of his One Piece manga. Maybe not today, Jongin thought. He made way for Suho in the elevator.
“So where was that guy standing?” Suho asked, pressing the button for the ground floor. Jongin turned and pointed at the opposite side of the building. There was no one there, although Jongin half expected the boy to still be standing there.
“Huh. Pretty obvious place to sneak a photo of you, don’t you think?” Suho asked.
“Oh, so you believe me now, that the guy was snapping photos of me?”
“Your assistant needed help in pulling some security footage. I just took a peek,” Suho said nonchalantly. Jongin smirked. “I did think he was doing a bit too well. Anyway, so you totally saw the way the boy waited for my elevator to come up, right? It’s pretty creepy, now that I think about it,” Jongin said, a little shiver running down his spine.
Suho wasn’t as creeped out. “I dunno. Maybe he thinks you’re hot,” Suho said flatly. Jongin nudged him on the shoulder playfully. “Stop. If he’s a stalker then it’s not that bad, but a gay stalker? I can’t even hate the guy now,” Jongin laughed.
“I’m just saying there are all kinds of freaks out there, y’know? And he wouldn’t be a stalker if he wasn’t gay about ya, right?” Suho joked, glancing up at Jongin. He shrugged. “Feels weird to think he’s gay, man. I’m starting to like the idea of him snapping pictures of the building.”
They laughed, exiting the elevator once it stopped on the ground floor.
Lunch with Yifan was an absolute disaster.
First of all, Jongin wasn’t familiar with the menu. He didn’t like eating at unfamiliar places because that would mean he was at the mercy of the chefs in the kitchen, and God damn, did he hate the spicy steamed fish with garlic and chili Yifan had ordered. Jongin had tears in his eyes by the time he finished chewing a small piece of the fish, and they weren’t tears of happiness.
Second, Chanyeol arrived late. Worse, he came dressed in a rhinestone studded suit made by Jeremy Scott or some other flamboyant male designer. And it was pink rhinestones, so it was impossible for Yifan not to be surprised. Jongin was not entirely familiar with the code of dressing one was supposed to follow on casual business lunches, but pink, sparkly suits somehow did not seem appropriate.
The last disastrous point to wrap up the disastrous lunch was that Yifan’s assistant had tagged along, only to sit stonily beside Yifan like a stern mother-in-law observing her future in-laws, finding them incompetent in her eyes, particularly Chanyeol.
Jongin felt mostly uncomfortable throughout the lunch, and was sure Suho and Sehun shared the same sentiment. They were either shifty, tapping on their cups of tea far too nervously or talking too much. Chanyeol was a bit smug because he thought Tao loved his outfit, and acted normally (as normal as he could manage) in front of Yifan and his oh-so-cuddly assistant.
Yifan on the other hand was pleasant enough and was sincerely eager to maintain a good relationship with Jongin for future business opportunities. “For both of us,” he had said warmly, holding up a cup of hot tea for a toast.
Jongin scalded himself when he bumped their cups together for the toast. He almost whispered a prayer of thanks to God when Yifan called for the bill and paid with his card.
“Yes, I think we should,” Jongin declared, practically jumping out of his seat. Each of them stood up slowly, smoothening out the creases in their expensive suits. Chanyeol’s pink suit glittered at Jongin whenever he moved, which was rather distracting. Jongin was already looking forward to the next alcoholic drink of the day.
Yifan was exceedingly polite when they had to part ways. He shook hands with Jongin while they spoke. “It’s been good to talk, Mr. Kim. May I call you Jongin?” he said hesitantly.
“It’d be weird if you didn’t,” Chanyeol butted in. Jongin eyed him and his sparkly suit.
Luckily, Yifan laughed good naturedly and waved a hand. “Let’s not be too formal, Jongin. I just wanted you to know that if you need someone with relations in China, I am a mere phone call away. I see great potential in your company and in you, and I’d love to be part of your journey to success.”
Jongin wondered where Yifan learned to be so eloquent in Korean. Even Sehun couldn’t speak this well.
