Swallow One’s Breath – Chapter 1

The door suddenly swung open, and Joo-hyun came in with urgent steps and called out to her.

“Team leader, have you seen it?” she asked with her gaze fixed on the monitor in front of her.

“What?”

“The owner of Shinhwa Department Store. I just saw him come in. Oh my god, the aura that emanated from his body…”

She slowly raised her head and looked at Joo-hyun with an expressionless face.

“Lee Joo-hyun, you must know how important today is, right?”

“Yes…”

Joo-hyun bowed her head with a vague expression.

“What would happen if you were reckless in front of that important guest and gave us a bad image…”

“No, no!”

Joo-hyun waved both her hands with a look of regret.

“I was coming out of the material room, then I saw the CEO of Shinhwa Department Store coming in, so I secretly peeked inside. He probably wasn’t aware that I saw him.”

Yes, I thought so. She knew Lee Joo-hyun had a timid personality and had no courage to stand in front of such an important guest.

However, Se-eun’s face didn’t reveal any such thoughts as she motioned towards Joo-hyun seat.

“Let’s focus on our work until we get home from work.”

“Yes…”

As she watched Joo-hyun sitting in her seat with a sullen face, she swallowed a smile inside. Still, by the end of today’s meeting, it will be necessary to crack down on the employees in the company, especially those who are female.

Se-eun sent her message to each department one more time, asking them to quiet down until the guests left, and then she focused on the monitor again.

In today’s meeting, the life and death of JnC were literally at stake.

If the meeting is successful, JnC will enter the Shinhwa Department Store. If they enter the Shinhwa Department Store, they can surely block the mouths of people in the industry who have been secretly regarding them as street fashion.

This is because the Shinhwa Department Store was such a difficult place to enter.

About two hours later, Se-eun took off her glasses and got up from her seat. As she approached the window to refresh her tired eyes, she saw a group of people walking towards the parking lot.

“Looks like it’s over,” Se-eun casually muttered when she saw Charles, Jae-hee and the back of the man standing next to them.

Did it go well?

The reason he had to come all the way here to look around the company was due to (he high level of interest in JnC. Now that the meeting is over, does he still feel the same way?

Then the man turned his head. One side of the JnC office building was entirely made of glass, but the inside was not visible from the outside.

Even though she was well aware of that fact, Se-eun stopped breathing for a moment at the illusion that they had made eye contact.

The man, Do-won, stared in her direction for a while, as if she was visible, and then turned back only after Charles had spoken to him.

She was stupidly surprised.

Se-eun returned to her seat, laughing at herself.

It has been five years since she was miserably kicked down by Do-won. He must have already forgotten the woman named Jeong Se-eun. Even if they met, she didn’t think he would recognize her at all.

So Se-eun decided not to worry about it. After all, she rarely works outside of the office, so she would never see Do-won in person.

After Do-won’s car started and moved out of sight, Charles and Jaewon shook hands with each other.

Seeing this, Se-eun intuitively realized that the meeting went well. It was a relief. Five minutes later, her phone rang.

She headed to the president’s office, and as soon as she entered, Charles hurriedly approached her and hugged Se-eun tightly.

“Success!”

She also patted Charles on the back and congratulated him.

“You worked hard, Charles. Congratulations!”

Only then did she hear a shrill voice from behind.

“Let go of Se-eun, before she runs out of breath.”

Hearing those words, Charles released his arms. But then he placed an arm around her shoulders and turned her around.

“If you’re jealous at this important moment, you’ll be in trouble Jaehee.”

“It’s my heart to be jealous,” Jaehee countered while looking at the arm wrapped around Se-eun’s shoulder with disapproval.

“It’s also my heart to express joy.”

Se-eun shook her head to stop the two men from arguing.

“Please have your love quarrel at home, tell me more about today’s meeting in detail.”

“Ah, that’s after everyone gathers…”

As Charles spoke, a knock was heard. When the door opened, Myeong-ah and Soo-hyeon rushed in.

