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    The pressure from the rumors came faster than expected.

    Now somewhat used to the commute—though he was embarrassed to call it that. Ji-an took the usual route. Avoiding the central elevator that went straight to the general manager’s office, he took the elevator at the edge of the building instead.

    This meant he had to walk a long way to the lobby and a long way again when he got to the top floor, but he preferred it as he could avoid most people. He could walk with a relaxed expression, occasionally mumbling to himself without anyone noticing.

    However, the people currently flustering Ji-an seemed to have had the same idea. Ji-an got off the elevator and was walking down a deserted hallway when he turned a corner and heard people talking about Jeong Hee-seo.

    “The general manager is no different.”

    “Being part of the owner’s family, he lives as he pleases.”

    “Acting all clean and proper.”

    “What does he even do in there all day?”

    “How would we know.”

    Those who were whispering in low voices as they walked down the hallway ran into Ji-an and jumped up, gasping. One of the more composed ones elbowed the others to quiet them down. Recognizing Ji-an, they bowed their heads slightly and quickly brushed past him.

    “…”

    People always gossip about those not present, but for some reason it upset Ji-an. He came to an abrupt stop, sensing the others halt their steps too. He turned around, intending to say something, but it turned out they had stopped for Secretary Yoon, who came running over.

    “Excuse me,” Ji-an spoke, but Secretary Yoon cut him off, rushing toward him.

    The gossipers quickly exchanged glances and hurried away after bowing to Secretary Yoon. Their behavior was truly infuriating. Ji-an grabbed Secretary Yoon’s arm as he was about to head toward the general manager’s office.

    “Didn’t you hear what they just said?”

    “Yes?”

    Secretary Yoon’s eyes widened as he examined Ji-an’s very aggrieved expression. This was because Ji-an’s eyes were so fierce as he stared at the backs of the heads of those who were walking away. Ji-an spoke to Secretary Yoon without taking his eyes off them.

    “They were badmouthing the general manager.”

    “Ah…”

    Secretary Yoon chuckled softly.

    “Are you going to scold them, Mr. Ji-an? Don’t worry about it.”

    Seeing Ji-an’s lips remain pursed stubbornly, Secretary Yoon added with a smile,

    “Even if the general manager heard it himself, he’d just let it go. There are always people gossiping at any company…”

    Secretary Yoon grabbed Ji-an’s arm and told him to hurry up and go to work. Ji-an glared after the gossipers, unable to vent his anger, but they had already disappeared from sight. He had no choice but to follow Secretary Yoon.

    “It’s not really bothering him. These things don’t happen too often either.”

    Ji-an knew that even in the short time he had been there. Jeong Hee-seo was a meticulous person when it came to work. Conversely, it meant that Ji-an was the reason he became a subject of gossip.

    It was because he unnecessarily had lunch boxed up in the office with Ji-an. Because Ji-an was seen commuting with him morning and evening. Because this underqualified kid was let into the office under some dubious mentor-mentee pretext. That’s why people talked this way about Jeong Hee-seo, who had no reason to be spoken of poorly, 

    Ji-an clenched his fists.

    “I really need to do something.”

    “If it’s about that, please.”

    Secretary Yoon suddenly furrowed his eyebrows pitifully and waved his hands.

    “Pardon?”

    “Please reconcile with each other!”

    “Ah…”

    “Weren’t you saying you’d find a way to reconcile?”

    “That too… Yes, that’s right.”

    Ji-an scratched the back of his head and gave an appropriate answer.

    “You must reconcile quickly to bring peace to the team. Please, for Buddha’s sake.”

    Since that was all Secretary Yoon had on his mind these days, the topic naturally flowed in that direction. Feeling somewhat guilty about the daily lunch deliveries he was tasked with, Ji-an quickened his pace to follow him.

    Something indeed needed to change.

    * * *

    Ji-an’s first choice was Jeong Han-joo. Although he was afraid of encountering the main character, the solution itself was simple, so Ji-an decided to handle this first.

    “Sigh…”

    Ji-an exhaled a long breath through his nose. He had practiced until late at night, even writing out expected responses, but it didn’t seem to help much with the nerves. His legs were trembling under the table.

    He buttoned his narrow-collared shirt all the way to his neck, smoothed out the sleeves of his jacket, and the wrinkles. He sprayed a lot of perfume to mask his pheromones, covering up every inch of exposed skin except his face and hands.

    It was a hot day in July. Even though the air conditioner was turned on full blast, he was dressed in such a way that it felt like steam was coming out of the top of his head. If anyone reacted to his pheromones despite all this, he’d destroy the possession privilege and everything else.