“That’s good to hear… Yifan. May I call you Yifan?” Jongin asked. Yifan released his hand, flashing a million dollar smile as his Cadillac drove up beside them. “Of course, Jongin.” He sounded almost fatherly. Jongin almost expected Yifan to say, ‘Sure, sonny boy’. He shook hands with Sehun, Suho and Chanyeol as well, exchanging a few friendly words with them.
“Send my regards to your father, mm?” Yifan said. Tao opened the car door for him and he stepped in, tipping two fingers towards Jongin. “Definitely. Thank you for the lunch, Yifan. And of course, for your work in China.”
Yifan flashed them one more blinding smile before the car door slammed shut and Tao bowed stiffly at them. “Been a pleasure. We will see you soon,” he said monotonously. If Jongin didn’t know better, he’d think Tao was jealous of the fact that Yifan smiled at them. Chanyeol waved cheerfully in oblivion as Tao got in the car as well, and they soon drove off.
“That went well,” Chanyeol sighed. “You know, I think Yifan might be great to introduce to my dad as well. Sehunnie, do you have his name card or something?” Chanyeol asked. His father owned a pharmaceutical company; very tricky business but a lucrative one.
“I don’t answer to that name anymore, and yes, I’ll e-mail your people once I get back to the office,” Sehun said somewhat sourly, drawing out a phone to call for the driver.
“What, you’re not coming with us to shop for clothes?” Jongin said, sounding close to whiny. Contrary to what Chanyeol said on the phone, they were closer to each other than Jongin was with Chanyeol. Whenever those two did go out together, they would always paint the town red. Besides, they were just better as four.
“I’m going back because I actually earn a living, and Suho is coming too. Right?” Sehun looked at Suho for confirmation. Suho was unfazed. “There’re some things I need to do, yeah. You guys will be alright together, right?”
Jongin pouted at them. “We barely go out together anymore.”
“Sure we do. Chanyeol, wanna come with us to London in a few weeks?” Suho said lightly. Sehun muttered a few words into his phone, casting a glance around the area. Their car was not to be seen.
“Of course. We’ll need to shop for clothes then,” Chanyeol said, turning to Jongin. He shrugged. “I’m up for shopping. Anything but staying in the office all day.”
“Some people do work, y’know,” Suho laughed, digging out his sunnies and putting them on. Jongin laughed along. His father may have been grooming him to become the successor of Accuretta Systems, but for now, Jongin was content with throwing his duties to Sehun and Suho. They were really good at it since they’d started working in the company long before Jongin’s father suddenly decided he wanted the next man of the house to take over the company rather than his two, much more capable elder sisters.
One of them was a fashion designer and another was pursuing her PhD in Europe. Jongin acquiesced to his father’s wishes since he wasn’t really sure who or what he wanted to be. Again, Sehun and Suho were there to help him, and so far they were doing fine. Jongin would learn to be CEO someday, just not now.
“I’m not the only one who doesn’t work,” he replied, nudging Chanyeol in the sparkly ribs. “Careful, I don’t want any of the rhinestones to fall off,” Chanyeol said, checking to see if there was one less sparkling rhinestone on his suit.
“You’re both a waste of time, to be honest,” Sehun said dryly. “Don’t get smart with me, I’m trying to get into my shopping mood,” Chanyeol held out a hand into Sehun’s face. He slapped it away, making a face of disgust.
“But someone doesn’t think Jongin is a waste of time. Did he mention to you guys about his stalker?” Suho said, tucking his hands into his pockets when the wind blew through the streets. Spring in Seoul was chilly, but Jongin didn’t really mind. He liked the cool wind on his skin.
Chanyeol’s eyebrows shot up and disappeared behind his fringe. Sehun looked like he wanted to be anywhere but here. “He has a stalker? On Instagram or…?”
“Real life,” Suho replied for Jongin. Chanyeol wowed silently, staring at Jongin with wide eyes. A bit scary if one stared at his face too long. “Who is it?” he asked excitedly. Jongin shrugged his shoulders. “No idea. Never got the chance to see his face.”
“Was he the guy on the security footage you were watching this morning?” Sehun asked. Jongin nodded.
