Chapter Three

There was a beautiful poetry about arriving fresh at work the following morning to an office full of groaning, baggy-eyed co-workers half of whom were almost cradling their head on their desks. The timing couldn’t have been better, either, given that awful photo that they’d taken of me yesterday. I took far too much pleasure in making zero attempt to be considerate. Michelangelo nodded violently as I kicked my bottom drawer shut and sat down.

“Give me a break, Mini,” a voice droned from the other side of the partition. It sounded suspiciously like it was being mumbled through a forearm. “I have the world’s worst hangover.”

And I’m playing the world’s smallest violin. “Sorry,” I said, aware of just how un-sorry I sounded. I may have been grinning.

Being a global company meant that most of my important emails arrived overnight, and I had to spend a few minutes combing through them for anything of importance. It took more effort than usual today: some other poor sucker had drunk too much yesterday and passed out in a weird position on a bench. One of the reps had taken the lasso tool to the picture of him and pasted him into a series of settings, footy matches, Lady Gaga concerts, Centrelink office stairs… the list went on. The pictures were being circulated with serious subjects as headers so you opened them with no idea what you were about to see. My ‘delete’ key was certainly getting a workout.

There were actually some important emails in the mix, though. Frost was doing explorations in a couple of countries in Africa, and my best guess about the next assignment we’d all be on was to canvas for investors to establish mines there. I sat back in my chair and read through some of the PDFs, ignoring all the email notifications popping up from my own team. I wasn’t a big fan of marketing to investors – it was a really dry topic and I usually ended up using pretty much the same content and layout each time. On the other hand, it would mean scoring business trips to Botswana, and probably to New York again. That could be cool.

I had been trying to figure out the closest major airport to Botswana when hands drumming the petition behind me loudly made me jump. I swivelled towards the racket.

“Hey, Marketing!” our executive marketing manager Jason boomed over the top of me. He was possibly the only person aside from the two CEOs who wasn’t known by a nickname, and that’s because he was this imposing, extroverted man who everyone was a little afraid of. My usual interactions with him involved a combination of the following: him barking instructions at me on an airplane while hosties in the background were telling him to turn his mobile off, getting emails at 4am because he’d ‘just had an idea about something’ and as a result I needed to change twenty pages of documents right now, and having him suddenly appear behind me out of nowhere to drop MRDs on my desk and casually suggest I clear my calendar for the next two weeks. The rumours were that he and the other co-CEO Sean Frost worked out together and Jason’s biceps were so thick his shirt sleeves looked like they were about to tear open at the seams.

I must have been looking at them while he was thumping away at the partitions, because I made eye-contact with Sarah across the floor and she grinned at me. Two seconds later I got an email from her and the text read, ‘Pretty sure you’re not his type…’. I snorted and replied, ‘What a coincidence, he’s not mine, either 😉.’ Sarah raised her eyebrows at me, and I realized what I might have inadvertently implied in comparing myself to him. I didn’t get to correct that, though, because Jason started speaking.

“It’s that time of the month again,” Jason was calling. “And, no, I don’t mean where I get neurotic and start crying hysterically. Although you guys will be doing that pretty soon, judging by the number of contracts we need. Nope,” he leaned theatrically on the partition. “Sales, management and of course, me, have picked teams for the next pitches and we’ll be sending out an email in a sec with details. Some of you might be on more than one team. Sorry about that. Not really, though. If you have questions, I’ll be in my office for once.” He gave us an exaggeratedly macho wave, and then disappeared into said office.

I looked back over towards where Sarah was, but she had already been accosted by a couple of other reps. I watched them for a few seconds to figure out if they were just passing by, but from Sarah’s expression it was actually business. To her it was, anyway. The two men were watching her white blouse a little too closely, it was both disgusting and fascinating. She noticed it, too, and didn’t seem to care. She just tapped her pen on her glossy lips and read whatever document they’d handed her.

Someone groaned across from me. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said aloud. “I’m on investment in Canada again.”

I glanced over at him; he was leaning up to his computer screen with a frown on his face. At the same time I realized everyone else was doing the same thing, my computer chimed and a new email alert appeared. I figured it was the email Jason had been talking about. Leaning up to the screen myself, I scrolled down the list of names for each project.

My name wasn’t anywhere.

