(Originally posted 9 Feb 14 on tumblr)
Bo-na presents Hyo-shin with a thick ivory envelope. It is embossed with his name, and there is a red wax seal on the back.
“What is this?” he asks as he opens the envelope and pulls out the card inside:
Lee Bo-na and Yoon Chan-young request your presence this Sunday evening at seven to celebrate the hundredth day of their relationship.
He glances up from the invitation. “Are you sure this isn’t for an engagement party?”
“Sunbae!” It sounds like a protest, but the question doesn’t keep Bo-na from slipping her arm through Chan-young’s and leaning into his shoulder. She is grinning like she knows the world’s best secret.
Chan-young ducks his head in embarrassment, but he is smiling, too. “We would like you to come.”
Hyo-shin puts the card back inside the envelope and hides it away in his inner jacket pocket. He can’t quite smother the little spark of jealousy the invitation conjures up. It is not as if he likes Bo-na or Chan-young romantically—no, his jealousy is much simpler than that.
He’s jealous of how much love they have.
It goes beyond their romance. This invitation is proof that Bo-na’s parents, at least, love her enough that they aren’t interfering with her life when it comes to Chan-young, who is only the son of a secretary.
Hyo-shin can’t even bring up the idea of wanting to do something other than practice law before his parents shut him down. He can’t imagine what his parents would do if he ever fell in love with someone they considered beneath him.
“Of course I’ll come,” Hyo-shin says. “Who is taking bets this time on how long it will take Myung-soo to spike the drinks?”
By the time the lunch period is over, the news is in all corners of the school: Choi Young-do drove out his second victim this year.
Hyun-joo takes her seat at his desk and pulls out her tutoring materials. Her gaze is frank, assessing, but in the end all she says is “Let me check your work.”
She finds two mistakes, both of them minor. “Don’t let the details slip through your fingers, Hyo-shin,” she tells him. “Getting the difficult parts right doesn’t matter on the entrance exams if you screw up on something insignificant at the end.”
“Do you really think I can be perfect?”
Her answer shouldn’t cut that deep, but Hyo-shin will keep the sting of it for days. “Then why do you push so hard for it?”
“Because almost-perfect is as good as anyone will ever get,” she says, “and you have it in you to be the best student I’ve tutored.”
Saturday is sunny but cool as the summer finally gives way to autumn, but Hyo-shin has no time to enjoy it. His mother escorts him to the psychiatrist’s office herself, as if she doesn’t believe he is capable of finding his way back to the hospital he spent weeks in.
The session is long and draining. Being honest about the things he’s worked so hard at hiding—the vomiting, the insomnia, the anxiety, the fixations—leaves him feeling raw. Only Jae-sung’s insistence that he be honest to the psychiatrist keeps him from lying.
No. That’s not true. The faint hope that this isn’t how he always has to be also strengthens that resolve.
His mother nearly snatches the prescription out of his hand when he returns to the lobby. Her lips purse, and Hyo-shin allows himself the smallest bit of satisfaction at her sour expression. Not only was Kang Jae-sung correct about needing to get off his current medication, but this new prescription is for one pill every morning and evening.
It is a small mercy. His mother may still control his medication, but she will only have to humiliate him in the privacy of their home instead of at school as well.
She drops him off at Zeus Hotel for the weekly lunch with his father’s family with time to spare. Hyo-shin contemplates the elegant lobby for a few moments. He checks his phone again to confirm he still has half an hour to kill before he heads for the elevators. His mother may have confiscated his video equipment, but he still has his phone, and that camera will let him get additional footage of the building next door.
That is, if Young-do is even in the hotel and in the mood to cooperate.
Hyo-shin takes the elevator to the correct floor. He is on his way to Young-do’s room when a familiar voice stops him in his tracks.
“You’re early.” President Choi’s voice is just as unsettlingly cold as it was in the hospital.
Hyo-shin remembers the violence in the man’s eyes and ducks into a decorative alcove. He tries not to breathe.
But it isn’t Young-do’s voice that answers. It is a woman’s voice, low and playful.
“I thought you’d appreciate the chance for two rounds instead of just one. But if you’re too busy to take me twice, I can come back later.”
Then there are words pitched too low for him to make out anything other than the dangerous tone. The woman laughs and says something else just loud enough to make Hyo-shin’s ears burn. Then there’s a muffled noise and a door slamming shut so hard that the sound echoes down the hall.
Once it is quiet again, Hyo-shin creeps back into the elevator and heads straight for the lobby to wait for his father’s family.
Hyo-shin fidgets all the way through the meal despite the occasional glare from his father. Eating is a challenge, but he manages to choke down almost all of his food. (He gets to start taking his new medication tomorrow. As long as the nausea goes away, he doesn’t care what other side effects he gets. His belts can’t get any tighter.)
He keeps fiddling with the phone in his pocket. Having his video equipment taken away was terrible, but somehow having his plan to get more footage interrupted is worse. Desperation slowly builds inside him over the course of the meal. He doesn’t care what he films so long as he can capture something. The pressure gets worse every time one of the men at the table brings up Jeguk or college until it feels like he can’t breathe anymore.
When the waiter begins clearing their dishes away in preparation for dessert, Hyo-shin stands up. “Excuse me for a moment, grandfather,” he says, and then he slips away before anyone can ask him where he is going or berate him for leaving early.
The instant he is out of the dining room, he grabs the knot of his tie and tugs it until it is sloppy and loose. It doesn’t ease the suffocation entirely, so Hyo-shin heads for the elevator. Maybe if he can get outside into the crisp air and get some shots of the suicide spot from the ground, he’ll be able to breathe again.
(Some part of him knows he shouldn’t be seeking out the place the jumper killed himself. Another part of him knows he ought to tell Jae-sung about this. The rest of him rebels against both thoughts.)
The elevator is a while in coming. Hyo-shin pulls out his phone and opens the camera application. He doesn’t want to waste any time once he is outside, as every additional second he is gone will increase his father’s annoyance and the likelihood that he will be lectured when he gets home.
The elevator doors slide open, and Hyo-shin glances up from his phone. An elderly gentleman with a large suitcase and a younger woman are already on their way down
“Which floor?” the woman asks as Hyo-shin steps inside.
Hyo-shin nearly drops his phone. Her voice is unmistakable. He barely avoids doing a double-take at the woman who was with President Choi.
He forces himself to stare straight ahead at the doors for the rest of the ride down.
Upon exiting the elevator, Hyo-shin hurries for the main doors. The cool air is a welcome shock to his lungs, and for a few precious moments he just relishes the sensation of breathing deeply and freely.
Hyo-shin gives himself just five minutes to film the building next door from this new angle. The woman from the elevator gets caught in a few frames as she hails a taxi.