“Tried to sneak a photo of me. I saw him, and before I could even pose he ran off. CCTV didn’t help,” Jongin said dismissively. Chanyeol furrowed his eyebrows. “Why would you watch the CCTV? Are you morbidly intrigued by him or something?” Chanyeol asked. Two familiar cars turned down into the street. One of them was Jongin’s company ride, a sleek Rolls Royce while Chanyeol’s personal ride was a large Range Rover, silver with gigantic wheels.
“He works in my building. Couldn’t be that hard to find him but his face didn’t show up on camera,” Jongin shrugged, eyeing Chanyeol’s Range Rover suspiciously. Chanyeol caught his line of view and smirked.
“I know what you’re gonna say. ‘Chanyeol, that’s a really sick ride’.”
“No. What made you think of buying a Range Rover? I don’t think anyone in Korea actually drives one,” Jongin said, puzzled. People like them usually spent their money on European luxury cars, not large, bulky Range Rovers with tires half the size of a tiny Smart car. They weren’t exactly uncommon on the road, but Jongin never took Chanyeol as someone who would go around in a Range Rover.
“All the rich kids in Beverly Hills have one. I thought I’d take a page outta their books,” Chanyeol shrugged.
“You’re in Seoul,” Suho frowned. Sehun nodded. “My thoughts exactly.”
“But it’s nice,” Chanyeol argued. The two cars approached them and came to a halt with their indicators on. Jongin and Chanyeol piled into the gigantic Range Rover while Suho waved at them and joined Sehun in the Rolls Royce. Jongin thought Suho always matched the Rolls Royce better than Jongin ever did. No, Jongin was more of a sports car kind of guy, something flashy and fast whereas Suho was a black Lamborghini, the kind of ride that awed people and lingered in their minds.
Suho should be the one with the stalker, Jongin thought amusedly. Jongin wasn’t the sort of guy one could obsess over without getting hurt in some way. “Driver,” Chanyeol called, crossing his legs and putting sunglasses on. “Let’s go.”
Jongin sank into his seat, sighing happily. There was a glass of sparkling champagne in one hand and his tablet—hooked to the jet’s Wi-Fi—in the other. Flying in his private jet was never this good. Flying in his private jet never felt any better than this.
After a long wait at the airport thanks to Chanyeol who couldn’t find his ‘other’ black leather jacket (“Not the one I always wear, the one with all the zippers on it!”), Sehun, Suho, Jongin, Chanyeol and Baekhyun got into the company’s private jet (technically Jongin’s dad’s jet, but what was his was Jongin’s anyway) and were off, on their way to Heathrow Airport.
Yifan had called a few days ago to say that the trip to London was an okay, and that he’d be there to meet them and introduce Mr. Fitzgerald to Jongin, a man who was somehow important to the factories opening up in Guangzhou, although how exactly, Jongin still wasn’t sure. Suho and Sehun hadn’t explained anything to Jongin yet, but since they had to go to London, they did. Travelling with his three good friends was always fun.
And Chanyeol ended up wearing his go-to leather jacket anyway, which incidentally also had a lot of zippers on it. Jongin wasn’t sure how the other leather jacket would look different in London, but then again no one ever questioned Chanyeol’s taste for a good reason.
They were served chilled champagne by a charming stewardess—in the morning, honestly—but Jongin did not refuse. As long as he wasn’t drunk by midday, a little alcohol never hurt anyone. Most of them took the glasses of champagne from the stewardess and sipped at them gingerly except for Suho, who was ‘on his meds’.
“I take these red ginseng pills every morning and they don’t work if I drink two hours after I’ve taken them,” Suho said uneasily, eyeing the glass in Jongin’s hand, which was already half empty. “You drank bourbon the other day,” Jongin pointed out, swirling the translucent liquid around in its flute.
“Recently started taking red ginseng pills,” Suho corrected himself. “And what effect are they supposed to have on you? Warning, side effects include bad taste in airport fashion,” Chanyeol said, getting all snarky. Even Sehun looked up and snorted at that.