I must have missed it. I opened the search field and typed ‘Lee’, and it retuned no results. I sat back for a second, my stomach dropping. Up until that point, I hadn’t given much thought to my exchange with Diane Frost yesterday. Right now, though, that’s all I could think about. Fuck, had my colour scheme in that brochure really been that bad? I’d heard of people who’d failed to perform being transferred out of marketing into admin, but I’d never had anyone criticize my work before. Sure, management sometimes wanted me to change a few things, but it was never serious. I couldn’t lose my job, I couldn’t. I was my job. I took a deep breath to try and steady myself. Chill, Min, just chill. They probably just accidentally didn’t assign you, I’m sure it’s happened before. There are a lot of reps here, they probably just missed you. Despite trying to reassure myself there was probably a boring explanation for why my name wasn’t there, I had a bad feeling.

While I was busy stressing the fuck out, my chair spun around. It was Sarah’s arm on the spine on it. “Can I borrow you for a second?” she asked with urgency, and then ushered me over away from the floor before halting in front of me. “Wow, Min,” she said, glancing back towards everyone to make sure no one could hear us. “Who else knows?”

I gaped down at her, my heart still pounding from the email. Did she know something I didn’t? “Who else knows what?”

She leaned in a little. “You know, that thing with Jason…”

I had hardly spoken to Jason in at least three weeks, I was pretty certain that nothing had happened between us that would get me in trouble. Especially not something that Sarah would know about before I did. Just in case, though, I tried frantically to rehash my last few contacts with him to figure out if I’d done something wrong. “What thing? What did you hear?”

She just looked blankly at me for a second as if she had no idea what I was talking about. “Min, you sent me an email like five minutes ago.”

Sent an email like… oh! Oh. That email where I might accidentally have implied I was gay by comparing myself with Jason. She thought I’d just come out to her? That was it? I was so relieved I laughed. It was about four hundred times better than what I thought I was going to hear: about some awful transgression I’d made that had resulted in me being ejected from Marketing. “God!” I said. “No. No, no. I’m not… I’m sure I told you about Henry, didn’t I? Wow, I thought you were going to tell me something else!”

“Well, yeah, I knew you two were together, but…” She didn’t finish that sentence, shaking her head and laughing along with me. “Jeez, Min, I was like—am I the last one to know about this? You said it so casually. Whoops.” She took a deep breath. “Sorry for freaking you out. Anyway, which project did you get?”

I stopped laughing and winced, remembering what I’d been worrying about. “That’s actually what I thought you were going to ask me about. My name isn’t on the project list.”

Sarah’s brow dipped. “Like, not at all?” I shook my head, and she blew a gust of air out through her lips. “Well, there are thirty of us. Maybe it’s an accident.”

“Maybe,” I said, doubting it. “Which project did you get?”

She rolled her eyes. “Two, unfortunately. I’m doing web analytics and social media for private consumers again. I need to stop doing a good job with that.” I remembered a year or two ago Sarah, who had previously been a Facebook evangelist, announcing that marketing had put her off Facebook forever. I never saw her online anymore. “Also I’m on another project that doesn’t have specs yet. It’s called ‘Pink’, though, so it might just been one of Jason’s really unfunny jokes.”

I had opened my mouth to make a snide comment about that, but before I did we were interrupted. “Hey, Mini!” someone shouted across the floor. We both looked out towards the voice. A rep from my workstation was holding his phone with the handset pressed across his shoulder. “Phone!”

I looked back at Sarah. She gestured towards the rep, her elaborate bracelets jingling. “Maybe there’s your answer?”

I swallowed. “It’s been nice knowing you,” I said darkly.

She laughed. “I bet it’s just a mistake,” she said, touching my arm amicably like she usually did to everyone. Because I had been distracted, though, I wasn’t ready to try and feign being cool about it. She noticed my unease and quickly put it back down by her side, making me feel so awkward. I could have kicked myself. She didn’t mention it, and I didn’t mention it, but I just felt like I’d failed a test.

I had to say something quickly so we could pretend it hadn’t happened. “I hope it’s a mistake.”

