Chapter 29 - Negotiation
When I had returned to my original spot after this sequence of meaningless actions, Keith opened his mouth.
“Is that all?”
When I looked up, he asked again with an apathetic tone.
“Is that everything you’re asking for? Nothing else?”
I contemplated for a moment. From time to time, I had admittedly imagined what I would ask for if a lamp spirit appeared before me to grant my wish. Now that it became real, however, I couldn’t come up with anything on the spot. Keith was no genie. It wasn’t like I had a limited number of wishes, but he also wouldn’t grant me any random wish. I subconsciously took a deep breath. It felt like the scent of the pheromones had dwindled—perhaps because I had breathed in some outside air, albeit for a split second. I lifted my sleeve off my nose and opened my mouth.
“I was joking about the shares. Please pretend it never happened.”
Keith seemed to have been caught off guard. He asked, “Even if you were joking, isn’t this a good opportunity?”
I replied formally, “Everything in this world comes at a price. I don’t want to accept anything overly generous only to regret it later. I also don’t want you to be satisfied thinking that you’ve done enough since you granted me huge favors. Besides, if you’re giving me that much, you’re going to ask for more in return, right? Be honest. What were you going to ask me to do in exchange for your offer?”
Keith didn’t say anything for a while. Then, he let out an airy laugh. Of course, he wasn’t laughing because he found my words truly funny.
“Ten years of service.”
“I firmly refuse.” I hardened my face and turned down his offer. I corrected, “One year contract, renewed annually. I will only accept as much compensation as I work for.”
“Hah…” Keith sighed in exasperation, like a deflating balloon. “So there’s nothing more you want?”
“There is. I’d like a salary raise,” I announced my condition. “I suffered a lot of damage at your indecent party, Mr. Pittman. Not only that, but I’ve also had to use a lot of my personal money and sacrifice my mental wellbeing while cleaning up after your messy personal life… as you should have realized during this incident.”
I intentionally picked out the most direct expressions and left him with an implicative remark. Keith didn’t say anything. If I were to be hired once again, I would never be able to say these things anyway. Before I returned to being my mute, cold-hearted self, I decided to spill out just 30 percent of what I had kept piled up in my mind. That was the condition I wanted from this man in return.
“If you really wish to hire me again, please take that into consideration when calculating my salary. One more thing—whenever there’s going to be a party of that kind, make sure to tell me what the party will be about in advance. When you do, I will hire a party planner and excuse myself from the party. Those are the three things I ask of you.”
“… Is that all?”
Keith seemed visibly disappointed, as if he was expecting me to ask for something huge. I didn’t know what in the world he had imagined before coming here, but I didn’t want to know. I nodded. Keith opened his mouth slowly.
“It worries me when someone asks for so little.” He squinted his eyes and stared at me. “It sounds to me like you’re trying to take on less responsibilities.”
It felt like I had been exposed. He was right, and I had no need to hide it.
“I expect that you would make sure I don’t want to quit again, Mr. Pittman.”
“You expect me to suck up to you?”
“That’s not what I meant.” I quickly clarified, “I’m just asking you to be a little more considerate toward me. I don’t want you to misunderstand.”
“And if I don’t meet your expectations, you’re going to quit again?”
“Is there really such a thing called ‘forever?’” I retorted.
Keith didn’t say anything. I nonchalantly continued to explain my train of thought.
“Everything has an end. You might end up firing me, and I might not be able to continue working even if I wanted to—if, for instance, P Entertainment goes bankrupt.” I added quickly, “Of course, it’s just an example.”
Keith continued to remain silent. Instead, he stared at me with a strange expression. That was why I flinched when he gently scoffed and smiled.
“I don’t know how you managed to not say all that until now.”
I confessed, “I’ll hold them back again once I start working, so I should enjoy this while I can.”
To my surprise, Keith burst out in laughter. I opened my eyes wide. I had never seen him look so entertained. Actually, I felt like he did smile when I first met him way back in the day. However, this was my first time seeing him laugh out loud. While I was rendered speechless staring at him, he stopped laughing and stood up from the couch. A hint of laughter still lingered on his face as he looked at me. I was enchanted by his refreshing smile.
He said something, but I was only able to process his words after a few seconds of silence.
“Recalculate your salary, control my pheromones, and tell you about the party whenever I decide to hold one. Is that it?”
I somehow managed to nod. It suddenly felt harder to breathe. He was holding back his pheromones as promised. I had no reason to feel like I was choking, but my breathing became ragged regardless. Keith was right. The living room was too small. All he did was stand up from the couch, but the distance between him and me had become too close. I consciously suppressed my breathing. Keith continued to speak.
“… is how it will be finalized, so let’s call it here. You’ll be coming back to work after the weekend.”
He must have been talking about my salary and the paperwork regarding my new contract. I merely nodded. Keith knit his brows. He had been smiling so brightly just a moment ago. Just as I caught myself feeling a little disappointed, he suddenly took a big step toward me.
Before I could do anything, we met eyes. I almost gulped down my breath, but I held myself back. When I hurriedly lowered my head, Keith stretched out his arm and placed his hand on the wall.
He asked dubiously, “What’s wrong? Are you feeling ill? Should I call 911?”
“N-No,” I frantically denied.
However, Keith didn’t believe me. “Your face is red. Do you have a fever?”
“I-I might just be catching a cold. I’ll be fine if I rest. It’s pretty late, after all.”
I nervously but swiftly came up with an excuse. Would he believe me? Would he be fooled?
When I cautiously tilted my head up, our eyes locked immediately. It felt like my heart was going to burst. I leaned onto the wall and gulped down my nonexistent saliva.
Suddenly, Keith’s eyes narrowed. I blankly continued to stare at his face. It didn’t feel real at all. Us staring at each other in my humble living room, him looking down at me like this, our lips drawing closer together—
‘This can’t be.’
As our lips touched, I closed my eyes in denial.