Chapter Four – Staring Long into the Abyss
She whirled around, but she took a careful step backward. “Su-sunbae,” she tried to act normal, as if it was just an ordinary day that she happened to find him on the school campus.
“Why are you here?” he asked again in a low, serious tone. His eyes were menacing and filled with suspicions as he took each step forward.
The burnt corpse of Gina flashed across her mind. “I-I w-was assigned here,” she stammered. She had never stammered in front of him before.
“Well, you shouldn’t be here.” He grabbed her arm, shoved her out of the room, and shut the door on her face.
When she regained her senses, she glanced down at the time stone she was holding tightly in one hand. She started panicking. She pounded on the door and shouted, “Sunbae! Sunbae, please open the door!” Her lips quivered when she saw a pair of glowing dots, like that of a predatory animal just down the hall. “Sunbae! Open it up, Sunbae! Hey, Song Jaerim!”
Suddenly, the door swung opened and her back was slammed against the wall. She was suffocating from the grip on her neck. She tried to fight off his hand, but his grip only tightened at her rebellion. As she was above ground, her feet kicked involuntarily at the emptiness. With all her might, she strained to utter, “P-please…”
He leaned forward and told her, “Your fear, we can all sense it. So stop showing it.”
She was dropped on her knees. She started coughing while tried to intake a large amount of oxygen into her lungs. She glared at him with teary eyes.
“Good, that expression looks much better on you,” he smirked. His eyes were cold and did not contain even a hint of human compassion. He began to return to the room.
She wondered what horrific deed had she done to deserve this. On the earthly realm, she could not reach her goals because nobody was willing to take a chance on her. Now that she escaped the earthly realm, she was still treated as if she belonged to the bottom of dirty barrels. She clenched her fists around the hem of her nightgown and muttered, “It’s unfair, I don’t deserve any of this.”
“Did you think that I wanted to be here?” she scorned. “If they’ve only given me a chance to show my talent, then I wouldn’t be locked up in some rotten apartment, staring out that small, paint-chipped window as others make their way to work. I don’t believe that I have asked for much – I just wanted a decent job that matched with my education background. Those damn capitalist pigs.”
“Listen to yourself.” He crouched down and chuckled. “You’re more delusional than I thought.”
“Delusional? Is it wrong to think that’s the way it should be?” she challenged. “No one likes to put in all the efforts for nought.”
“Greed,” he noted.
He stood up. “Greed is probably the reason why you ended up far beneath the earthly realm.” Then the corners of his lips were pulled upwards. His mono-lid eyes gleamed with interest. “What do you think?”
Greed? Just because she wanted more fairness? It was a laughable idea. For example, who would want to go for a dish washing job if he or she had four solid years of post-secondary education down his or her belt? She had already paid her dues. She sneered, “Greed, sloth…and pride…These are the sins I have committed in this twisted society.”
“Beautiful!” He clapped as if she was looking for praises. Then, he kneeled down so that he was at eye level with her. “I can make your dream a reality within this twisted society.”
“And you honestly think I would believe you?”
“You should, what do you got to lose?”
“You’re a devil.”
“And I’m also your sunbae,” he smiled. It was one of those warm and bright smiles that she was so used to from him. “A sunbae who likes to take good care of his hoobaes. I’ll even give more than you could ever dream of.”
“A-and I supposed that comes with a price…?” She didn’t think that her eyes would still shy away from his smile. She thought she should be immune by now given the murderous deed she had witness of him.
“As it is for all things. However, it should be a child’s play for you, given your experience here.” He extended his hand to her. “Trust me?”
She glared at him. “Don’t make it sound as if I have a choice.” Then, she took his hand.
The next moment she opened her eyes, she was nearly blinded by the ray of sunlight penetrating through the wide, wall-sized window. When she regained her composure, she realized that she was in an office room. The room was designed chicly with only the necessary equipment and furniture, absence of superfluous decorations. There were some files lying around on the desk in a disorganized manner, indicated that someone was probably busy working on them recently. Jaerim was nowhere to be seen.
A breath caught her throat when she realized the view through the window in front of her was that of other buildings. It seemed she was somewhere in the heart of downtown and she was on a high floor level. As she walked closer to the window, she noticed something was odd. Where was her reflection? Instead, a reflection of a middle age woman was showing up. She was not just an average woman either – she was Lee Boyoung, also known to the general public as the Queen of the South Korean cosmetic empire.
‘No…’ She took a step back and realized the woman in the reflection copied her. ‘No, it can’t be…’ Though, she knew very well that nothing was impossible by now.
“President Lee.” A knock on the door.
“C-come in,” she stuttered because her voice was foreign to her, and not because she could not accept the fact that she was Lee Boyoung now. Despite everything, she was given a second chance at life, and this second chance was definitely more than she could dream of.
A young woman, probably around Soeun’s age, bowed to her respectfully and said, “Mr. Oh would like to see you.”
It would be a lie to say that she did not expect to see anyone so soon with her newfound identity as Lee Boyoung. However, she was not entirely ready.
“Should I send him away…?” the young woman asked carefully upon seeing her hesitation.
“No, please bring him in.” She forged a confident smile. The fastest way to know a person was to live as that person.
She stared out the window, the heavy traffic beneath her feet with people moving in an orderly fashion like soldier ants. Looking out through the window was now a completely different experience. She no longer envied those busy worker bees, for she was now at the top of the food chain. Instead, an ungrateful emptiness settled with her.