Thankfully, she just let the whole arm thing slide. “I’m sure that’s it. But, hey, if it’s not and you are in trouble, me and some of the girls from Risk are going for drinks at Harbour View tonight,” she offered. I knew the girls she was talking about; they were basically a catalogue of fully-clothed Victoria’s Secret models who’d been friends since university, and Sarah fit right in with them. My hesitancy must have shown on my face, because she added, “I swear, Min, one of these days I’m going to get you to come with us. You can’t work twenty-four seven.”

“Is that a double-dare?” I asked as jokingly as I could with a really forced smile, not really wanting to explain what it felt like tacking along with a group of people who knew each other really well. I’d rather let them assume it was purely because I was a workaholic. Four years since I moved to Sydney and I still felt like the new exchange student sometimes.

We said our goodbyes and I went over to the rep who was sighing heavily and impatiently fidgeting. “Took you long enough,” he said, passing me the handset of his phone over the partition and sitting back in front of his emails. He muttered something about women and talking.

I resisted the urge to make a dry comment on the extreme importance of catching up on the latest celebrity goss, just putting the phone to my ear. “Hello, Min speaking.” I glanced over towards Sarah’s desk, she’d sat down and was chatting with the rep that sat opposite her.

“Min Lee?” I didn’t recognize the voice, but I made an affirmative noise anyway. “If you’re free, Diane Frost would like to see you for a moment in her office.”

That made me pay attention to the phone; my stomach dropped as soon as I heard that name. Diane Frost wanted to see me in her office? Fuck, my brochures, they were that bad.

I looked up at her office, but all I could see was that bun and a perfectly coiffured hairline peeking over her monitor as she worked. She didn’t look angry, just busy. That didn’t stop me from being able to feel my pulse thumping in my neck, though. I looked around to see if anyone else was listening in; they weren’t. “I’ll be right there,” I said, passing the handset back to the rep that it belonged to. Then, I panicked.

The voice ended up belonging to Diane’s personal assistant. She must have been new because I hadn’t seen her around, and she already looked like she was ready to have a nervous breakdown. Her desk was covered in manila folders. She stopped what she was doing with them to smile professionally and indicate the door to Diane’s office, which was open. “Go right ahead, she’s waiting for you.”

Behind the girl were floor-to-ceiling windows which had a spectacular view of Sydney, all the way down to the road thirty-six stories below. I stared bleakly out of them as I walked past. Jumping out of them was probably out of the question. Pity, because it was preferable to having to tell Mum that I’d lost my job.

I don’t think I’d ever been actually inside Diane’s office before. It had the same big and airy feeling as my apartment, with the same lack of furniture. In this case, the only furniture was bookshelves along the wall and a mahogany desk with matching leather chairs in the centre. There was the same amazing skyline outside, but I couldn’t pay any attention to it because Diane was seated in front of it and I was too scared of what she was about to tell me.

She glanced up from the screen as I entered. “Min,” she said, gesturing at the leather chairs facing her desk. “Take a seat, please.”

Shit, she sounded really cold. I couldn’t tell if she looked cold, though, because I didn’t want to come across like I was staring. I just smiled and sat across from her, pretending to be unfazed about the CEO wanting to see me. The muscles in my legs were shaking. I don’t think she could tell, though.

She was looking between the screen of her computer and a manila folder in front of her. With some horror I realized it was my personnel file; I recognized the terrible photo taken of me when I was twenty and a new intern. I stared at it. What was a CEO doing with my personnel file?

“How long have you been with us, Min?”

The fact she was asking that question made me really nervous, since I was sure my file had dates in it. “Nearly five years,” I said. “A year in Melbourne and then four here.”

She nodded. She wasn’t even listening to my answer. “In marketing the whole time?” Again, she didn’t look at me as I answered her. It was unnerving. “Mmm,” she said, flipping through some papers. “There’s a note here that you’re not to deal with our HR manager,” she observed. “The word on the street is that you’re in a relationship with him.”

Shit, is that what this was about?

It knocked the wind out of me; I hadn’t even considered that might be an issue. “That’s right,” I said, trying to prevent my voice from wavering. I mostly succeeded. “I know it’s against policy, but—” My brain went at a million miles an hour and I managed to not fumble with my words. “If it’s a problem, I’m sure we can work out a solution.”