“What’s wrong with my clothes?” Suho said indignantly. Everything was wrong about it. Chanyeol had texted all of them (even Baekhyun) to wear casual formal clothes, and most of them acceded to his instructions. Of course, different rules apply to Chanyeol since his idea of casual formal is usually different from others, and had arrived in said leather jacket, black jeans and a T-shirt with Notorious B.I.G. printed on it. Suho, on the other hand, came in a matching sky blue two piece outfit, and had his knees out on display. It was spring in Seoul, for God’s sake. The rest of them came in V-necks or tees with suit jackets. Chanyeol approved all of their outfits except for Suho, apparently.
“No guy shows his knees unless he’s one, a K-pop idol. I sense that you work in the corporate world and that your salary is not at the mercy of teenage girls getting horny over your legs. I will say, however, that you do have a lovely singing voice when we karaoke. And two, are you a model? With your height? One thousand percent no. And lastly, are you going to the beach? No. IT’S LONDON PRINTED ON THE BOARDING PASS, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.”
Suho looked mightily offended. “Well what do you suggest I do?” he asked stiffly smoothening out imaginary creases on his shorts. He was the oldest out of all of them, for Christ’s sake. Jongin didn’t understand why he didn’t see what was wrong with this outfit.
“Take my glass of champagne, drink all of it and tell me what you think of your outfit,” Chanyeol said, handing his glass to Suho. The stewardess who was lingering somewhere behind them appeared with a new glass of champagne and quickly passed it on to Chanyeol, murmuring that other light refreshments would soon be served.
Suho took the glass and downed all of it, his throat bobbing as he swallowed. Sehun and Baekhyun were too busy playing some online game against each other, but Jongin was far too entertained with the scene in front of him to read the article on his tablet just yet. Suho placed the glass down on a tray just as the plane shuddered, going over a cloud or something like that. Jongin felt the champagne in his hand tremble, but the rest of them didn’t seem to notice.
“I knew it was a bad idea to wear knee length shorts in spring,” Suho muttered. Chanyeol stood up and whooped, clapping his hands loudly like he was expecting an encore. Jongin couldn’t help laughing while Suho palmed his face in despair, drumming his fingers on the tray beside him. Sehun looked up at Chanyeol blankly.
“Could you sit down? It’s very distracting to have your arms flailing like that above my head,” he said politely. Sehun was only ever polite when he was annoyed, so Chanyeol toned it down a notch, settling back into his seat and patted Suho over the back. “The first step to rehabilitation is to admit you have a problem,” he said kindly.
“I’ll change into a different pair of pants later. I can’t believe I let my stylist talk me into wearing this,” Suho said sadly, looking down at his knees. “I mean look at my legs! They’re so pasty and white,” he said, stretching out his legs. Jongin was looking at his legs, and the colour of his skin wasn’t the worst part about knee length shorts.
“Have you ever thought about shaving?” Jongin asked, looking at the unruly curls growing on Suho’s calves.
“I have, but I just never got around to it. Besides, I heard it was manly to just be cool about it.”
“There’s nothing cool about your leg hair, dude. Get it shaved or I’ll never go out clubbing with you ever again,” Chanyeol threatened, staring at Suho in the eye while downing his champagne in one mouth.
“More champagne!” he roared.
A few hours later, Jongin finally got around to reading the news on his tablet over lunch. There was an earthquake in South East Asia, and thousands of people were in need of medical supplies, blankets, clean water and food. Jongin made a note to himself to donate some money to the appropriate fund; publicity was important to Accuretta Systems. Besides, if it meant helping those helpless buggers, then why not?
In a more fascinating article, the number of gay couples getting married were on the rise overseas, and the writer of the article interviewed a few locals to gain insight on their thoughts about this subject. Homosexuality was not something Asians, particularly Koreans, looked upon favorably. The younger generation generally wasn’t homophobic; they were just tentative about people liking other people of the same gender. But they were opening up, that was for sure. The older generation, on the contrary, were of course, appalled and bigoted by the idea of homosexuality.
This topic made Jongin think about his stalker, whom he hadn’t thought about since the day he saw him. Stalker boy never made a second appearance, as far as Jongin could tell. Probably realized he was in the building to work and not to take photos of me, Jongin thought. It still poked at him though; was the stalker really gay? Jongin was as straight as a flag pole just as his friends around him enjoyed all the pleasures a woman could offer. What was it about Jongin that seemed to appeal to his stalker?