“What happened?” They asked.

“Is it good?”

Then Charles replied with a proud look.

“Tonight, we’ll have a company dinner party!”

Cheers of joy filled the president’s office. After the gathered people sat down on the sofa, Jaehee, who was sitting at the desk, stood up and began talking about the meeting with the Shinhwa Department Store.

“President Kang Do-won came out more favorably than I expected,” she said. “He looked around the company and store and liked the atmosphere. The opening is scheduled for February of next year when the S/S season starts.”

“When does it start?”

“After entering the main store, we decided to gradually increase it step-by-step based on the response.”

Joo-hyun opened her mouth wide and showed a surprised expression.

“Not the Gangnam branch, but from the main branch? That’s shocking. Do you think President Kang Do-won is being too kind to us?”

At that moment, Jaehee’s eyes flickered towards Se-eun, which made her feel uneasy, but an answer was already coming out of Jaehee’s mouth.

“We’ll have to wait and see. They wouldn’t have given up their seats at the head office if their budget wasn’t right. Anyway, let’s all make a toast today.”

“Yes!”

“Boss, will you buy me something delicious?”

“Can I think of what I want to eat?”

Se-eun smiled quietly as she watched the happy faces of the others. It was a really good opportunity. Everyone has been working hard all night to make this happen.

Jaehee ended the meeting by saying that he would pay special bonuses to all employees based on the sales after entering Shinhwa Department Store next year.

Upon hearing the news, all the other employees also cheered.

JnC’s bonus was quite generous. If it’s a special bonus, it’ll definitely be more than the usual bonus, so it was very exciting.

“I will be loyal to the company for the rest of my life.”

Upon hearing the news about the bonuses, Joo-hyun hurried home from the office.

“Team leader, are we eating meat today?”

Seeing Joo-hyun face full of anticipation, Se-eun couldn’t help but smile.

“Yes. The boss said he made a reservation for a Korean beef restaurant.”

“Korean beef!”

Now, Joo-hyun looked like she was about to float away.

“Team leader, are you done yet? Let’s go, okay? We have to hurry before the other departments take all the good seats!”

The headquarters’ staff consisted of no more than 30 people in total, so there would be plenty of good seating. Since it had already been over a year since Joo-hyun joined the company, she must have been aware of this fact.

She just wanted to get to the dinner party quickly.

Se-eun finished her work and got up from her seat. On a day like today, she also wanted to fill up her stomach with delicious meat and rest well.

Jaehee, who loves drinking and dancing, was well aware that it would only be difficult to go to work the next morning if they played hard on a weekday evening.

So, they decided to end the gathering with just dinner instead. Instead, two days later, on Friday, he promised to leave add early and pay the day’s salary so that the employees could have a fiery weekend.

Joo-hyun looked like she had already reached the peak of happiness just by hearing those words.

“Team leader, I really like our company.”

Drunk on only a half-bottle of soju, she grabbed Se-eun, who sat next to her, and continued to pour out her happiness endlessly.

“The CEO is so cool, the salary is high, he gives a lot of bonuses, the boss is cool, the team leader is very good, the boss is cool…”

It wasn’t the first time she had heard this, so it was nothing new. However, it bothered her that the more Joo-hyun’s talk of their boss continued, the sharper Charles’ eyes became.

“Yes, yes, I also like working with Joo-hyun.”

Se-eun interrupted Joo-hyun’s words at the right time.

“Really?”

“Of course.”

“Really?”

“That’s right.”

Then, the corners of Joo-hyun’s eyes drooped.

“Hey, at first, when I made mistakes every day, I was really scared of you….”

“Yeah, I was a little uptight back then.”

“But now I like you so much. Our team leader is so pretty, cool, and capable…”

It seems that her praises have now transferred to her. Se-eun smiled and grabbed Joo-hyun’s bag.

“Joo-hyun is drunk. Let’s go home.”