She did the slightest of facial shrugs. “It’s not a problem in itself,” she said. “Unless it becomes a problem for business, that is. It certainly wouldn’t be the first relationship at Frost.” She sat back in her deep office chair, resting her elbows on the arms of it and lacing her fingers. She spent a few very tense seconds watching me. “Min, I have a question for you and I want you to answer me honestly.” There was only one correct response to that, so I nodded. “Your career plan says that you’re interested in management.” She gestured out towards the floor. “Being a manager at Frost isn’t a walk in the park, Min. You know the kind of commitment we expect from leaders here. My cohort has a family,” she couldn’t have chosen a more unattractive word to refer to her brother, the co-CEO, “but he doesn’t spend much time with them. Are you prepared to make that sort of sacrifice? Of course, we have the statutory maternity leave arrangements for staff. However, it’s very difficult for a company to replace managers for short periods of time without some interrupt to business.”

Right, don’t get pregnant, got it. “Are you asking me if I’m prepared to make sacrifices for the sake of promotion?” I couldn’t imagine what sort of sacrifice they’d ask me to make, I basically did nothing else other than work, anyway. Having any sort of life was a distant memory. When she nodded, I said automatically. “Of course I’m prepared.” I felt as if I were regurgitating textbook lines fed to me by my career counsellor. “That’s why I moved from Melbourne to Sydney. I’m prepared to do whatever I need to in order to build my career.”

Diane smiled slightly, and I think I saw a measure of approval. “Good,” she said. “Good. “ As she pulled a stack of printed photos out from underneath my personal file she added, “There are no management positions free at present. But I do like to have candidates in mind when there are.” She slid the photos across the desk and I took them. Curious, I looked down at them. They were macro shots of pink and champagne diamonds, in several variations and cuts. While I was leafing through them, she asked, “Do you know what they are?”

These? They were a house. A big house, and early retirement. They were the most expensive and rarest diamonds in the world. “Argyle diamonds,” I answered immediately. “From the Kimberley.”

She let that sit for a moment, and then her smile lengthened. “I’m about to tell you something confidential: Frost has just purchased the rights to mine a pipe of these in Western Australia,” she said. “It’s a small project but potentially an extremely valuable one, and of special interest to me. I’m looking to put together a group of people who can keep their mouths shut to work on it.” I didn’t miss her glancing out towards the floor. “That particular attribute is something that is surprisingly difficult to come by.”

I knew what she meant. In any other circumstance I might have laughed at such a diplomatically worded way of calling the marketing department a rumour-mill, but this didn’t seem to be the appropriate time. I put the pictures back on the table.

“Are you interested? It pitches in three weeks and I’m not exaggerating when I say there’s a lot to do and I don’t want too many people on it.”

Was she kidding? The less people, the better. “Yes,” I said without hesitation.

“Great.” She closed my personnel file and whatever she was looking at on the screen. “I haven’t picked the composition of the team, yet. Jason or I will let you know.”

Since the conversation was clearly over, I stood. Hospitably, she stood as well and gestured towards the door. “Thank you for coming so promptly,” she said, the epitome of professional. I supposed this was ‘nice’ as nice went for her, but she was terrifying. That woman is a billionaire, I thought as I turned to leave, glancing down at her sparkling watch. It was surreal to be standing a metre away from someone who could practically buy Australia.

As soon as I was out of earshot of the office, I exhaled audibly and put a hand on the wall to steady myself.

Wow.

Well, I guess being considered for a promotion and invited to staff a secret project was a little different from losing my job and my life as I knew it. Just, wow. I grinned. Those idiots on my old team would go nuts if I got a promotion. As completely ungrateful as it sounds given how much money I was being paid, it felt so good to finally have my years of dedication acknowledged with something other than an enormous paycheque. Diane even saying she would consider me felt hugely important.

When I walked past the workstations of my hungover team, I felt completely superior. There were seven or eight new drunk guy emails in my inbox. I wondered if the rep making them all knew that it was crap like this that interfered with his career progression. I was tempted to reply to that effect, but as usual I didn’t.

