(Originally posted 5 Mar 2014 on tumblr)
With the next test just two weeks away, Hyo-shin spends all weekend studying. He has not broached the subject of his video equipment with his mother yet, mostly because he has nothing to bargain with. If he can reclaim first place—
His phone buzzes with a new message a little after eight on Sunday morning. It’s from Tan: Are you up yet?
For three hours now, Hyo-shin answers. Why?
Think you could do me a favor?
Is it illegal?
That’s too bad. What is it?
My mom won’t stop nagging me about getting Rachel an engagement gift, Tan sends back. Could you get her something for me by next weekend? Send me your account information, and I’ll give you the money to cover it.
And what about my time? I’m studying for a rather important exam for the next two weeks.
You can keep the change as a commission. Please, sunbae?
Hyo-shin frowns at his phone for a few moments, weighing his suspicions and the inconvenience against his strange, too-honest, long-distance relationship with Tan. What should I get her?
Whatever you want. It doesn’t matter.
The problem, Hyo-shin realizes, is that even with a budget of five million won, he has no idea what to get Yoo Rachel. Tan was unhelpful, as expected, and Hyo-shin knows little about her other than she is the sole heiress of RS International, she is Tan’s fiancée, and she is consistently in second place in her class.
(And that she and Bo-na had a falling out once. He has no idea over what and doesn’t particularly care to know, either.
She is also beautiful, in a cold, remote way. There’s a sharpness about her that keeps her from being a fantasy.)
As rich as she is, it’s likely she already has everything that can be bought. Giving gifts is a difficult thing for the rare Jeguk couples, or so he’s heard other people complain. He has more prestige than money to his name compared to most and no girlfriend, in any case—it is not a problem he has experience with.
Except now, thanks to Tan, it is his problem.
Hyo-shin can’t stomach the idea of going into the cafeteria on Monday, so he skips lunch again and roams the hallway in search of Rachel. He doesn’t have a shot at getting her anything she might actually like until he knows a little more about her.
He finds her by her locker, talking politely with a third-year boy whose family is also in fashion. It will be awkward and obvious if he just stands and stares at her, so Hyo-shin pulls out his phone so he can pretend to text. When he reaches the bank of lockers diagonal from Rachel, he slows to a stop and eventually leans against them.
He sneaks glances at her for the next several minutes while trying to ignore his empty stomach. She has her hair down—as usual, he thinks—without any of the headbands or bows that Bo-na favors. In fact, she hasn’t dressed up the Jeguk uniform the way a lot of the girls and some of the guys do. Minimal jewelry, too. All he can see is a delicate silver bracelet on one wrist. He has no idea if this is typical for her or not.
The third-year boy leaves after a few minutes, and Rachel opens her locker to get her books for the next class. Hyo-shin pushes away from the lockers and saunters past her to get a glimpse inside. She shuts it before he can make out anything other than her textbooks and what he thinks is a—red? orange? something in between?—clutch. He didn’t see the brand.
Hyo-shin spends the rest of the lunch period searching for the clutch online and getting annoyed that Pantone named that orange-red as the color of the year. There’s a sea of possibilities, and he has no idea which one Rachel favors.
The second time his stomach growls, Hyun-joo sighs.
“Sorry,” Hyo-shin says and tries to ignore the heat creeping up his neck. He feels like an elementary school kid.
“If you’re hungry, eat something before I arrive. Hang on.” She leans down to hunt through her bag, and when she straightens up, she has a couple of ginseng packets. “Here. They’ll do for now.”
Hyo-shin accepts them, if only because he thinks it would be more embarrassing to refuse. “Thank you,” he says.
Hyun-joo hums her acknowledgement. While he tears open the first packet, she raises her hands above her head. She grabs first one wrist and then the other, her back arching as she leans into the stretch. “You can thank me by getting first place again.”
When she leans away from him, a sliver of skin gets exposed by the movement. Hyo-shin knows he’s getting dangerously close to staring, so he focuses on downing the ginseng.
Hyun-joo lowers her arms, laces her fingers together, and pushes her hands in front of her, palms out. Then she shakes out her wrists and works her fingers until her knuckles crack.
Hyo-shin envisions taking one of her hands and massaging it to relieve her tension instead. He nearly chokes on the ginseng.
“Are you all right?”
He coughs once, twice, hopes she chalks up the heat in his face to that, and croaks, “Yes.”
Hyo-shin drops by a convenience store on his way to school the next morning and buys packets of ginseng and protein bars. He doubts he will go into the cafeteria anymore, and he needs to eat something. These selections will also make it easy to lie about why he’s not eating with everyone else, too.
There is a long, snaking line for the register, so Hyo-shin winds up in the household and miscellaneous goods aisle. On his left are assorted cleaning products: dish soap, rubber gloves, glass cleaner. On his right are nails, screws, a few tools—and spray paint.
He is almost to the register before he steps out of line and circles back for a canister of white paint.
Hyo-shin feels increasingly, and uncomfortably, like a stalker as the days pass by and he goes out of his way to observe Rachel. She definitely seems to favor bracelets and necklaces, at least this week. Pearls, diamonds, the occasional sapphire. Her purses are bright, bold. She wears makeup, has manicured nails, keeps her hair down, and never compliments anyone or makes envious remarks so he can’t even take a guess at what she wants that she doesn’t already have. All of her social interactions at school are superficial—he doesn’t even hear her talk about her plans for the weekend or any hobbies. If she has any true friends in this school, he doesn’t know who they are.
He wants to complain to Tan about it, but then Tan would ask why he was bothering to put in that much effort, and then what would he say?
I feel bad that she has a lazy ass like you as a fiancé.
Which is true. But Hyo-shin isn’t willing to risk his unusual friendship with Tan for the truth, not when he doesn’t know how strong their relationship actually is. It’s ridiculous that Tan is so important to him.
It doesn’t change the fact that he is.
On Friday afternoon, just before Hyo-shin heads to the broadcasting club, Rachel steps directly into his path. Even though she has to tilt her head back so she can meet his gaze, she acts as if she is just as tall as he is. “Why have you been following me?”
Hyo-shin scrambles for his best, brightest smile and finds it just before his surprise makes him look guilty. “I didn’t think you’d noticed.”
She crosses her arms and gives him a look as if to say well, obviously I did.
He doesn’t quite laugh, but it’s close. “Right. Would it make it any less weird if I told you I’ve been wanting to talk to you alone?”
“No. I’m engaged, and I’m not interested—”
Hyo-shin holds up his empty hands in mock surrender. “I know. Tan asked me for a favor.”
“What, to follow me?”
“To make sure you got his engagement gift.”
Rachel’s scowl falters, and for the briefest moment, Hyo-shin glimpses a vulnerability he never anticipated she could have. Then it’s gone. Her new expression is far less hostile than the first one.
Hyo-shin lowers his hands and reaches for the most plausible excuse. “I didn’t want to bring it to you at school—I think we could both do without those rumors—so I’ve been looking for an opportunity to get your phone number.”
“Why didn’t you just get it from Tan?”
“Because Tan never returns my phone calls,” he says, still smiling, which is true if only because he has never called. “Are you free on Sunday? I can meet up with you then.”
The tension slowly goes out of Rachel’s shoulders, and a moment later she uncrosses her arms. “What time would work best for you?”