“I’m not drunk. I want to be with you more…”

“I have to go home and rest so I can go to work tomorrow. You know how much the boss hates when we’re late to work the day after a company dinner, right?”

Joo-hyun gave strength to her eyes as if she was awakened at the mention of their boss.

“Okay, then I’ll go home!”

After taking Joo-hyun to a taxi and returning to the restaurant, the other employees were also getting up one by one.

Charles, who had just opened the door, looked at her and shook his head.

“Why didn’t you just send off Joo-hyun and go home? You didn’t have to come back.”

At Charles’ words, Se-eun raised an eyebrow.

“Are you serious? I have a corporate card in my hand.”

“Oh,” Charles murmured, nodding his head with a mistaken look.

“I forgot that Jeong Se-eun is the one with the real power.”

“If you remember, then go in and bring the boss out before he ends up paying for this dinner with his personal card.”

Charles quickly turned around. Jaehee was already talking to the staff at the front counter and pulling out a card, but Charles snatched the card from Jaehee’s hand with a lightning quickness.

“What are you doing?” Jaehee asked. He frowned in response, but Charles had already fled outside. Se-eun approached the counter with a leisurely pace and held out her corporate card.

“Please pay with this card.”

“Oh right. Didn’t I have a corporate card?” Jaehee asked with a slight expression.

She shook her head, pretending not to notice the awkward excuse.

“If you are going to keep using your personal card like this, why don’t you just get rid of your corporate card?”

“Hahaha, that can’t happen. Hahaha.”

“I will post the receipt tomorrow for approval.”

“Okay.”

“You were waiting outside. Come in.”

Then Jaehee erased the awkward smile from his face and asked in a low voice.

“Se-eun.”

“Yes?”

“Are you personally acquainted with President Kang Do-won?”

“…No.”

Jaehee raised one eyebrow and asked again.

“Really?”

“Of course, how can I know such a great person?”

“Hmm…”

Jaehee stared at her in disbelief.

“Why? Does the president of the Shinhwa Department Store know me?”

When Se-eun asked with an expression of ignorance, Jaehee shook his head.

“It’s not like that, but somehow it feels like that.”

“I think the boss’ sixth sense is wrong this time. You should head home; Charles is waiting outside.”

When Jaehee saw Charles standing around outside just as he said, he didn’t ask any more questions.

“Okay, then I’ll go first.”

“Yes, I will see you tomorrow.”

“Go home safely.”

“Yes.”

Se-eun let out a long sigh after the car with Jae-hee and Charles moved away.

“As expected of the boss.”

There were two things that JnC president Kim Jaehee possessed far more than others. One was wealth, the other was a keen sixth sense. Thanks to those two things, Se-eun was also able to get to where she was today.

When Charles picked her up during her despair five years ago, it was Jaehee who decided that Se-eun wasn’t a dangerous person.

“On days like this, let’s tuck those memories away.”

Se-eun, who was muttering bitterly, saw an empty taxi approaching from afar and waved her hand in a hurry.

Nothing will happen. So, let’s go home and get some sleep. That way you can go to work on time again tomorrow.

 

* * * * * *

 

From the next day on, time flew by.

No one hesitated to work overtime in preparation for the next season, but among them, the busiest were the designers.

Perhaps that is why, one afternoon, about a month before the opening in Shinhwa Department Store, Jaehee pulled Se-eun aside.

“Would you like to go get some air with me?”

The fact that she was close to Charles and Jaehee was known to anyone who worked for JnC.

So, no one, not even Joo-hyun, misunderstood it as a date request. It’s because of Se-Eun’s blunt answer every time, that everyone is convinced there’s nothing between them.

“No.”

“Don’t you want to go out and cool your head?”

“Did you see how many degrees below zero the temperature dropped today?”

“…I have to go to the Shinhwa Department Store,” Jaehee confessed frankly. “Charles said he couldn’t go because he was busy.”