Before I dealt with them I checked my phone; I wanted to tell Henry about the conversation I’d just had with Diane, but I knew that was out. Diane had said the project was confidential and that she wanted someone who could keep quiet about it. I suppose that meant I needed to celebrate quietly to myself. I laughed internally. Now there’s an evening unlike every single other one. A bottle of red and a hundred rounds of Free for All. I’d never done that before ever…

Sarah had bcc:ed me in an email to her friends in Risk about when they were meeting up. I clicked on it, remembering that weird touching thing and feeling stupid all over again. I needed a day or two to overcome it, and the last thing I wanted to do tonight was be surrounded by gorgeous, perfectly relaxed women talking about Sex in the City or whatever its replacement was these days. I personally had a hard time imagining what people who didn’t play video games did in their spare time, but it was probably boring. Not wanting to ignore her, though, I typed out some excuse and sent it.

By the afternoon, I’d archived my material from my previous project, gathered Michelangelo and a sad-looking bamboo plant of dubious health and was ready to go sit with my new project team, whoever they were. The office was basically empty because everyone else was already in project meetings, probably arguing over who did what and establishing the pecking order. I literally had nothing I needed to do, so I spun slow circles in my chair and planned my evening. There were actually a couple of new games out that I’d been meaning to buy and play – maybe I’d grab those on the way home.

It was four-thirty a lot sooner than I’d expected it to be, and I packed up early for once and went to brave the lift. It didn’t fail me: I discovered my stockings were navy instead of black. I then spent the rest of the ride wondering if Diane had noticed and judged me.

Outside, it was still sunny and that made me worry more about the black skirt with navy stockings. Well, I’d be home soon and then I could just take everything off, burn it in a ritual fire and then put on something comfortable. I was waiting at the traffic lights trying to decide which game I was going to play first when I heard a girl’s voice say, “Look, that’s definitely her.” After some frantic whispering, another voice agreed, “Oh my, God, you’re right, it is! I can’t do this. Okay, I can. I can.”

I twisted a little to glance over my shoulder. There were two girls in Cloverfield Ladies’ College uniforms hunched over a mobile and looking directly at me. I quickly looked forward again, and for some reason my heart was pounding. They both giggled, and that made it worse. It didn’t matter that I was twenty-five and that I hadn’t been in high school for seven years, those girls were the type of girls who used to make surfboard jokes about my body and call me ‘telegraph pole’ behind my back. I really didn’t need this, not after I’d finally gotten some good news, and not from school kids. I fluttered the pedestrian crossing button a few more times. Come on, lights…

“Min Lee? It’s you, right?” One of the girls called out while the other one was hysterically giggling. When I heard my name, the blood practically drained from my face. How the hell did they know who I was? I stared in front of me, deciding to try and ignore them. Maybe they’d stop.

Some older woman had been standing beside me at the lights. She threw a glance behind us to see what the fuss was about and then peered up at me, too. I’d never wanted to just fade into invisibility any more than I did at that moment.

“Miss Lee!” the other girl called out again, leaning heavily on my surname like it was four or five syllables. Her voice sounded muffled as if she had a hand over her mouth.

“I’m going to fucking kill you, Courtney. Oh, my God. Okay. Min!”

The opposing lights were still green, and those kids calling out to me was starting to make everyone stare. There were even people on the other side of the road watching. I just wanted it all to be over, so I turned around. “Can I help you, girls?” I asked, trying to mimic Diane’s impassionate tone. If they were going to make fun of me, they should just fucking get it over with so I could go home.

They both looked at me, at each other and then giggled. One of them – the one who had been calling out to me first, I think – had very long, very straight brown hair but was otherwise pretty average. Her friend looked like something straight off the cover of an Enid Blyton, book, though. She was tiny with her blonde hair in big rolling curls and already had the kind of hourglass figure that men would probably fight to the death for. Just in case anyone hadn’t noticed it, her plaid skirt was scandalously short and her shirt was a size too small. She pushed her friend in the head, straightened her tie, and then marched up to me.

I looked down at her, aware that people all around us were practically reaching for popcorn.

“You really aren’t a guy,” she said, looking me up and down and making me feel self-conscious and worry about my stockings again. She was so tiny she didn’t even reach my collarbones. She noticed that, too. “And, whoa, you’re, like, tall.”

Shit, really? I was wondering why I found it so easy to reach everything. I didn’t really want to get into a fight with them by being smart, though, so I just kept my mouth shut. It wasn’t hard, because every moment, I kept waiting for them to drop the impressed act and just dissolve into giggles and make fun of me. I wondered what incredibly un-intelligent insult these girls would come up with. The Lee-ning Tower of Sydney used to be a favourite at my school.

