Chapter 38 - Competence
When I muttered only those words after waiting for Keith to hang up, he frowned and glanced briefly toward me before quickly shifting his gaze away. After that, we didn’t say a word to each other. I wanted to ask Keith how he ended up coming all the way here, but the words didn’t come out of my mouth. In the end, I kept my mouth closed, and Keith too didn’t bother talking until the car arrived at the hospital.
The problem was after that. I couldn’t get out of the car. As I stood there frozen and trembling, Keith’s face distorted once again. However, it wasn’t something I could control. The trembling continued against my will, and the next moment I was hyperventilating. “Hahh, hahh. Hahh, hahh…”
Whitaker hurriedly fetched me a plastic bag. I put it up to my mouth and suppressed my ragged breath. Beyond my hazy conscience, I felt Keith leave the car. Then, someone else came in.
I rapidly swallowed a scream and jumped backward. As I flattened my trembling body against the window and the seat, the stranger said, “It’s all right. Calm down. I’m Norman Steward, the doctor. I heard that you’re Mr. Pittman’s secretary. You must know my name, then, right?”
When he smiled, his face made him seem unfathomably compassionate. I huffed, my body still stiff and motionless. Steward didn’t move from his spot and waited for me to calm down. I could see that the car door was wide open behind him. If any problems arose, Whitaker or someone else would be able to help me. As I reached that thought, the tension in my body started to dissipate.
“Yes, good. You did great,” Steward encouraged me gently.
I was suddenly taken by a coughing fit. My shoulders shook along with my hacking coughs. Only when I finally managed to calm down a little did Steward speak again. “Are you feeling better now?”
Struggling not to avert his gaze, I squeezed out, “Yes.”
That was all. However, seemingly unperturbed, Steward remained unmoving from his spot and continued softly, “It seems like a panic disorder. Has this ever happened before?”
I shook my head.
“I see,” Steward murmured and carefully asked with an increasingly gentle voice, “Was there an event or just something that comes to your mind that may have been the cause of this? What happened just before you had a panic attack?”
Unable to answer right away, I bit my lip. The very thought of talking about the incident with my own mouth caused me so much pain and shame to the point that I wanted to die.
As my breath grew ragged once more, Steward quickly added, “It’s all right, Yeonwoo. It’s safe here. What you’re worried about will never happen here. Take it easy and exhale slowly. Yes, you’re doing great. Again, slowly…”
When I finally managed to reclaim by breathing, what hit me next was a tsunami of exhaustion. What was the point of all this? I suddenly felt despondent. Suffering and feeling ashamed like this all felt in vain. I knew I would regret this once my conscience returned. The shame and the pain would grow multiple times in size and bite back at me.
However, I didn’t care about any of that right now.
I was too exhausted, and all I wanted to do was end it all.
“…That night, at the party…”
As I slowly and softly began to tell the story of that night’s incident, Steward quietly listened to me.
“… And that’s everything.”
When I managed to wrap up my story at last, I was completely out of energy and on the brink of collapsing once again. I was so tired, I didn’t think I could utter another word. Steward, who had patiently and silently been listening to my choppy sentences, spoke for the first time in a while. “I see.”
As I blinked slowly, Steward serenely continued without any particular change of expression. “It must have been hard to tell this story, and I thank you for that. You should get some rest now. I’ll talk to Mr. Pittman.”
He slowly moved his body and got out of the car so that he wouldn’t surprise me. When I was left alone, my gaze locked onto the open entrance of the car. Just as I opened my eyes wide, thinking that someone might barge in any moment, Steward closed the door from the outside as if he had noticed my concern.
“Phew.” Now that I was alone for sure, the tension in my entire body disappeared, and I let out a deep sigh. Exhaustion abruptly washed over me. I closed my eyes and leaned against the window. I thought I saw Steward talking to Keith in my peripheral vision. However, my conscience soon drifted into darkness, and I dozed off.
I woke up when I heard the sudden noise of the door opening. I sat wide-eyed and frozen in shock until I smelled a faint scent of pheromones mixed with the smell of cigarettes. ‘Ah.’
Suddenly, I felt relieved, and my body grew relaxed. When the source of the scent stepped into the car without hesitation, my eyes that were opened wide returned to their normal size.
Keith immediately shut the door and remained silent for a moment. Under the anxiety and tension of being left in the car with him alone, I felt a strange sense of joy. I couldn’t speak in fear of this fleeting happiness disappearing like a bubble. Instead of the coward that was me, Keith was the one who spoke first. “So what are you going to do?”
I blinked, unable to catch the meaning behind his question. Keith stared at me. Only then did I understand. I bit my lip and released it before saying, “…I can’t work in this state. I’d either have to take a long-term leave… or resign from the job. I’m sorry.”
I quickly attached the final apology and immediately closed my mouth, waiting for his response. Keith didn’t show any reaction for a while. I didn’t have the courage to look at him, so I averted his gaze. The smell of the cigarette that was mixed into his pheromones felt a little stronger. Soon, Keith asked, “When did you sign the return contract? Six months ago?”
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