Kim Tan visits him that first night in the psychiatric hospital. His hands are shoved deep into his pockets, and he scowls when he spots the orderly hovering at Hyo-shin’s shoulder.
“Get lost,” he says in English.
“I can’t leave him unattended,” the man replies as he takes his position by the door. “Didn’t you read the visitors’ policies before you signed in?”
The fire in Tan’s eyes is as exhausting as it is dangerous. Hyo-shin drops into the chair across from Tan and says in Korean, “You actually filled out paperwork to come see me? I’m touched.”
And just like that, Tan’s glib façade is back in place. Hyo-shin is jealous that Tan found it so easily.
“It only seemed fair since you flew all the way here to make sure you saw my handsome face one last time.”
“It was the final item on my bucket list.”
Tan’s smirk doesn’t falter, but his gaze drops to Hyo-shin’s wrist and the hospital bracelet there. Hyo-shin slides one finger between the plastic and his skin and tugs the bracelet around so his name and the coding for suicidal and involuntary commitment is no longer showing.
“Just so you know,” Tan says, “your mom’s on a flight already. She’ll be in L.A. tomorrow morning.”
“You told her?”
“I thought you’d accidentally overdosed on something at Jay’s party. I was going to cover both your asses, until the E.R. doctors told me what they found in your stomach.” Tan gives a shrug that’s too perfectly casual to be anything but calculated. “Just think of it as payback for causing a scene.”
“Sorry. It was supposed to be quiet.”
It was supposed to be a lot of things that it wasn’t.
“There’s nothing quiet about finding your sunbae in a pool of his own vomit in the hallway,” Tan points out. He gets up from his chair, his hands still hidden in his pockets. “Still. Before that…it was good to see you again. I’ve missed having a familiar face around.”
Hyo-shin stares at Tan; Tan heads for the door without looking back.
His mother is stone-faced and tight-lipped the entire way from L.A. to Seoul. He has no words to offer her, and she demands no explanations. Her grip around his wrist burns bruises and darker things into his skin.
Hyo-shin is not surprised that their driver takes them straight from the airport to a private hospital.
Hyo-shin hates the therapist assigned to his case. She is a gray-haired woman who looks at him as if he will fall apart at the smallest provocation. She doesn’t believe him when he says that he’s already shattered into pieces so fine they can’t be broken anymore. She doesn’t understand that the possibilities of his sky are still defined by his family’s narrow horizon.
Still, the hospital is good at helping him back into the habit of acting normal. The nurses and doctors compliment him on his good looks and praise him for his manners and obedience. His therapist is thrilled when she finds out he is studying even though it is summer break. Hyo-shin doesn’t tell her that his English skills have to improve because his parents are lying that he is still in L.A. attending the language program. Some of the broken bits of him are still desperate to win their approval, no matter how they cut at him.
So he smiles and studies and takes the pills they prescribe him and tries to put himself back together as quickly as he can. He has to appear whole—no matter how many cracks and gaps there really are—in time for him to go back to Jeguk High.
The hospital is a favorite one for the rich, the famous, and the powerful, so it’s not exactly a surprise that Choi Young-do could be a patient here. Young-do is sitting by the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the grounds. His left arm is in a sling, held immobile against his chest, and his right hand has a white-knuckled grip on the arm of his chair. No one else is around.
Hyo-shin contemplates making a quick escape, but Young-do suddenly speaks. “I can see you lurking in the reflection, sunbae.”
There is no graceful way out of this except for through. Hyo-shin pastes on his imperfect smile and walks over. He takes a casual perch on the arm of a nearby chair. “What happened to you?”
“Judo injury. You?”
Young-do turns to look at him, but his skeptical expression is undermined by a sallow complexion and bloodshot eyes. Something desperate lurks in the planes of his face.
“I hear,” Hyo-shin says slowly, “that the nurses are very generous with pain medication if you catch them in the right mood. I could do some flirting for you if you like.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Young-do surges to his feet and whirls around to face the man who interrupted them. “Father,” he breathes. His spine is straight, and his right hand trembles at his side. “This is my sunbae, Lee Hyo-shin. His grandfather is the attorney general.”