‘Courtney’ was still looking between me and the screen of her mobile. “She does look like that painting. Like, really.”

Well, there was only one letter difference between ‘man’ and ‘Min’, something no one at my school had figured out despite the fact I’d been a hardcore tomboy back then. Perhaps these girls would, even if I was careful to not be like that anymore. I felt like my mismatched stockings were a dead giveaway about how much I hated wearing them.

“It’s me,” the blonde said as she gestured to herself, not teasing me and not noticing my stockings, “Hazumichan95. By the way, if you’re wondering, I really regret that username. Like, especially right now.”

Comfortingly, I did recognize that username from Deviant Art. “Oh, you’re the girl who had—” I was about to say ‘friendship trouble’, but then I realized that the person she was having issues with was probably that other girl who was with her. I didn’t get a chance to figure out how to finish that sentence.

“I’m not Hazumi, though, obviously, I’m Bree.” She gestured at her friend. “And that’s Courtney. But don’t worry, she doesn’t use Deviant Art so you don’t have to figure out who she is because you won’t know her.” The way she spoke, it seemed like she was trying to force out as many words as possible in the shortest period of time. Or like she’d gotten stuck into the red cordial.

She – Bree? – grabbed my hand and shook it. “Min,” I said automatically, before I realized how ridiculous that was because they both clearly knew who I was. At least that made sense now, though, because my username was MinLeee. The one with two ‘e’s was already taken. What it didn’t explain was how they sorted through the four and a half million people in Sydney and ended up on the corner outside Frost Headquarters. “How did you find me?”

Courtney laughed shortly. “Bree spent two and a half hours on Google,” she said loudly, pretending to cough at the beginning and end of her comment.

Bree twisted around. “Oh, my God, Courtney, I’m going to tell my brother you have crabs if you don’t shut up.”

Did she just… I looked hurriedly around at all the people watching us. A couple of them were smothering their own laughter. I wondered if I looked as mortified as I felt.

Bree turned back to me. She still had my hand. I looked pointedly at it, but she didn’t notice. “This is so awesome!” she announced, smiling brightly up at me while I struggled with the urge to just spin on my heels and run away. This particular girl seemed like the sort to give chase, and even with my long legs I didn’t like my chances of outrunning her. I was wearing stilettos. “I love your art, you have no idea. It’s amazing. It’s so incredibly awesome to finally be meeting you!”

“Thanks,” I said vaguely. “Listen…” I’m really freaked out that you Googled me, you and your friend are too full-on, I feel extremely uncomfortable and wish everyone would stop looking at us, your curls are perfectly symmetrical how do you even do that I can never get mine that round…

“I have to go,” was what I eventually settled on. Serendipitously, the pedestrian crossing went green. I went to walk across it, but she didn’t let go of my hand.

“Come on,” Bree said. “Courtney owes me ten bucks because she said I’d never be able to find you. I’ll get you a coffee!”

It was approaching five in the afternoon. Not that had ever stopped me from slamming energy drinks before, but it at least sounded like an acceptable excuse. “Thanks, but it’s a bit late for coffee,” I said, and tried to pull away again before the lights went red.

Courtney was laughing away in the background. “She clearly thinks you’re a scary stalker, Bree,” she told her friend as if I wasn’t even there. “Which you are, by the way. They should lock you up.”

Bree snorted. “Please,” she said over her shoulder, still holding my hand between hers. “I’m not a scary stalker. It’s not like I built some shrine to her that I kill animals on and have a wall covered in photos that I masturbate to every night or something.”

What on… I didn’t actually think I’d heard her right the first time. Her sentence echoed in my head and it was only when several sets of people standing around us started to nervously laugh from the shock that I realized she had actually said it. I couldn’t laugh, though, I actually felt sick. I didn’t want to be there. I’d found something more humiliating than having people make fun of how I looked.

When I tried this time, I managed to finally get my hand free. I’m not sure what I actually said, but it was probably something apologetic about being in a rush as I spun and ran out in front of traffic. Fortunately nothing hit me, and the flow of cars prevented either of them from following. Once I’d rounded the corner, I actually broke into a light jog and nearly did my ankles in my heels. I couldn’t get home fast enough. Some part of me was actually, legitimately afraid they would follow me.