“Then what about Myeong-ah?”

“If Charles is busy, then he must be busier.”

“…Do you really need me?”

“I need someone else’s eyes.”

With those words, she couldn’t hold out any longer. Se-eun saved the data she was working on, stood up from her desk, and picked up her coat.

“Joo-hyun, if anything happens, call me right away.”

“Yes, go ahead.”

The weather was bitterly windy, but Jaehee’s car was warm. Jaehee smirked as Se-eun leaned back and sighed in contentment as she felt her seat warm up.

“I think you like my car better than me.”

“Did you notice?”

“Do you want me to get you one? With this special bonus.”

“Thank you for your offer, but I can’t afford to maintain such an expensive car.”

“Lie. I know better than anyone what kind of salary Team Leader Jeong makes.”

This time, a smile came to Se-eun’s lips.

“I’m going to save up that salary and buy an apartment. Until then, I will be content with public transportation.”

During that conversation, the car arrived at the Shinhwa Department Store.

“What should I look at?” Se-eun asked, chasing after Jaehee who strode inside.

“The location. And the style of the brand in that location.”

She nodded quietly.

Jaehee was a businessman. Although he excelled at making money, he was less sensible than the average person when it came to clothing design, especially women’s clothing design.

So, when conducting market research like this, he did not come alone, but asked for someone else to accompany him.

Se-eun and Jaehee slowly walked around the department store to research the market.

Jaehee looked around not only women’s clothes but also the floor with miscellaneous goods three or four times before he showed a satisfied expression.

“Now it is clear.”

“Which area do you like?”

“Over there.”

Seeing where Jaehee was pointing with a wink, she nodded her head. Because she, too, ranked the position as the number one priority.

The store, located in one corner, had a large space for display, and it stood out because it was close to the escalator.

“Let’s go in.”

Jaehee took the lead before she could even finish talking. As she hurried to catch up with his long strides, she heard a voice calling out to Jaehee from behind.

“CEO Jaehee Kim?”

Se-eun’s face turned pale in an instant as she casually looked back. Do-won was standing only three or four steps away.

It was daytime, so it was wrong not to expect him to be wandering around. Se-eun slowly turned her head and took a step back.

As she stiffened, Jaehee returned to her side quickly and held out his hand to Do-won.

“I didn’t expect to see you here, Mr. Kang.”

Only after Jaehee’s broad shoulders partially covered Do-won’s figure, was Se-eun able to exhale.

‘It’s okay. I’m not the naive Jeong Se-eun from back then.’

While Jaehee spoke with Do-won, she repeated the words over and over in her mind.

So, when Do-won’s gaze fixed on her, she was able to respond with an expressionless face.

“You seem to have come for a preliminary survey with staff.”

“Yes. It’s because Team Leader Jeong is such a sharp-witted person,” Jaehee replied as he stepped back. As she faced Do-won head-on again, she bowed her head politely.

“I’m Jeong Se-eun from JnC’s management team.”

Jaehee immediately added an additional explanation.

“I am the head of the management team. She was a very early member of our company.”

“I see.”

Do-won reached out a hand towards her.

“It’s been a while, Jeong Se-eun.”

For a moment, she felt almost breathless because she was caught off guard. She never imagined that Do-won would reveal he knew her.

She gently shook his outstretched hand and then let it go. Jaehee’s gaze bore into her as he stood at her side.

‘I’ll hear all about it when I get back.’

Se-eun swallowed a sigh as she recalled the memory of the dinner party where she lied and pretended to not know Do-won. Whether she did or not, the two men continued their conversation.

“You’ve come all the way; would you like to have dinner with me? It’s almost the end of the workday.”

Jaehee didn’t turn down the offer. Moreover, now that the location had been confirmed, it was natural for him to welcome the invitation.

“Do you have time? I have something to discuss about the location of the store.”

The two men quickly got together and set out for dinner. Se-eun, who quietly followed behind, paused at the doors of the elevator.

