Close to Me

The Bunny and The Bear
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“This is not gonna work, Irene.”   Irene tried hard not to roll her eyes at Taeyeon who had just gotten a look at the concept she had put together for two weeks. She had not been having the best Monday so far, and it had only been half-past nine.   “We both know this can work, Boss. Joy and I have been going in and out of their office for the past week and I’m confident this is exactly what they need for their product launch. This is the perfect concept for them!”   “I’m not saying this is a bad concept, I’m saying they won’t approve of this. It’s way beyond their budget and Joy would have wasted weeks of collecting the data you need from them.”   “I’ve calculated the cost. We can make this work and make this worth the money they’re gonna spent.”   Taeyeon tried not to sigh at the determination in Irene’s eyes. “We don’t have any in-house designer that can pull this off in less than three weeks. A freelancer would make this possible but then the margins will be cut and Tiffany will not be happy about it. You know why.”   Because hiring a good designer for a short timeline is expensive and Tiffany has to maintain good cash flow. “Despite knowing that Boa will be pleased that Yunho will like this concept?”   “Yes, even if she knows Yunho will like this concept.”   Irene could feel a headache coming in, particularly because Taeyeon is speaking all the right words right now. It was another dilemma of choosing between profit or quality; between making sure that their company has a good margin or making Boa, the owner of their company, proud of the concept they’re pitching for Yunho, an old friend of hers. “You know I always choose quality over profit.”   “And that’s why you’re our Creative Director and not the Finance Manager,” Taeyeon shook her head at the Director’s stubbornness. “I tell you what, I’m giving you a chance to make a list of the cost you think we’ll need to pull your concept off. Would be better if you also have a list of potential designers to work freelance for us as well, but I know it’s hard to have it done by this afternoon, so,” the blonde shrugged, “the production cost first so at least Tiffany will be able to have her say on this.”   Everyone knows Irene loves a good challenge and Taeyeon just threw her another one. “Consider it done,” she grunted.   #   For the past fifteen minutes, Irene has been staring at her screen, rechecking the list she has created with Joy. The Marketing Associate apparently had the same concern as Taeyeon and was not afraid to voice it out as well. Not that Irene didn’t expect it, but there was a slight disappointment that Joy forgot what she said to Yunho on their initial meeting that Revel Creatives offers ‘nothing but the best in the client’s interest’. As the Creative Director, she’s trying to deliver that promise and yet people were doubting her.     “Slow down a bit, Joohyun-ah.”   Irene scoffed but didn’t take her eyes off of her monitor. “I told you not to call me that while we’re in the office.”   “I know, but I like annoying you. I’m petty like that.”   Seulgi took the empty seat beside Irene, grinning when the latter glared at her.   “Have you even finished that wireframe Sunny-sunbaenim asked you to do?”   “I have. She’s looking at it as we speak,” Seulgi shot a look behind Irene to the Project Manager who had her eyes glued to her monitor. “And I have time to poke fun at you, so, here I am.”   Irene jabbed her index finger at Seulgi’s side, fighting a smirk when the younger woman writhed in her seat. “There, I poked you back. Go annoy someone else.”   “So bossy,” Seulgi tutted, massaging her waist where Irene poked.   “I am your boss!” Irene hissed to which the latter cackled. The Creative Director huffed, feeling the familiar fluttering in her stomach nevertheless.     Taking her glasses off, Irene let out a huge breath and close her eyes. The past three months had not been easy for her with what happened in her personal life. Her younger sister had been pestering her to come home (not in the most discreet way) while her mom kept calling her to check if she had eaten. She knew why her family was acting that way and it irked her even more.   Why does everyone think she’s miserable after the breakup? It was a mutual thing! There was nothing happy about a breakup, obviously, but it was exactly what they needed in regards to their careers. Why prolong something when you know it would only be in the way of their self-development?   