Once I was upstairs and I had the door shut behind me, I exhaled and leant against it. I listened for footsteps in the hallway, and then had a moment of clarity where I wondered how ridiculous I was being. Min, they’re schoolgirls. Like, little schoolgirls, and they’re obviously completely harmless. You’re not even at school anymore, you’re a grown woman.

What was I afraid they would do if they had followed me, anyway? Embarrass me to death in the privacy of my own home? Oh, the humanity.

Fuck, though, I felt about sixteen again. I took my mobile out of my bag and had been about to actually call Henry when I noticed it was only five. He’d still be in meetings, probably. I texted him instead. ‘Really weird, I had a couple of schoolkids look me up on Google because of my art and pounce on me as I left work…’ Even as I was typing it, I felt stupid. This was not a big deal. I sent it anyway.

It must have been a pretty boring meeting, because Henry had replied even before I’d made it to the bathroom. “Hah, fans! Not surprising, your stuff is fantastic. Bet they were completely awestruck by the great Min Lee xoxo.”

I read his text a couple of times, standing there in the doorway to my bedroom with the phone. I was being ridiculous. That Bree: she’d been messaging me for at least a few months and she had asked for advice on some pretty personal topics. It shouldn’t be surprising she was being so familiar. She was really intense in real life, though. Fuck, I was exhausted after two minutes. Give me the internet any day. It took me ages to get into the shower, because I needed to go through every message she’d sent me. None of them were creepy, they were just ordinary, sociable messages. In some of them she was upset, in some she was happy… they painted a picture of an ordinary if extremely enthusiastic teenager. Not the scary monster I was acting like she was. Seriously, what the hell, Min?

After my shower, I ended up facing my almost-empty pantry with a controller in my hand, still berating myself over those damn schoolgirls. I couldn’t even comfort eat because in there was only a can of Homebrand spaghetti, a couple of packs of instant noodles and an ancient, half-finished jar of pickles that dated back to 2009. Vinegar preserved things for years, right? The date on the jar reminded me I needed to go shopping for food at some point this year. I couldn’t always have room service.

What I did have a lot of was red wine, which was also the perfect method to start cultivating some serious amnesia. Wineglass and controller in hand, I settled down on the couch. I’d forgotten to buy those games I was after, but otherwise this was the evening I’d been expecting.

Time to try and relax, I thought, pouring myself a very generous glass of red. So I had a fan, so what. That was normal, right? My art was comparatively good on website, so it shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise. And she’d probably Googled me because she’d only found out just yesterday that I was a woman; meeting an adult man as a schoolgirl was probably a big no-no. I took a big mouthful of wine. Fuck, I hoped that girl wouldn’t try to accost me in the middle of the street again. Actually, I should probably send her a message to let her know that I wouldn’t be okay with it.

I opened Deviant Art, trying to figure out how I was going to phrase that sort of request without coming off sounding like a complete bitch, but she’d beat me to it. There was already a message from Hazumichan95. I tapped it, a sinking feeling settling in my stomach. “omg so amazing to meet u!!! sorry I was a bit starstruck!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 wow I cant believe it u have been my art hero for like a whole year nearly. definitely worth the train trip into the city. btw that awesome pic of u on the balcony is my screensaver

I sighed. Well, fuck. I couldn’t tell her to go away now, could I?

Since I had Deviant Art up, I opened the painting again. There were a few more comments so I thought I’d scroll through them. Down near the bottom, I spotted another one from her. “btw guys min lee is a totally amazing artist. she seriously looks exactly like this irl just check out her photo. how do people even make stuff like this omg i wish i was this talented at like anything!!” There were a whole row of exclamation marks like the key had gotten stuck down.

This was the girl that freaked you out, Min. I shook my head at myself; she wasn’t a creepy stalker, or even any sort of stalker. She was just being nice, and I was just being a fucking hermit who needed to spend less time with a screen and more time with actual humans. I read her comment again. It was nice, but it was wrong. I didn’t look exactly like that ‘irl’. If I did, I wouldn’t have to wear uncomfortable crap that I hated and I wouldn’t look so weird when I stood next to other women like Sarah. There was no point in getting upset about that, though, because being miserable about it wouldn’t change anything. It was just a painting.

