“Where are the files related to the Haego buyout?” Min Soo asked, looking up with sharp eyes at her secretary, Cha Hyun Seok. He promptly opened a leather folder, pulling out a sheaf of papers and placing them in front of her, perfectly square with the edge of her desk. 

“Here they are Executive Go. I have organized them based on the most salient points necessary. You have a 2pm meeting with the product management and product development heads, and your father called to see if you were free for dinner. Should I tell him that you are?” 

Min Soo let out a deep sigh. 

“I suppose so. Can you also call Ae Jung to see if she’s available to come as well? I’ll need a buffer from him if possible. Thank you Secretary Cha.” The thought of her little sister with her wide smile and cheerful way of diffusing their father brought a little smile to her face. 

“Certainly.” Hyun Seok took a bow, turning to leave the office, gently shutting the door behind him. Min Soo leaned back in her chair, sighing heavily as she picked up the files, going over the data until her head began to swim. 

Leaning her head back, she closed her eyes and sighed. 

“Do I need a break?” She asked herself, feeling far older than her 32 years. 

Her thoughts wandered to what would possibly happen should she take a break. Her father would come after her relentlessly, saying how he wished she’d been born a boy, how she should just get married instead to a rich man who could take over her position for her. Her MBA was meaningless to him, her work history and the fact that she’d been quite competently working toward being his successor deemed useless due to her gender. 

The other board members would quickly seize upon the chance to push her out of the way, hoarding more power for themselves as they had want to do, waiting for her to make a single misstep. From the outside it would look to others like she had power and prestige, but she knew more vividly than she wanted to that all of her power was balanced on a teetering edge. There were always people waiting to shove her off and take her place. 

Almost all the other people she interacted with at her level were much older, and much more male than she was, and so they had a tendency to try to talk over her in meetings, or undermine her at every opportunity. Thankfully she had Hyun Seok as an assistant- he was almost supernaturally good at finding out information and heading people off before they could do much damage to her projects or her position. She was lucky to have him. 

She couldn’t take time off. She needed to remain vigilant. The moment she let herself relax was the moment where someone would stab her in the back. 

After confirming to CEO Go that Min Soo would indeed be attending dinner with him that evening, Hyun Seok took a moment to breathe deeply before calling her sister, Ae Jung. 

Hyun Seok had always been a quiet person- he was what they called a man of few words- he lived by the idea that anything that needed to be said could be said in a sentence or less. He’d always thought that listening was harder and more rewarding than speaking was. 

Ae Jung on the other hand… 

Bubbly was the word that many would use, and he thought it apt. She was effervescent and flighty, always having a smile and word for anyone she met. He recalled the first time they’d met. 

He’d been newly hired, fresh out of university, which he’d begun late as he’d done his military service early. Min Soo had been just a manager then, working her way up the ranks so that she could avoid any aspertions of nepotism, though of course those still remained. 

She’d been hiring outside of the secretarial pool, as, he later learned, she was worried about any internal hire being a plant from her father or one of the other board members, which is probably the only reason why he, a man fresh out of university with no job history or familial backing was hired straight from the first interview. Min Soo had seemed like a level headed boss, only a few years older than he was at the time, her face open and kind. 

He’d appreciated the opportunity, and it was three days before he met Ae Jung. He’d been sitting at his desk when a girl had flounced into Min Soo’s office. She’d looked like an idol singer, her hair a bright pink, her fingers adorned with rings and neck covered in necklaces. She looked like she sparkled and jingled when she moved, her clothing covered in sequins, her face done up in daring makeup. 

“Can I help you?” He’d asked, his voice coming out in a little bit of a squeak, confused as to this creature that had appeared before him. 

“I’m here to see Min Soo.” She’d said, smiling at him, her white teeth gleaming. 

“Do you have an appointment?” 

“I don’t need one.” She’d replied with a friendly shrug. 

“…Everyone needs an appointment.” He was trying his best to be a competent secretary, but this wasn’t really a situation that he’d anticipated. 

“I don’t! I promise you won’t get in trouble if you tell her that Ae Jung is here to see her.” Ae Jung had said.

“Oh uh… okay…” A bit out of his depth, Hyun Seok had picked up the phone and called Min Soo. “There’s an… Ae Jung here to see you?” 

“Oh yay! That’s my sister, send her in.” His new boss had told him. “She can always just come in unless I’m in a meeting or on a call.” 

“Okay, good to know.” He’d waved her in, listening to the two sisters greet each other as the door closed behind them. 

“Is that your new secretary? He’s super cute! Love the geeky glasses.” Were the last thing he’d heard Ae Jung say as the door shut on their first meeting. 

Since then, despite the fact that she was always very nice, and no longer dyed her hair pink (she still wore a lot of accessories though), and she always had nothing but kind words to say to him, he felt oddly as though he could never win against her, in a strange competition that she didn’t even know she was a part of. 

He’d get new glasses, trying to impress her with not wearing nerdy glasses anymore, and she wouldn’t notice. 

He’d get his hair done, and all she’d do would be point to his hair and give him a thumbs up of approval. 

He’d buy fancy suits that the ladies at the shop SWORE would make women’s heads turn, and she wouldn’t look at him any differently that she did when he’d been wearing his ill-fitting suit he’d bought second hand. 

It had taken him about two years before he realized that it wasn’t really any sort of competition with no rules or prizes, he just wanted to impress her, make her look at him, make her see him. Ae Jung remained, as always, cheerfully aloof to his wants, treating him like a brother, a fun sexless extension of her relationship with her sister. 

He dialled her number and she picked up on the third ring, her voice ringing like a choir in his ears. 

“Oppa! Why are you calling? Bored at work and want to escape my sister’s drudgery and come hang out?” 

“Not today I’m afraid, Unnie asked me to call you to see if you were available for dinner with your father.” He heard her loud exasperated sigh. The sister’s dislike for their emotionally distant father was well known to him. 

“Ugh. Tell her fine, but she owes me big time.” 

“I will Miss Go.” 

“Please Oppa, you can just call me Ae Jung, we’ve known each other for years! We’re practically like family. I think of you as a brother.” 

The words were like a stab directly to the heart. 

“Okay. I’ll try my best.” He said. 

“Okay! Call me for not work stuff too, we can go do something fun, or eat something good, my treat!” She said. 

“Sure thing.” He replied, knowing full well that if they did go out, he’d never let her pay for him. He wanted her to look at him not as a brother or someone to take care of- but as someone she could rely on, someone she wanted. 

He hung up the phone and turned back to work. His phone buzzed again, and he looked down, seeing a text message from an unlisted number. He turned the phone over, sighing heavily and ignoring the notification. 

The phone buzzed again. He opened the drawer of his desk, and slid the phone into it, closing the drawer and leaning back in his chair. He needed a break, but the moment he went off his guard he felt like someone would come and stab him in the back. 

By Natalia