Irene grunted when she heard the familiar ringtone. Exhaling an annoyed sigh, she grabbed her phone and not even waiting for the other person to say anything before saying, “Yes mom, I’m gonna have my lunch now. I’m going into the elevator right now so I’ll call you–“   “Hyun-ah! Have you heard that Seulgi is back in Seoul?”   Irene froze while grabbing some cash inside her purse. “What?”   “I called her just now and she told me she arrived in Seoul last Friday! She said she’s going to visit Daegu soon to catch up with us. Why didn’t you tell me that she’s not in Tokyo anymore?”   There was too many information in just a few seconds and Irene stuttered, “I– Mom, I’m going– I’ll call you later okay? It’s– The elevator is here.”   “What? Bae Joohyun–!”   The call ended with a tap but Irene’s mind was still in haywire. Seulgi is back?   #   Seulgi planted kisses on the back of Joohyun’s shoulder, smiling when the woman beneath her stirred in her sleep.   “I can’t believe you still annoy me when I’m asleep,” Joohyun muttered, pushing her face deeper into the pillow.   “You’re the one who said we should jog in the morning. It is morning already.”   Slightly raising her face from the pillow, Joohyun took a peek at the digital clock on the bedside table that read 6.13.   “Unless, of course, you’d rather sleep so who am I to deny you of that,” Seulgi whispered against the back of her head, holding her closer so her back was flush against Seulgi’s front. Even in such position, Joohyun could feel the younger woman beamed at the prospect of spending the morning sleeping.   Shifting her body so she was above Seulgi instead, Joohyun saw Seulgi smiling at her, eyes disappearing behind her monolids. “Tell me how you can wake up earlier before me.”   “Maybe… I haven’t slept a wink?”   Joohyun almost laughed at that if only she didn’t see how Seulgi’s eyes are still heavy with sleep. “Why?”   “Do you know that looking at you sleeping peacefully is therapeutic?” Seulgi replied instead.   Any other days, Joohyun would poke fun at her for being so greasy but the young designer looked so soft in the dim of her room that she kissed her lips instead. “You spent the whole night just looking at me instead of sleeping?”   “Not the whole night, obviously, just…” Seulgi counted with her fingers, “three hours, maybe?”   The year before, Seulgi was the shy one between them. Yet here they were, bantering about having all night. “You wore me out too, you …” Joohyun bit her lower lip when Seulgi wiggled her eyebrows.   The younger woman cupped Joohyun’s face, planting kisses on the corner of her lips before inching to the open mouth. “I can never get enough of you, Joohyunnie.”   The fluttering was back in Joohyun’s stomach when she felt Seulgi’s dainty fingers traced her back and pulled her smaller body on Seulgi’s lap.   “Ditto,” Joohyun whispered with a moan when Seulgi’s lips were already tracing her collarbone, smiling against her skin.     The bowl of half-finished Jjajangmyeon was in front of her but Irene’s mind was on the phone in her grip. She was pondering of whether she should call Seulgi after what her mother said before. After all, the last time they were talking was when they decided that a long-distance relationship was not for them. The call ended with a smile – and a whole night of crying for Joohyun afterward – and that was it. She was sure that Seulgi would spend at least a year in Tokyo and not back here so soon.   Her thought broke when a message popped on her screen instead.   Tiffany is free at 1. Are you ready?   It was already ten to one so Irene took another bite of the cold noodles before replying.   Ok. Be there in a minute.   #   “Therefore, I’m confident that we’ll nail this concept. The margin might not be much with the price that Yunho has approved but this one will definitely stick and we can make the deadline.”   Irene ended her presentation, studying the look on Tiffany’s face. The Finance Director’s expression usually mirrors her thoughts but at this time, Irene couldn’t really tell what was on her mind.   “I think it’s a good concept,” Tiffany started, “but I’m more concerned on the manpower rather than the cost. Who’s your designer for this project?”   “I’m the lead designer and Wheein can support me with her drawings. Most of the sketches in this concept are made by her, I just improved it to match the styles that Yunho prefers.”   “You do know that Wheein is still working on the storyboard for the Daesun soju ads, right?” Sunny, the Project Manager, inquired.   “Yes, but as I said, we already have some sketches for the ballroom decorations. I just need her to design the rest and I’ll finish mine in a week.”   “All that while you’re hunting for a freelancer to support you?”   “Yes.”   Taeyeon and Sunny shared a look and Irene already knew what that meant.   “I haven’t started hunting for potential freelancers but I already have someone in mind,” Irene stated before she could think twice.   “Who?” Taeyeon asked.   “Kang Seulgi.”   Taeyeon sighed. “Irene…”   “Apparently she’s in Seoul right now so I can offer her to be the support.”   “I don’t think it’s a good idea. When she left this office, she told us that she’ll be working for a Japanese company. It would be...unethical to hire her.”   “Why? Because she’s my ex?”   “No, because I'm a hundred percent sure she's bound to a contract,” Taeyeon replied before Irene could rebut, “And she has more experience than Wheein. The logical idea would be having her to be your support instead of Wheein but, well, seeing how this can get very personal to you, I’m not really fond of this idea.”   “It won’t be personal. We separated on good terms!”   Sunny shot her a look and Irene gulped. Way to prove that it would be impersonal, indeed.   “I’m just saying…”   Taeyeon sighed. It didn’t take a genius to find out that Irene was too invested with the idea of working with Seulgi again. “Soonkyu, look for a designer, will you? Someone with a bit of experience, at least close to Wheein’s skill,” the CEO ordered to the Manager.   Irene gaped in disbelief.   #   Despite having Taeyeon explaining further why having Seulgi working for them wouldn’t be good, Irene was irritated. Even her bosses think that she couldn’t handle her break up well and work professionally alongside her ex!   She had to prove them wrong. She was no longer a teenager pining for her lost love. It was a mutual breakup for mutual benefit; there was no reason why she was unable to function while working with Seulgi again.   Which was why she was sitting in the corner of the very same restaurant where she had her lunch, ignoring the questioning look from the waitress that served her.   She was confident that this dinner would go well and–   Her thought skidded to a halt at the familiar face who just stepped inside the restaurant. Their gazes met and Irene could feel the fluttering in her stomach when the corners of Seulgi’s lips quirked in a grin.   Okay, maybe it wasn’t the best idea, after all.   #   “I can’t believe your mom told you that I’m back. I mean, I kind of expected that she would, but I didn’t think we would be having dinner together a few hours later,” Seulgi remarked while trying to have a bite of her jjajangmyeon.   “You’re back so soon so I’m curious. Is everything okay?” Irene stirred her jjambbong, fixing a bite while cooling down the noodle.   Seulgi nodded with full. “I passed the probation period so I’m working remotely from here.”   “Is congratulation still in order?”   “Depends. Are you surprised that I passed?”   “Not at the slightest,” Irene grinned.   “If you must know, I also accept congratulation in the form of a free meal. Well, would you look at that,” Seulgi gestured at her bowl of black bean noodle.   Irene chuckled, concentrating on her bowl instead of the beaming bear-like woman sitting in front of her. True, it wasn’t surprising that Seulgi passed the probation period in her new company. What was surprising was her decision to work in Seoul instead of Tokyo.   “Why do they allow you to work remotely from here, though?”   “Because we also have a client base in South Korea. They would save a lot of money if I stay here to pitch meetings with clients instead of flying back and forth from Tokyo to Seoul every time. Besides, I can have a short break whenever I want rather than planning my leave to be in Seoul.”   “And here I thought you’d be staying permanently in Tokyo.”   “I thought so too,” Seulgi laughed, “but after six months I’m kinda bored of Tokyo and started missing the food in Gwangjang market. I’ve also travelled around Japan for a while and decided that it would be best if I work in Seoul.”   “Hmm… I guess it would be impossible to offer you a project, huh…” Irene mumbled, but loud enough for Seulgi to hear.   “What was that?”   A part of her had already given up on the idea of working with Seulgi again. But it didn’t hurt to tell her about what happened in the meetings today, right?   