I threw my phone on the other side of the couch and looked back at my half-empty wineglass. I was supposed to be celebrating that fantastic conversation I’d had with Diane Frost and instead I was stressing myself out over stupid crap again. Really, if I’d felt like a painful evening, Sarah had invited me to go and be her charity case with those beautiful friends. I could get all the pain I wanted hanging around them and pretending to enjoy myself.

I topped up my glass and then switched on my PlayStation. Fuck all this crap, I wanted to relax and celebrate. Why couldn’t the world just pause for one second and let me be happy that, after years of solid dedication to my job, the billionaire co-CEO of my corp told me she wanted to make me a manager?

Well, I hoped mass murder and copious amounts of alcohol would shut my head up. It did usually do the trick.

I actually didn’t think I’d been drinking that much. However, when I woke up at three a.m. on the couch with no idea about what happened for the last several hours, I had to concede that maybe the whole bottle might have been a bad idea. Especially on an empty stomach. I drank about the same amount of water and then hauled myself off to bed.

As a result of my celebrating, I missed my alarm and gave myself twenty less minutes to do my hair and makeup. I had such a headache and was in such a rush when I opened my front door that I nearly tripped over something that had been placed in front of it. I stopped myself just in time.

It was a takeaway coffee cup with a little shortbread biscuit in the shape of a star on the plastic lid. Henry was known to do things like this, so I smiled and bent down to retrieve it. My boyfriend was the nicest man on the planet, I swear. After I’d picked it up, though, I noticed someone had scribbled in Texta on the side of it. I held it up in front of my face to read.

“7am isn’t too late for coffee, is it?? 🙂 🙂 ”

7 thoughts on “Chapter Three

  1. Bree!!! Yay! The first meeting between Min & Bree is equal parts charming an horrifying….which pretty much makes it perfect, in my opinion. Gosh, I love Bree. She is just so endlessly and effortlessly entertaining. I can’t wait to watch her proceed to turn Min’s life upside down and inside out like the force of nature that she is.

    Also really liked the Min and Diane scene in this chapter. I thought Diane was really fascinating in The Dreaming, and was sorry she didn’t get more “screen time” due to plot revisions. So I’m looking forward to learning more about her throughout the course of this story. Whatever she’s up to with this secret pink diamond project, I feel certain it isn’t any good.

    Poor Min. She’s sooooo uncomfortable in her own skin. Makes me want to either give her a big hug, or alternatively shake some sense into her. I know all queer folk go through the self-discovery process at their own pace, but it’s hard to read about her struggles when you know she’d be so much happier if she just stopped caring about other people’s desires and just focused on her own. Makes for a story, though, so I guess her pain is our gain. 🙂

    • Yeah, I was sad I couldn’t use more of Sean and Diane in The Dreaming – they were really created to be a serious force in Part Two and then I needed to cut it waaaaay back! I actually preferred the original plot, but the word count would have blown out to something Lord of the Rings-ish. Ah well. They certainly get a lot of screen time in Under My Skin, anyway.

      It must be infuriating for a queer audience to listen to Min’s internal I HATE MYSELF dialogue and be all like, “MIN YOU’RE GAY!!!!!! MIN YOU’RE GENDERQUEER!!!!” But it’s hard for people to let themselves recognize that and what it means about our lives, so Min will have to to it at her own pace ;D

      Bree. GOD BREE OMG. Writing her is exhausting 😉

  2. It’s so interesting to see Min and Bree meet for the first time. I was expecting that poppy energy from Bree and I understand Min being uncomfortable I would be too. I can’t for the next chapter to see how this goes this is great loving it so far. Just a little side note I have something like Mins Michelangelo I have pabu and naga they basically sit with me while I write papers for uni classes.

    • Do they have bobble-heads? XD I used to have a bobble-head on my desk but when I typed it nodded at me and it was too distracting so I had to give it to my partner XD

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the story!

      • No they are both plush dolls and i finally framed my massive Lara Croft poster so now i have more things watching me the pressure is on! lol

  3. What an exciting chapter. I have a feeling that it won’t be able to put my phone down until 4am.
    Poor Min; one minute she’s excited about a promotion she might get and the next a young fan is getting right into her personal space.
    Love the writing like always.

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