    Ji-an kept glancing nervously at the café door, taking deep breaths.

    “Did I forget anything…”

    Clothes, cologne, gift—he reassured himself, checking each item. Just then, the automatic door opened, and the person he was waiting for walked in.

    Ji-an gulped dryly and raised a trembling hand in greeting. His shaking hand was too obvious, so he quickly folded both under the table. The reason for his nerves was…

    “You can’t even greet me properly… What kind of trick did you have in asking to see me?”

    This was because the person sitting across from Ji-an was Seo Ji-hyuk. Despite his efforts to stay composed, his greeting came out stiffly, almost like a robot.

    “Hello.”

    Seo Ji-hyuk slowly scrutinized Ji-an with a suspicious look. If he had to pick the person he was least likely to meet in the world, it would undoubtedly be Seo Ji-an, and the feeling was mutual. When he received Ji-an’s message, he thought it was a phishing scam. He swore it wasn’t an exaggeration.

    As soon as Seo Ji-hyuk sat down and exhaled, Ji-an started to speak.

    “Would you like to order a drink first? It’s quite hot out today…”

    “No need. Just tell me what you want so we can part ways. Weren’t you supposed to go abroad? Or was that all a lie?”

    “Ah…that’s a long story to explain.”

    “Not that I believed it, but changing your mind…suddenly wanting to meet like this…even the choice of venue…very you, Seo Ji-an.”

    Seo Ji-hyuk looked around the cafe and said sarcastically. He thought it was typical of Ji-an who was busy messing around with Jeong Han-joo that he chose a place close to the JM office building where the only customers were employees.

    Ji-an scratched his cheek with an embarrassed expression.

    Ah, he didn’t know that I work at JM. Ji-an wondered what on earth Jeong Han-joo was thinking. Ji-an’s certainty that arranging this meeting was a good idea grew stronger.

    “I knew you wouldn’t trust my intentions. That’s why I wanted to show you directly. If you ask my purpose for suggesting we meet here today…ah, there he is.”

    Hyung! Over here. Ji-an raised his hand as Seo Ji-hyuk turned to look in the same direction and froze. Jeong Han-joo, who came in, was also surprised. His steps slowed down with an expression that asked ‘why are you here?’

    “Han-joo hyung, welcome. Have a seat next to Ji-hyuk hyung.”

    The familiar way Ji-an addressed him as “Jihyuk hyung” made Seo Ji-hyuk flinch involuntarily. The two, who had been regarding each other like they’d seen ghosts, soon obediently took seats in front of Ji-an. From afar, the bizarre atmosphere resembled catching cheating lovers in the act.

    “The reason I asked to meet both of you today is that I have something to give you.”

    While Ji-an tried to ignore Seo Ji-hyuk, who was looking at him with an expression of what kind of trick he was trying to pull, Ji-an opened the large shopping bag next to him and took out two nicely wrapped gift boxes. The large shopping bag that had captured the attention of everyone in the general office since morning suddenly became thin.

    “Please see it as a kind of clearing up of the past.”

    “…”

    “…”

    Despite receiving sizable boxes, neither made a move to unwrap them. Ji-an quickly added one more word.

    “It also contains an apology.  I wanted to convey my sincerity, so I wanted to meet both of you and give them to you personally.”

    “Ji-an-ah, what is this…?”

    “Ah, you can open it now.”

    Even before Ji-an finished speaking, Seo Ji-hyuk, who had been watching the situation quietly, ripped the wrapping paper roughly. His hands moved with a cold determination, as if he were trying to uncover Ji-an’s true intentions.

    Seo Ji-hyuk balled up the torn paper, lifted the tightly sealed lid of the box, and revealed the contents. Jeong Han-joo, who was quietly watching Seo Ji-hyuk’s actions, saw the contents and looked at Ji-an with  a questioning look upon seeing the contents.

    What does it mean. It’s to get rid of you. Ji-an pulled up the corners of his mouth awkwardly.

    Inside the box was an expensive plate set. Since it was a brand frequently featured on luxury SNS accounts that Seo Ji-hyuk immediately recognized. He scoffed and asked Ji-an,

    “Why are you gifting me dishes?”

    “Aren’t you going to open yours, Han-joo hyung?”

    Ji-an smiled brightly, pretending not to notice Seo Ji-hyuk’s piercing glare. He knew Seo Ji-hyuk had every right to be angry and hate him. Understanding that made it easier to endure.

    “I actually thought about this for a long time, and I was told these are great gifts for newlyweds. So I wanted to give them to you.”

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