By the time Irene had told Seulgi everything about the meetings and the concept she had drawn up with Wheein, both of them were already halfway to Irene’s apartment with Seulgi offering to walk her home so she could finish listening to the older woman.   “Tell me honestly. Am I the crazy one here who thinks that I can still work well with you?” Irene couldn’t hold back on her hopeful tone.   “No, I think it’s a good idea! I would love to work on your concept again, just like the old days.”   “Really?”   “Yeah, as long as my name is not on the contract. My boss won’t be happy if he found out that I’m working on another project the first day I’m back in Seoul,” Seulgi scratched the nape of her neck.   Irene frowned. “Are you sure?”   “Yeah. Tiffany doesn’t even need to pay me anything as long as I can work with you.”   Seulgi said it so easily that Irene faltered. Working for free in a project worth close to a hundred million won? And she thought she’s the crazy one.   “Okay, don’t get too excited just yet,” Seulgi touched her arm slightly so as not to alarm her. “I would still need to meet Taeyeon outside of the office to discuss the perks in exchange for my rate.”   “Perks?”   “Yeah, I don’t exactly work for nothing, you know?” Seulgi grinned. “I learned that money is not the only thing that matters as long as I can get something better in return. That way I can maintain my work quality while making sure my company gets the profit margin they want.”   “Is that why your company agreed to let you work in Seoul?”   “Among many things, yes.”   “I guess I can fix you a meeting with Taeyeon soon. The project is in production starting from next week so we don’t have any time to waste.”   “Sounds great. Your concept is interesting as always, Joohyunnie. I can’t wait to work with you again.”   Irene was too engrossed in their conversation that she didn’t realize they had arrived in front of her door. Having Seulgi listening and smiling at her again definitely took her back to when they were still working for the same company. It wasn’t even that long ago when Seulgi walked her home after work.   “I’ll text you the details tomorrow then.”   “Can’t wait.”   Seulgi stepped closer to Joohyun and planted a quick kiss to her cheek. Surprised at the gesture, Joohyun pushed her away, not missing the disappointment marring Seulgi's face.   “I’m sorry!” she quickly took a step back, lowering her face in embarrassment.   “It-It’s fine,” Seulgi stammered. “I’ll see you soon, yeah? Goodnight.”   Before Irene could apologize again, Seulgi had left for the elevator. Groaning at her stupid reflex, Irene keyed in her lock code, trying not to think of how Seulgi’s warmth spread from her cheek.   Old habits die hard, indeed.   #   The next day went by with Irene convincing Taeyeon to meet Seulgi in a nearby coffee shop. The CEO only agreed to come for the sake of catching up with her old mentee, seemingly satisfied that the young woman has matured more as time went by. It felt like yesterday when she convinced Seulgi to be Irene’s mentee for a while.   Halfway through Taeyeon’s Americano, Irene told her boss what she told Seulgi the day before. Her rebuttal to disagree with the decision was forgotten when Seulgi said she didn’t need to be paid.   “Stop joking around, SeulGom. What did she promise you, huh??” Taeyeon glanced at Irene, who was offended at such accusation.   “I didn’t promise her anything!” “Relax, Unnie. She didn’t promise me anything.”   At the corner of her eyes, Irene could catch a glimpse of Seulgi’s gaze on her, prompting a blush on her cheeks.   “Okay,” Taeyeon drawled, studying the two younger women.   “I’m thinking of getting some perks in exchange for my assistance. Don’t worry, these perks won’t cost you a penny. In fact, it will speed up the whole production process.”   Seulgi’s perks were surprisingly simpler than what Irene expected. Instead of working in Revel, Irene would work in Seulgi’s apartment. It’s basically Seulgi’s workplace so they wouldn’t need to bring anything. By doing so, she would be able to work with what Wheein and Irene had been working so far. To maintain her anonymity in the project, only the three of them would know about this ‘agreement’.   As simple as it was, Taeyeon couldn’t hide her concern of the two working together for two weeks in the ‘comf
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Some of you early readers are lucky bcs I forgot to lock the update 😅
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