“Guys, can I ask you a serious question?” Jongin said, looking up from his tablet. Chanyeol looked busy cutting up his steak but said, “Yeah, what?” Suho looked up at him, indicating that he was listening while Sehun and Baekhyun ignored him, crunching on their garlic bread.
“Oi, I’m talking to all of you,” Jongin said indignantly, hitting Sehun on the arm. Sehun chortled on his garlic bread and glared at him balefully, but at least he had their attention.
“What do you guys think about homos?” Jongin asked, poking at the pile of warm mashed potato on his plate. Sehun snorted at him. “Is that it?” he asked.
“Well, it’s a serious question,” Jongin said defensively. Chanyeol made a face. “Can I ask where did this question come from?” Suho nodded. “Yeah, Jongin. Why do you ask?”
Jongin held up his tablet for all of them to read the title of the article. “Gay couples getting married; what are your thoughts?” Chanyeol read aloud.
“Yeah. What do you guys think about it, homo jokes aside?” Jongin asked.
“Gay people are just there, man. They’ve always been there since like, forever. You know those eunuchs in the Imperial Courts in ancient China? I heard that some of them were actually gay,” Chanyeol said, putting a bit of well done steak into his mouth.
“So you’re neutral?” Jongin said. Chanyeol shrugged. “I don’t hate them. They haven’t done anything bad to me or any of us, so I don’t see why I should. Besides, gay designers make the best clothes,” Chanyeol added. That was a good point.
“What about you, Suho?” Jongin said, scooping up some mashed potato into his mouth.
Suho pursed his lips, thinking hard. “I’m going with Chanyeol on this. I don’t hate homosexuality or feel strongly about it. It’s just an issue that’s always been around and it’s never really affected us, I guess, so I can’t say that gay people are… y’know.”
“Would you guys be okay with being friends with a gay person?” Jongin asked.
“I never knew that reporting was your calling, Jongin. It really suits you,” Sehun snickered. Jongin held his sticky fork towards Sehun’s white jacket menacingly. “Answer the damn question,” he muttered, cheeks going pink.
“I have a gay friend,” Sehun said petulantly, pushing Jongin’s fork away. “And it’s not like, weird or anything. We talk like normal guys and sometimes he gives me great advice on how to dress. That’s the only thing that I’d say is different compared to talking to one of you guys.”
“’Scuse me, but I give out great advice on fashion too. For free,” Chanyeol added for emphasis. Sehun studiously ignored him.
“The point is that being gay doesn’t change anything to me. You’re still a human so why should people treat you any differently?” Sehun said nonchalantly, returning to his garlic bread. Jongin nodded in comprehension.
Baekhyun leaned over. “Can I…?”
“Yeah, go ahead,” Jongin said, gesturing for him to talk. “Okay,” Baekhyun sat up, putting his fork down. “So I used to attend an all boys school, and I didn’t really know what homosexuality was until I saw this boy being bullied. The older guys were kicking him in the guts and I just. I don’t know, I felt sorry for him at the time, I guess, so my friends and I got that kid out of trouble without knowing why he was being beat up.
Then he told me he was gay, and that someone had spilled his secret to everyone in school. He told me he wanted to kill himself by jumping over the roof, but those boys found him and guessed that he wanted to jump because everyone knew. So instead of letting him jump or saving him, they pulled him back only to beat him up and make him feel worse about himself.”
“What did you say to him?” Jongin asked, absorbed into the story.
“I told him that I didn’t know he was gay, so obviously the secret wasn’t as out there as he thought, and that that wasn’t a legit reason for those guys to bully him. I reported those guys with my friends to the school authorities and the gay guy is now a very good friend of mine,” Baekhyun smiled.
They were silent for awhile. Obviously, being gay certainly didn’t mean you were challenged in some way. And why did the gender of your preferred sexual partner matter? Whatever happens in the bedroom should obviously stay in the bedroom.
“That was a good story, Baekhyun,” Jongin said, breaking the silence. “I didn’t know what I felt about homosexuality, but I see now that it doesn’t really matter because at the end of every day, your sexual orientation doesn’t define who you are. And it shouldn’t,” Jongin said, thoughtful.