For more than a week now, she had completely immersed herself with imitating Lee Boyoung’s behaviour and speech patterns through various media broadcasts and news clips. She also took the time to stay up late for several nights to study the profiles of the company’s employees and whatever she could in a short time for cover-up purposes. Fortunately, it was unimaginable for anyone to associate the word doubt with Lee Boyoung’s name. Therefore, all she had to do was to speak her mind confidently and no one would dare to question her. Though, she had considered the possibility that they did not question her simply because she was a mere figurehead, not much different from the role of a monarch to most nations nowadays.
Looking back at the past week, she suddenly realized that she had only a passing glance at her parents on her way to work one day. Surprisingly, they seemed to be doing well, tending the garden so early in the morning. Even as Kim Soeun, she had never called home often. So, perhaps they didn’t realize that their only daughter was no longer here – probably until the government called them with regards to her student debt. She supposed that she should pay back the loan even though she was no longer Kim Soeun. At the very least, she should not interrupt her parents’ lives too much. Though, more than that…she wanted to clear the debt off Kim’s Soeun’s name so that at least her former life would not be as pitiful looking.
She spun her chair around and greeted the young man with a smile, “Sehun, are there more documents for me to sign?”
Oh Sehun. She thought that he must be a gift sent from the heaven to help her. This young man, probably not much younger than her actual age, had never once doubted her and even worked diligently for the company’s sake. It seemed Lee Boyoung’s relationship with him was close from the beginning since he referred to her as Noona instead of President Lee like everyone else.
“No,” he responded as he closed the door. He quickly closed the blinds, blocking the view of the office workplace just outside of the room. He seated himself right across from her. He seemed nervous.
Though curious, she waited for him.
“It’s your stepdaughter. Apparently, she’s already back in Seoul,” he finally said.
She had heard about the rumour that Lee’s late husband was a secret billionaire with a daughter. She had never taken such rumour seriously before. “So?” she asked.
“So?” he was disbelieved with her nonchalant reaction. “Noona, you know she has never believed that her father died in a car accident. So, as soon as I found out that she came back, I hired a private detective…And you know what I’ve found? She’s been snooping around about her father’s death again.”
An ominous feeling came over her, though she was confused where it came from. She tried to remain calm.
“The only thing good right now is that no one else knows she’s in Seoul except us.” Then he leaned in, his eyes were suddenly ridded of innocence. He made a slicing motion with his forefinger to his neck. “We should take her out now.”
“W-what are you saying?” the corners of her mouth twitched in apprehension.
“We have to, Noona. Sooner or later, she will find out about the accident.”
‘No…this is not happening…Song Jaerim, you can’t do this to me.’ Now she realized what the price was, and it was not simply pretending to be Lee Boyoung for the rest of her life.
“No. We’re not doing that,” she dismissed his idea. “Two wrongs do not make a right. Now, would you please excuse yourself? I’ll pretend this conversation never happened.”
His eyes suddenly darkened, but he quickly relaxed his facial expression into a smile before she noticed. “Okay.”
It was an early Saturday when she received a text message from Sehun urging her to return to the office quickly to sign a document that would ensure a renewal contract with one of the company’s biggest buyers later on. Unlike what she expected, there were still some employees working throughout the office floors on the weekend. She wondered if she would had been one of those girls working overtime like this if she had hold on a little longer. However, she didn’t and yet, the outcome did not turn out so bad, even though this emptiness in her was not going away. She smiled at the employees who greeted her.
“Noona.” Sehun smiled.
“So where’s the document?” she asked. Though, she really wanted to ask why he entered her office without permission.
He shut the door.
She thought she imagined him even locking the door.
“Noona, are you really going to let your stepdaughter snoop around like that?” he asked. His voice was surprisingly even.
Suddenly afraid to sit down, she eyed him warily. “We’ve been over this already.”
“Noona, I wish you wouldn’t push me like this.” He suddenly pulled out a knife from his messenger bag that was lying comfortably on the chair.
“But don’t worry, your company will be in very good hands from now on.” He grinned. “Because you see, you have been transferring everything to me for the last few years.”
“No…” she whispered. She could accept that there was no free lunch in this world, but she could not accept this.
“Oh yes.” He chuckled. “How could you not read anything at all? At first, I didn’t believe it either. But I’m glad that I took the risk, because I am right that you’re going to betray me one day…”
“You can’t do this, Sehun…” she tried to persuade him.
He did not stop advancing.
“Isn’t this view exhilarating?” A different voice was in the room.
She glanced to her right and found Jaerim standing there just a few feet away, enjoying the view of the city. She realized that Sehun did not seem to notice him.
“Liking my present so far?” Jaerim asked as he took a seat on the edge of the desk.
“Sunbae, please stop this!” she begged.
“Ah…I forgot to tell you that this young man here used be to Lee Boyoung-sshi’s stalker…That was until Lee Boyoung-sshi decided to crack open her late husband’s head.” As if he suddenly found the globe interesting, he gave it a spin.
“Why are you doing this…?” She was getting tired of all this madness.
“W-who are you talking to?” sehun asked nervously, quickly glancing the direction that she was staring at from time to time.
Jaerim crossed his arms and shook his head. “You should be a little bit more grateful, Soeun.”
She glared at him, realizing that he would just standby without any intention to help.
“Okay, fine,” he sighed and got off the desk. “You better not say that this sunbae is a mean one after this…One of you has to die today. Choice A, you die. Choice B, he dies. If you choose choice B, then I supposed I can give you his knife so that you can stab his pretty throat out. I personally like choice B because his voice is really annoying.”
She was shocked with his proposal to say the least.
“Oh yea, you got only one minute now,” the devil mentioned.