What you’re about to read is the CENSORED version of my romance novel entitled “The Rival.” If you like to access the complete version of the chapters, visit this link: https://books2read.com/u/ba6616/M. Gaspary, Author of “The Rival”
Chapter 3 – Alex
After a long morning of arduous work, I stretched my arms and pushed myself away from the desk. Then, I turned my neck and squeezed the medulla while closing my eyes and pleased myself, listening to the cracking sounds of my joints.
Just as I was ready to turn the knob to open the door to the lounge, I pressed my temple and heard the women conversing about something. I opened it anyhow and noticed them chatting.
With a smile, I nodded my head in answer. “Excuse me.” I approached the cupboard and the coffee maker. I poured a generous amount of coffee into the mug.
“Hey, Mr. Yoon. You’re the new executive director, right? What company have you worked for before your transfer?” Stephanie, the department’s assistant head, called my attention while squeezing her hands around the mug and sipping a little. She smiled.
“Yes, temporarily. I’d rather not say if you don’t mind.” I smiled when I regained sight of her after a brief blink. I looked down and noticed the coffee leaking until my mug was full.
“It’s okay,” Stephanie said.
“Welcome, Mr. Yoon,” Jewel and Topaz said almost in chorus.
“I heard you’ll be working with Mr. Arman in the next few months. Is that right?” Topaz asked.
I nodded. “Yes, you’re right.”
“How long will you be working with us?” Stephanie asked.
“I’m not sure how long. Let’s see how things become later on.”
“Why did you choose Lau Corporation?” she asked after sipping the dark liquid.
I shrugged. “Well, it’s got the reputation I need for my plans.”
Stephanie nodded. “I heard you and Mr. Lau are acquainted. I mean, friends. Is that true?” She set the mug on the bar table in the middle of the room while the other two women fixed their gazes on me, waiting to hear what I had to say.
I choked a little bit as I sipped my coffee. I swallowed the warm drink as I raised my face and sighed. “What makes you think that?”
“I heard he attended the same university as you did,” Stephanie said.
“Yeah,” I stammered, took a step back, and confronted the three women. I sipped my drink while digging my other hand into the pockets of my jeans. “We went to the same college. We were not even classmates. I suppose it’s more like a casual acquaintance.” I smiled, attempting to maintain my cool by downing another cup of coffee while maintaining eye contact with her. “How is he doing?”
Stephanie smiled. “Oh. Well, he’s fine. I guess.”
Then Jewel, my other coworker who sat in front of Stephanie, tapped her arm as if wanting to be heard before turning to face me. “I went to the same university as you, and I’m familiar with you guys.”
This time I coughed. I calmed down by pressing my chest and stroking it in circles.
“Are you all right?” Stephanie was ready to stand when I raised my hand to stop her. Instead, she sat down again and gave me a worried expression.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I said before looking at Jewel, who seemed astonished by my reaction.
She let out a sigh of relief and leaned her torso toward me. “They weren’t your average students.”
“Tell us about what you know, Jewel,” Topaz, a coworker who appeared to be a nerd but gossiped better than the other women in the workplace, whispered with delight at Jewel’s tale.
Jewel raised her face and closed her eyes in the direction of Stephanie. “They were once every young lady’s lustful fantasy back then.”
“Fans?” Stephanie interjected, seemingly agitated. She looked like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing about her big boss and his relationship with me.
Jewel continued as she smiled while staring at me. “Mr. Yoon now looks completely different than he did before.”
The two women exchanged gasps.
They covered their mouths with their hands and stared at me, puzzled.
“Back in the day, he was a well-known rock star. Their band, the Painkillers, was a smash hit,” Jewel said after she sipped her coffee.
While I sipped my coffee and realized it was empty, she reminisced about the good old days, and I couldn’t help but smile. I then poured another mug of Americano.
“He even had this hairstyle.” Jewel paused as she breathed and touched her scalp to demonstrate my hairstyle. “He appeared to be a thug of some type, an imposing gangster.” She made a funny impersonation of the supporters, raising her arms in the air.
“Really?” Stephanie gasped and gave me a surprised look while I forced myself to stretch my lips wide.
We both laughed.
“How about Mr. Lau?” Topaz asked.
“Mr. Lau was the complete polar opposite. He reminded me of an angelic singer. But, unfortunately, he appears to be the same as before.”
“The CEO can sing?”
Jewel smirked and shook her head. “He’s not only a singer. He composed music and performed a variety of instruments.”
