(Originally posted 2 Mar 2014 on tumblr)
Hyo-shin wakes in the dark, which is so common now that he automatically turns over onto his side to check the time. The glowing red numbers on his alarm clock read 4:18.
He blinks at them for a moment. Then he gropes for his phone and, to his surprise, finds that it is really 4:18 when he turns the display on. He opens the SNS app he uses to message Tan and checks the timestamps on their final messages: 23:57 and 0:02.
He rolls onto his back and flings his arms wide into the dark so his hands stretch toward the edges of his bed. It didn’t take long for him to fall asleep, as wrung out as he was by his therapy session, which means he got somewhere near four hours of uninterrupted sleep. Four hours in one block instead of waking up every hour or two and trying for half an hour or more to sleep again or giving up and getting out of bed.
It is a ridiculous thing to be happy about, especially since he can only doze for the next hour and a half, but he can’t help cradling this unexpected relief close to his chest. He might not sleep this well tomorrow, so he savors it now.
While Hyo-shin gets ready for school, he thinks about what he should do with his medication. It is tucked safely away in his bathroom, out of sight for when Hyun-joo comes to tutor him and unavoidable for him. He could take his morning dose now, out from under his mother’s watchful eye. He could take a pill, hide it in his pocket, and throw it away on his way to school. He could flush one now, and his mother would never know. All she has to go on is how many pills are left in the bottle.
(“I promise,” he told her last night, after he took the evening dose in front of her, “that I’ll take them properly from now on.”)
In the end, Hyo-shin takes the morning bottle of pills down to the dining room. The table is already set for two, and his mother waits there, red-eyed and stiff, for him to arrive. He places the bottle next to his plate. Neither of them say anything about it as they eat, but he checks first to make sure she is watching when he takes the medication.
Hyo-shin leaves the bottle on the table when he leaves for school. When he returns home that afternoon, the pills are back in his bathroom.
On Friday, Hyo-shin walks into the cafeteria as the last of the first years are clearing out to make way for the second years. One of the maintenance staff is there, mopping up puddles of soup and soggy rice under the chair at Young-do’s table.
Hyo-shin’s stomach curdles. He steps out of the lunch line and heads for the roof. On a gloomy day like this, when the clouds sit low and dark with unshed rain, there is no one else willing to go outside without need.
The extra empty space doesn’t ease the pressure in his chest or the resentment still festering in his gut.
He plants his hands on the ledge, closes his eyes, and tastes the humidity in the chill air, hoping it will anchor him somehow. Or at least let him forget the guilt for a while. Let him get outside of his head for once. Let him pretend that his future isn’t something he hates.
Understanding unfolds within him then, sharp and unexpected: the hope that his grandfather’s retirement and father’s impending promotion killed was the slim chance that he could do something else with his life.
Hyo-shin can’t laugh at his own stupid, ruined, unconscious hope, even though he knows he ought to. His father has never compromised on anything, and nothing as insignificant as Hyo-shin’s (young, fleeting, childish) desires will stand in the way of the Lee family’s reputation. Why else would his parents lie to the rest of the family about his trip to L.A.?
If a suicide attempt wasn’t enough to make his parents reconsider their plans for his future, no amount of pleading from him or persuasive words from his therapist are going to change anything.
“What am I going to do?” he asks the autumn air.
“You could always share my last cigarette,” says Young-do behind him.
Hyo-shin opens his eyes. He doesn’t turn around, even though he can hear Young-do’s footsteps coming nearer. His fingers curl over the edge until the concrete bites into his skin. When Young-do leans against the wall next to him, Hyo-shin stares straight ahead and pretends he can’t see Young-do in his peripheral vision.
“I’m not interested,” Hyo-shin says. “Go somewhere else. You’ve got class starting soon.”
“Sorry, can’t do that, sunbae. This is the best place on campus to smoke.” The flick of a lighter casts a small burst of red light into the gray, and a few seconds later the smell of tobacco permeates the air.
Hyo-shin refuses to move from his spot despite the smoke. He hates the smell.“You ought to listen to your seniors better.”
“I have been following your advice lately. Thank you for it.”
The only thing that keeps Hyo-shin from turning—and doing something, he doesn’t know what—is his grip on the ledge. That anger banked in his chest threatens to flare to life.
He is scared of what will happen if it does. He doesn’t know which way he’ll lash out or how he’ll break.
Hyo-shin forces himself to adopt a casual pose, to set his elbows on the wall and lean forward as if he’s enjoying the view. He rests his chin on one hand, making a show of surveying the skyline, as if he’s bored with this conversation already. “What do you want?”
“That’s a lie,” Hyo-shin says in his most pleasant tone. “You could have gone to the other side of the roof if you just wanted to smoke in peace.”
“Would you believe I was worried you might overcome your jealousy today?”
It takes a moment for Hyo-shin to connect the question to their conversation on the balcony, and then he actually laughs. Short and jagged, but it is a laugh nonetheless. “No, I wouldn’t.”
“The truth, then.” Young-do taps a bit of ash off onto the ledge. “I want to know what other blackmail material you have on my father.”
Hyo-shin nearly says that’s all I had, but his brain stays one step ahead of his tongue. He puts on a slow, sharp-edged smile to buy his racing mind some time to think. The next words he says brings back that twisting in his chest that he remembers from the museum, the one that makes it marginally easier to breathe. “I didn’t expect reasoning like that from someone at the bottom of his class.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, sunbae.”
Young-do pushes away from the wall, which takes him out of Hyo-shin’s field of vision. But Hyo-shin refuses to fall into step with the other boy’s movements. He glances over the edge at the cement below, and this time, instead of imagining himself down there, he envisions one of the body outlines taking shape. Could chalk make a line thick enough to be seen from up here? Probably, but it would take a lot of time and effort. Maybe spray paint would work better.
He pulls himself away from those thoughts and back to the potentially volatile conversation at hand. “This doesn’t have to be an issue between us, if we can come to an agreement.”
“What do you suggest?” Young-do asks.
“I stop filming your father and his lovers in or around the hotel,” Hyo-shin says, and in his best nonchalant voice lies, “and I stop documenting your friendship with Moon Joon-young.”
He can almost feel the weight of Young-do’s eyes between his shoulder blades, but Hyo-shin stays where he is, facing away, willing his mask to stay in place despite his racing heart. Playing with Choi Young-do like this is stupid and risky and entirely against the image he’s tried to live up to his entire life. But it uses up some of that anger trapped inside him, lessens the awful pressure in his chest, gives his lungs a little more room to expand.
“And what do you want from me?”
“Let’s go back to how we were before the hospital. We’ll pretend none of this happened. We keep our distance from each other when at all possible—and you keep Chan-young off your target list for as long as he’s dating Bo-na.”
“There’s one more thing.” Hyo-shin straightens up and heads toward Young-do, doing his best to act like the confident person he used to be. He can’t be eye-to-eye with the younger boy, not with how Young-do has grown in the last year, but he pretends that he is when he holds his hand out for the cigarette.
Young-do raises an eyebrow, but he hands it over.
“You stop coming up here to smoke. Is that a deal?”
“I don’t know, sunbae. This seems to lean too much in my favor.” He smiles, all teeth and malice. It is probably the same smile he gave Joon-young a few minutes ago. “Should I be worried?”
“Someday, maybe. I don’t have a lot of energy right now to deal with you properly.” Hyo-shin drops the cigarette and grinds it out beneath his shoe. He hopes the smell won’t linger in his clothes or hair.
“Yes,” he says, because it is true. “So do we have a deal?”