“Is this about your stalker?” Suho asked, his lips lifting up into a half smile. Jongin huffed a laugh, looking down at his lunch. “It might be. It just makes everything different if he is gay.”
“But you just said sexual orientation doesn’t matter,” Chanyeol protested. Sehun could tell the conversation was over and started chatting to Baekhyun about attending an all-boys school. “Who had the biggest dick in your class?” he asked.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s gay,” Jongin replied Chanyeol. “It only makes things different because I am straight, very straight, and stalkers do what they do because they—”
“Covet the object of their affections?” Chanyeol finished helpfully.
“’Affections’ is an understatement, but you get the point,” Jongin allowed. “I mean, he has to be attracted to me physically or something, right, enough that it makes him want to take photos of me?” Jongin said.
“I don’t think analyzing the mind of a stalker is wise,” Suho said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “He could be attracted to you or he could be a P.I., you never know. Isn’t this like, Stockholm Syndrome anyway? Empathizing with a kidnapper, or in your case, a stalker?”
“He’s human too,” Jongin argued weakly.
Chanyeol laughed light heartedly. “We’re humans too, and we’re all too complicated for any of us to fully understand one another.”
Jongin pursed his lips while waiting for Yifan and Mr. Fitzgerald. It was eleven p.m. now and Jongin had landed in London approximately three hours ago. All of them had gotten on the plane feeling excited but they had gotten off sleepy, tired and aching for a soft bed to fall asleep into. Upon arrival, they were whisked away in limos provided by Yifan himself to collect them from the airport, and were all sent to the Hilton Hotel within the hour.
Jongin sank into his bed once he was led to his suite but of course, there was none of that for now. First, they had to get ready to go out and have a quick dinner. Jongin ate in his room while his stylist, who had arrived the day before and stayed on another floor in the hotel, came in and did his hair and dabbed a bit of makeup to hide the circles around his eyes. He drank some coffee to stay up, and the caffeine was kicking in now, although he hoped all the energy he had now wasn’t about to go to waste.
The bistro they were sent to under Yifan’s orders was called Bungalow 8, located at the very top of a very tall building. It was an outdoor area so there were bright, neon lights lining the branches of thin, tall straggly trees, and the colors changed every so often, casting blue, green, pink, purple shadows on the patrons hanging around the bistro.
Sensual, husky music played over invisible speakers, setting an ethereal mood around the neon playground. Young women hung out by the bar while men ranging from adolescent to middle aged were scattered throughout the bistro; some were drinking at their own tables, some were eating by the bar and some were smoking cigarettes over the glass balcony, talking amongst themselves.
“Why is Yifan late?” Jongin complained, looking at his watch. He wanted to order a substantially stronger drink other than a Bacardi and Coke, but Sehun had advised him to hold back until Mr. Fitzgerald arrived. “You’ll have to drink and convince him to drink as well y’know, just to make him happy,” Sehun had murmured in his ear. Jongin wished he was the kind of guy who smoked. At least he’d have something better to do than to stare at London’s skyline, pretty though it was. For now, Jongin, Sehun, Suho, and Baekhyun were huddled around a tall table, standing in different positions exuding boredom while Chanyeol was already throwing back martinis at the bar, keeping a distance from them until they had a deal with Mr. Fitzgerald.
“Champagne for everyone!” he bellowed, almost slipping off his stool by accident. Jongin looked over at him wishfully, and wondered if Yifan was ever going to arrive so Jongin could just get this over with. Chanyeol looked like he was having drunken fun already, and they’d only been here for half an hour.
“He’s gonna be here soon,” Sehun muttered, looking over the edge of the balcony in distaste. He never liked getting drunk at high altitudes.
“Well, he should be. He said ten, and we were already running late, so for him to be late on us is just short of annoying,” Jongin complained, draining the last few drops of his cup. Suho was sipping at some vodka tonic, but he was doing so very sparingly. Jongin knew he was dying to just throw it all back as well.