“I should get going now.”

“Yes, you did a good job today.”

She turned to Do-won and simply bowed.

Then he smiled strangely and said, “See you next time, Jeong Se-eun.”

Upon hearing those words, Se-eun felt her body tremble with an unknown anxiety.

 

* * * * * *

 

The next morning, Jaehee questioned her as if he couldn’t wait to hear an explanation.

“You said you didn’t know Mr. Kang.”

“… …”

“How do you know each other?”

“We don’t know each other very well.”

“So, President Kang was blatantly pretending to know Se-eun?”

“… … .”

“It may be unpleasant, but I need to know. The Shinhwa Department Store is the most important client for us right now.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Jaehee and Charles were the ones who reached out to her rescue after she broke up with Do-won and was ruined. More than anyone else, he had the right to hear about it.

“We met before.”

“When?”

“Five years ago.”

Jaehee’s face grew serious when he heard that it was 5 years ago.

“When you met us?”

“Yes.”

“It must have been a serious relationship.”

A smirk broke out at those words.

“It’s not like that.”

“It was so messed up, wasn’t it? Do you know how many months it took to get back to normal? I used to be so mean to Charles, he went on a strike that I had to pick up and clean up the invoices myself.”

She blushed in response to her embarrassment.

“…It wasn’t like that.”

“Is that right?”

“… …”

“So, how serious was your relationship?”

“It was only me who was serious, not CEO Kang. I was the only one who liked it and was dumped.”

“… …”

“So, you don’t have to worry. I will never see Mr. Kang again.”

An expression of ‘Is it true?’ appeared on Jaehee’s face, but she pretended not to see it.

Se-eun, who came out of the president’s office, sighed involuntarily. It was fortunate that Jaehee moved on more easily than expected.

If it was Charles, he would have been poking around from start to finish because he tended to be overprotective.

After returning to her desk, Se-eun drank a cup of warm lemon tea and put on her glasses. She had trouble sleeping last night and her eyes were more tired than usual.

It was late that afternoon when she received a call from an unknown number.

Se-eun, who was concentrating hard on her work because she was determined to leave work at 6 o’clock, answered her cell phone with a single thought in her mind.

‘No matter what anyone says today, I won’t make any additional appointments.’

There were only eleven digits floating on the screen of her cell phone. Thinking that it might be spam, she pondered whether to answer it or not, and after a while, she answered with a voice full of vigilance.

“Hello.”

-Jeong Se-eun.

Just by hearing the voice briefly calling her name, she knew who the caller was. Se-eun opened her mouth, feeling disappointed that she still remembered his voice even after 5 years.

“Excuse me, but who are you?”

– Shinhwa Department Store, Kang Do-won.

He was still a weak man. She couldn’t believe he was using Shinhwa Department store to contact her, knowing she couldn’t refuse carelessly.

“What is the purpose for this call, President Kang?”

It was a hard voice that showed signs of discomfort no matter who heard it. But Do-won did not care and said what he wanted to say.

– I thought we could have dinner together tonight.

Se-eun was speechless in response to the words spoken with a calm tone. He made a proposal as if it hadn’t been five years since they last saw one another.

She answered after a pause, so she could hide the disbelief in her voice.

“If you have a business inquiry, please proceed through the person in charge…”

-If it was a business matter, I wouldn’t even have contacted you on your personal cell phone.

He continued to speak as if he would not accept the refusal.

-There will be a car waiting once you’re done with work.

“Do you think I’m going to get in that car?”

Without realizing it, she responded in a sharp voice, but Do-won’s reply was relaxed.

-If you don’t ride in it today, I’ll send it again tomorrow.

-Unless you want me to come and pick you up myself…

“Please choose an appointment place instead. I will travel there myself.”

A laughter was heard over the phone, and he named the place as if he had been waiting.

-S Hotel Restaurant. Do you remember where it is?

 

 

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