The man—President Choi—tears his eyes away from his son and steps past him to offer his hand in greeting. “I hope my son isn’t bothering you.”
Hyo-shin stands up so he can shake his hand. The man’s grip is iron, and his smile does not warm his eyes. Behind him, Young-do bites his lower lip.
“He’s not,” Hyo-shin says easily. “We were just talking about school.”
“I’m sorry to take him from you, then, but I’m on a tight schedule today.”
Young-do closes his eyes as if in prayer. When he opens them again, they are wide and wild.
Hyo-shin wonders if his therapist would be pleased that something finally caught his interest or disappointed about his plan to invade someone else’s privacy. He decides he doesn’t care and follows the Chois through the hospital corridors. Young-do’s height makes him easy to tail.
They disappear into one of the rooms. Hyo-shin approaches cautiously, waiting until the hall is clear to press his ear to the door. It is too thick to understand the words, but President Choi’s voice is knife sharp. His voice is as unmistakable as the sound of flesh striking flesh and the staccato of something clattering to the floor.
The bravest thing Hyo-shin has ever done is choke down that bottle of pills, and those months of stockpiled courage are all used up. He only has the dregs left.
So he waits until President Choi’s voice quiets and the sounds of violence come infrequently. Then he straightens up, puts his lying smile back in place, and knocks.
President Choi yanks the door open; Hyo-shin barely keeps from rearing away. The speed with which Choi masks the murder in eyes is terrifying. “Can I help you?”
(Hyo-shin will be amused—and confused—later, to realize that this is the first moment in over a year where he actually wants to live.)
“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were still here.” Hyo-shin shifts to get a better view inside the room, but the man steps through the opening and shuts the door behind him. “Is Young-do here?”
President Choi straightens his cuffs. “He just left for his physical therapy session.”
“I’ll have to catch him after dinner, then.” He hesitates, scrambles for the first thing he can think of to get this man away, and settles on, “I’d be happy to walk you out, sir, since Young-do can’t.”
Choi’s lips press into a thin line, but in the end he accepts.
Young-do is not in his assigned room when Hyo-shin returns. A brief search of the common areas does not turn up anything, either, but that’s because Young-do is busy sitting cross-legged on Hyo-shin’s bed and rifling through his medical chart. There is dried blood at the left corner of his mouth, but that’s nothing compared to the bruise purpling along his jaw.
Hyo-shin yanks the chart out of Young-do’s hands too quickly. He loses his grip on it, and it goes flying out of his grasp and hits the floor. There’s no time to figure out where this rage is coming from (he was sure that well had run dry a long time ago)—he’s so out of practice with the feeling it’s all he can do to keep from exploding. “Get out,” he snarls.
Young-do grins like the bastard he is; his lip starts bleeding again, dark red against his pale lips. He wipes it away with the back of his hand. “I thought you wanted to talk to me, sunbae.”
“Yeah, I did. What happened to your face?”
Young-do’s smile goes rigid. “I tripped. Couldn’t catch myself with just one arm and went headfirst into the doorframe.”
“Did you come up with that story, or was it your father’s idea?”
And just like that, Young-do is on his feet, though his movements aren’t as fluid as they were before—there is a stiffness to them that speaks of other, newer injuries. For a moment, Hyo-shin wants to take back his words, step back, apologize, offer some kind of help. But only for a moment.
“I didn’t realize they gave out Prozac for exhaustion these days,” Young-do sneers. “IVs weren’t good enough for you, sunbae?”
“It turns out you need something stronger when you get tired of living.”
Something flickers in Young-do’s gaze, too fast for Hyo-shin to parse. Then he strides out of the room without another word.
Hyo-shin scoops up his medical chart and hangs it back on the wall. He takes several deep breaths to try to keep his roiling stomach under his control, but that is a fight he loses.
The hospital is not so large that they can avoid passing each other in the hallways, but it is large enough that they can pretend they don’t notice each other.
Young-do checks out before his bruise fades.
Two weeks later—five days before the end of summer break—the therapist clears Hyo-shin to go back to the hell that is his home.
Some days Hyo-shin can barely stand to knot the Jeguk tie around his throat because he fears it will suffocate him. On other days he pulls it tight to remind himself he can still breathe.