(Originally posted 19 Feb 2014 on tumblr)
It takes most of Saturday for Hyo-shin to come up with a plan. It is reckless and cowardly and likely illegal, and if his parents find out, he will never get his video equipment back. He is equally worried about Young-do, who is vicious without provocation, and Hyo-shin honestly can’t predict what Young-do will do if he feels cornered.
(The last time Hyo-shin didn’t have a fallback plan, he ended up in an American psychiatric hospital instead of dead, as he had intended. That thought is oddly comforting at the moment.)
The weekly lunch at Zeus Hotel is canceled in favor of a suit-and-tie evening gathering at a museum for one of the many law-related societies Hyo-shin’s father has membership in. Normally Hyo-shin would dread going to one and being forced to greet all of his father’s associates and lie through his teeth about looking forward to becoming one of them. No, this time he is looking forward to it because he knows who else ought to be attending.
The Jo family doesn’t disappoint him. Myung-soo trails behind his parents, slouched in either annoyance or boredom. Probably both. He and Hyo-shin are the two youngest boys in attendance, and the only other high school students tonight are a pair of twin girls in their third year. Their mother is the Chief Research Judge for the Supreme Court, and their grandmother retired from the Supreme Court several years ago. The twins are decent company usually, though their relentless desire to follow in their mother’s and grandmother’s footsteps often leaves him feeling wrung out.
They always reject Myung-soo’s teasing behavior—he has no proper ambition they say—and Hyo-shin always pretends he doesn’t notice when they attempt to flirt with him. He has no proper ambition, either.
Hyo-shin slips away from his parents as soon as is politely possible and heads directly for Myung-soo. As directly as he can, at least. His mother is undoubtedly watching him, which means he must greet anyone who ranks equal to or higher than his father (mercifully only a handful of people). It still takes him nearly twenty minutes to cross the room and catch up with Myung-soo at one of the many food tables.
“Are you bored yet?”
Myung-soo does a very quiet yelp, but he manages not to drop his plate of food. He does glare at Hyo-shin, though. “You’ve got to stop lurking like that.”
“You’ve got to start paying more attention. Well?”
Hyo-shin gives him a smile that he hopes masks the anxiety welling up in his gut. “Are you bored?”
They slip out of the reception hall and into the museum proper, only twenty minutes before the private, guided tours are supposed to start. Hyo-shin hopes that if they’re caught, the worst that will happen is that they get escorted back to their parents. That thought ought to dredge up waves of nausea if the last few months of his life are any indication.
Hyo-shin isn’t sure what to make of the faint twisting in his chest or how his spine anticipates a solid round of shivering at the prospect of getting caught. His breathing is rough around the edges, but it is deep, deeper than he thought it would be. In spite of the suit and tie he’s wearing, Hyo-shin feels like he’s breathing better than he has in months.
It is easy enough to goad Myung-soo into mimicking the poses of different statues or paintings in the museum. Hyo-shin finds himself enjoying the ridiculous, earnest way Myung-soo throws himself into the game. Several times, Hyo-shin actually finds himself smiling, and Myung-soo even manages to coax him into mimicking a pose or two on his own.
Myung-soo whips out his phone and snaps a picture of one of Hyo-shin’s more amusing attempts. “You look great, sunbae.”
“That’s not fair,” Hyo-shin protests, but it does make his objective that much easier. Even if part of him feels guilty about what he does next. “If I’m going to look like an idiot, you have to, too.”
“If you insist.” Myung-soo heads over to the statue of a Joseon-era soldier holding a spear.
“Let me borrow your phone? I left mine in the car.”
Hyo-shin insists on taking pictures of Myung-soo from several angles, and in the midst of making a big production of the photography, Hyo-shin opens the phone’s contact list. It’s almost too easy to memorize Young-do’s phone number without Myung-soo noticing.
He waits until Sunday morning, when his parents are both out of the house for their usual round of golf, to contact Young-do. The message is laughably simple: a still of the woman from the hotel and the question, So when’s the wedding?
The minutes drag on without a response.
In an effort to trick his body into forgetting about the way his insides are knotting up, Hyo-shin sprawls out on his bed instead of pacing. He sends Tan a message to kill time: If I turn up dead, have them check my texts. The person who murdered me will be the one I messaged first this morning. It’ll be pretty obvious why.
The joke falls flat, even to him.
A few seconds later, his phone rings. Hyo-shin rolls over so he can sit up and pretend he’s slightly more in control of what’s about to happen than he actually is. He takes a few moments to gather his nerves before he accepts the call. “Hello?”
“Who is this?”
Young-do’s voice carries a polite menace, one that suddenly reminds Hyo-shin very much of President Choi.
He forces himself to smile in an attempt to inject confidence into his voice. He can’t tell if it works. “It’s quite insulting when you don’t recognize your sunbaes, Young-do.”
There is a beat of silence, and then— “I have to get back to my dog training, sunbae. What do you want?”
“I want you to be reasonable.”
“Says the prosecutor-to-be who is attempting to blackmail an innocent citizen of Korea.”
“You’re not innocent, and I was simply asking a question. When is the wedding? Or is it too soon to tell?”
“Too soon. I haven’t even run into this one yet.”
Hyo-shin doesn’t have time to digest all the implications of that statement before Young-do asks his next question. “What should I be reasonable about?”
“Bo-na.” Hyo-shin’s free hand curls into his comforter, as if he could gain strength from the soft fabric. “She is one of the few people in the entire world who voluntarily spends time in your presence. She is also madly in love with Yoon Chan-young. Are you actually cocky enough to think she would pick you if you forced her to choose?”
Young-do doesn’t answer.
The silence makes Hyo-shin uneasy, so he presents his next argument: “Do you think Chairwoman Jung would approve of the ninety-seventh-place student targeting the first-place student, who also happens to be the son of her husband’s secretary? And what about—”
“Why,” Young-do cuts in, “do you care? This is none of your business.”
“Because I owe Bo-na a favor.”
Because she was the only one who noticed I was drowning, he doesn’t say, because he isn’t ready to admit aloud that the only person in his life who actually cared enough about him to notice something was wrong has no idea what she saw.
“Did she put you up to this?”
“No. Chan-young didn’t either, in case that was your next question.”
There’s another long stretch of silence, which Hyo-shin refuses to break first.
Eventually, Young-do says, “Perhaps you’re right about Chan-young. Let me ask you for some additional advice, sunbae.”
At lunch on Monday, Moon Joon-young gets invited to sit across from Young-do.