“No, I mean he’s going to be here soon because I think I saw his ride down below,” Sehun said, nursing his bottle of cold beer in one hand. “Finally,” Jongin sighed, waving a waiter over.
“Some Cristal for all of us, please. There’ll be more people in a few minutes, so could you serve it to us when they arrive?” Jongin said in English to a young waiter, not much older than him. “Right away, sir,” the boy smiled. His British accent had a slight twang to it. Probably Irish, Jongin thought.
“I bet Mr. Fitzgerald’s gonna want more than champagne,” Baekhyun said, scrolling on his phone. Jongin frowned. “Why?”
Baekhyun handed his phone to Jongin. There were a few photos of Mr. Fitzgerald at a nightclub, arms around two Russian models while he gripped a bottle of whiskey in one hand. The man looked exactly like how his name sounded; strong, prominent features with a large pot belly sticking out from his front. His face was red in most of the photos, with a spattering of hair on his round head. Jongin read the captions below the photos: The man was in his late forties and he’d been married thrice already. He was a heavy drinker and had been arrested multiple times for driving under the influence of alcohol, but what were a few summonses when he was a multimillionaire living in London? This was news to Jongin.
“No one told me this guy was the future version of Chanyeol,” Jongin said, looking up at Suho and Sehun. “Well you know now. But no matter how his personal life looks like, he’s got killer connections, Jongin. We need him as an ally,” Suho said, motioning to the phone. Jongin looked through a few more photos before he handed the phone back to Baekhyun.
“And you’re telling me now why?” Jongin asked. Suho smirked. “If we told you any earlier, you would’ve insisted on visiting some hostess club. Then we’d never get anything done,” Suho smiled.
Jongin snorted but looked away in embarrassment. There was some truth in that, yes, but he wasn’t going to admit to that. The champagne came almost at once, along with a tray of glasses. The waiter stood beside them on standby while Jongin and Suho made their way to the elevator.
“Be nice, yeah?” Suho smiled at Jongin. Jongin plastered on a fake smile as well, waiting for Mr. Fitzgerald’s arrival. Any minute now…
The red numbers above the elevator stopped at the thirty second floor and dinged loudly. A moment later Yifan stepped out, head bowed because he was too tall for the entrance, even in the UK.
“Wu!” Jongin said brightly, holding his hands out welcomingly towards Yifan as if he wanted to bear hug Yifan. He looked up, briefly startled before he regained his composure. “Oh, Jongin, it’s you,” he said, eyes disappearing into a smile. He was dressed in a white collared shirt and dark pants, his entire length encased in an unbuttoned fabulous trench coat.
A man, visibly shorter than the both of them, stepped out of the elevator behind Yifan. Jongin recognized him as Mr. Fitzgerald right away and peered at him curiously.
“Mr. Fitzgerald?” The man glanced at him, then at Yifan. “Yes, it’s Mr. Fitzgerald, Jongin. Sir, this is Mr. Kim, whom I’ve been telling you about,” Yifan said, putting a hand on both their shoulders. The Englishman brightened up at once and practically yelled a ‘Hello’ at Jongin and Suho.
“Wu here has told me lots of things about you, son. Have you booked a table for us yet? We must simply talk, Mr. Kim, call me Scott,” Mr. Fitzgerald, now Scott, said. Jongin was a bit bewildered but did not show it, instead took Scott’s proffered hand and shook it.
“I hear you’ve been here for only a few hours. How was the flight?” Scott asked as they headed to where Sehun was standing straight now, a tinge of concern in his voice. Must be English hospitality, Jongin thought. “Oh, it was a long flight but I’m alright now,” Jongin replied lightly.
The waiter popped the champagne cover and all of them had a sip while chatting about idle things. Scott got down to business easily enough, and they talked for about an hour or so. Jongin listened to what Scott had to offer, and found it all to be fair. Suho nodded at Jongin when Scott was done talking, so Jongin agreed to do business with Scott. At the end of it, Yifan produced a contract in which he, Scott and Jongin took turns in signing it.
To Jongin’s relief, the deal was sealed and that finally meant real booze. Buzzing from the bottle of champagne, he called the waiter over and finally said, “Bring us some shots.” Scott agreed explicitly that shots were in order and that even the prude (also known as Yifan) would have to do at least two rounds.