“What?” Topaz interjected as Jewel appeared on the verge of saying something new.
On the other hand, Stephanie attempted not to make it clear by tightening her grip on the mug. Yet, looking at them made me smile.
“He’s promiscuous.” Jewel sipped her coffee without letting go of her eyes, which were still staring at me. “I used to see Mr. Lau surrounded by women daily.”
They both gasped and laughed. “Oh my gosh!” they said in chorus.
“Is that true?” Stephanie sputtered and chuckled as she smashed her hand against the table as if she couldn’t believe what she’d learned about the boss. I guess I know where this dialogue will lead.
“Despite his reputation as a playboy, his supporters stuck with him. And that was how massive their influence was.” Jewel turned her head, facing me.
My brows furrowed, anticipating what she would say next.
Instead, she smirked as she pointed her finger and shook it. “Yet, The Painkillers stood strong as their rival. Throughout university life, everyone talked about the band’s rivalry with DBXQ. In my last year, I was in attendance at the combined concert.”
“What was the point of a joint concert?”
“Mr. Yoon had The Painkillers, and our CEO had DBXQ. As I said, they were rivals, and it was chaotic. Nonetheless, the student council had the bizarre idea of putting the two bands together in a benefit concert. They took a chance and succeeded. Since they began the project, the school has become more tranquil.” She gave me a wink and a smirk.
“Jewel, what was that smirk?” Stephanie wittingly asked after she noticed Jewel’s quick reaction.
As she stared at me, Jewel shrieked. Her hands pressed against her face. “Whenever I remember, I can’t help but blush.”
“What?” Stephanie asked again in response.
“Tell us.” Topaz, on the other hand, sounded like she was begging Jewel to spill the beans.
While I was experiencing goosebumps up my spine to the base of my skull, Topaz inquired, touching her shoulders many times because of the thrill. I kept my cool while holding the mug. Despite my constricted chest, I maintained a blank expression on my face.
“There was also a bromance between Mr. Lau and Mr. Yoon, despite being long-time rivals back then. Unlike the years before the concert, they displayed nothing except their love for each other. They held hands, hugged, and displayed in the same way that K-pop boy bands do,” Jewel said after she let out an exasperated sigh.
I noticed the two women’s faces turning scarlet, and their voices became louder as they squeaked.
Jewel screamed while keeping her cries to a minimum during their concert.
“What happened next?” Stephanie inquired, clearly desperate.
“They even exchanged kisses,” Jewel paused and yelled again, her body quivering and wiggling in her seat, “It was quite romantic. On stage, our boss kissed him twice back then. Not just any kiss, but a passionate kiss on the lips.” She screamed as her cheeks began to flush.
When she and Topaz realized they were too loud, they quickly covered their mouths, and their eyes widened.
Stephanie exclaimed, “Oh my God,” as if learning her boss’s history shocked her.
Astonishment is an understatement for how they now look at me, which rendered me speechless. What am I supposed to do now?
I grinned as I thought about how I needed to learn to let go.
Consider the case of Jewel. She’d been there before. But because everyone had seen the story about Chen and me, I couldn’t stop her from spreading it.
When I approached the sink to wash the cup I used, the three of them continued to poke me with their fingers. I laughed. “It’s all over now. We have to maintain our professional distance.” Was it indeed like that, Alex?
I wiped the mug with a kitchen towel and returned the dish to its proper place in the cupboard. “Besides, the student council requested our assistance.” I shifted my weight and turned to face them. “It was for the benefit of university peace. They’ve been desperate to bring order to the school. So they discovered it was a good strategy to end the fighting between the two bands, and it worked.”
They agreed with a nod.
“Well, I’ve got to get back to work,” I continued as I walked toward the door. Before I could leave, I turned to look at Stephanie, who seemed astonished. “By the way, Mr. Lau already signed the papers Mr. Armand needs for the upcoming meeting, so I’ll put them on your desk at lunch.” After taking a few steps away, I looked at them again. “Also, please don’t mention anything that may harm Mr. Lau’s reputation as the company’s CEO.”
“Alright,” Stephanie replied and almost stammered out. She was still troubled by what she had just learned about our history. “Don’t worry. We won’t say or do anything that would put him into trouble.”
“Great. Will you please excuse me?”
When I exited the room, I exhaled and shut my eyes. What was I doing?
Regardless, the events between Chen and me don’t mean anything anymore. Besides, I don’t think he’d be bothered by the fact that I found myself here.