“One for the contract, one for the future,” Scott declared. Yifan laughed nervously. He had no choice to agree and take the shot glass from the waiter once it was brought over. Jongin held it up with a flourish, his mood notably lifted now that alcohol was finally involved.
Yifan rolled up his sleeves like he was expecting a fist fight while Jongin cried, “To success!”
“To success!” Everyone around the table yelled. At this point, Chanyeol (who was more than halfway to passed out drunk) came and joined them, holding up his margarita, tiny umbrella and all. “Hell yeah!” he shouted, voice cracking.
Jongin clinked his glass against Chanyeol’s margarita before throwing it back. The brandy burned its way down the back of Jongin’s throat but he didn’t even care. Work hard, play hard, Jongin thought, waving at the waiter for another round. Yifan looked like he’d just swallowed a dead fish, but Jongin ignored him. He’d never met a businessman who couldn’t drink anyway.
The next few hours were a bit of a blur. Jongin could only remember bits and pieces of the night like he wasn’t really there. At first it was shots, but then somehow vodka was involved and Jongin couldn’t refuse so he drank every drink offered to him until the next thing he knew, he was dancing with a Caucasian girl, blue eyes and red hair out on display.
She wasn’t shy with him, that much he could remember. The girl rubbed her entire body over Jongin’s front, hands running down from his waist to his thighs and squeezing them. He couldn’t recall much of what she said, but Jongin supposed it must’ve hot at the time. That would certainly explain why the next memory he had of that night was of him stumbling into the elevator with her, promising that her millions of dollars if she spent the night with him.
“Baby, you have to stay with me tonight,” Jongin slurred, her image doubling and then tripling at an alarming rate. “Honey, you’re gonna have to give me more than just your credit card if you want me,” she giggled, curling her arms around Jongin’s neck. Jongin wasn’t sure how he was still holding a glass of vodka, but when he noticed it in his hand, he drank the entire contents and flung it to the elevator floor, where it shattered into pieces.
The girl giggled deliriously in his arms, pressing her boobs to his chest. Jongin didn’t know if he’d make it to the hotel room in one piece, but a man had to hope. Where was Suho anyway?
“Where’s my—where’s my um. My friends? Suho?” Jongin said blearily. The elevator doors opened and the girl dragged him out, ignoring what he said while laughing at something. Jongin was tugged towards the exit while he scanned the lobby, looking for a familiar face. There was no one around except the both of them and the receptionist at the desk.
“Where’s Chanyeol?” Jongin muttered, double vision making him feel sick all of a sudden. He burped and held back his puke while stumbling out of the building, looking frantically from left to right. “What’s wrong?” the girl said, frowning at him.
Jongin made it into an alleyway before he spewed the contents of his stomach into a ditch, stomach rolling nauseously inside him. He was so dizzy he couldn’t even see straight anymore and wondered if everyone had already went home.
“Gotta get home,” Jongin groaned, spitting on the ground. Somewhere outside the alley, he could hear the girl’s high pitched voice bitching about something, but he couldn’t hear it clearly. Jongin’s ears felt like they were stuffed with cotton and his legs were starting to go numb too.
“Gotta go… Gotta find the…” Jongin mumbled to himself, tripping over his feet while he gripped the walls beside him and took three steps forward.
Someone was outside the alleyway, waiting for him. “Jongin, are you okay?” Whoever it was sounded panicked. Jongin’s vision was not to be trusted; he couldn’t make out the person’s face other than fair skin and a collared shirt. “Yifan?” he said in confusion. But Yifan wasn’t so short…
“No, I’m—Never mind, let’s get you back to the hotel,” the guy said. Jongin thanked the Lord someone was here to save him. Where was the lobby again? Was it that speck of sepia light in the far off distance? Jongin could hear the thrum of a car engine and the sound of someone grappling with the door handle.
“To the Hilton Hotel, please,” Jongin’s savior said, putting Jongin’s arm over his shoulder. “I’m living in the suite,” Jongin muttered, feeling sleepy. His savior grunted as he tried to carry Jongin’s weight.