(Originally posted 12 Mar 2014 on tumblr)
A distant part of Hyo-shin knows he shouldn’t be relieved to look down at the body outline from the school roof, but he is. No matter how much of his life his parents control, they can’t control everything.
And that small measure of control over his own life is just enough space for him to breathe a little easier. Coupled with Hyun-joo’s words about him having the potential to be the best student she has tutored, it is just enough to finish the test with a confidence he hasn’t felt in months.
The confidence doesn’t last through the weekend, but Hyo-shin holds the memory of it in reserve.
“You should really think about entering,” Bo-na insists on Monday. She pushes the flier for the short film contest in front of him again. “I loved your last film—the one you showed at the start of the school year. Remember?”
“Oh, I remember. Did you happen to forget how pretentious it was?”
“I still liked it.”
Hyo-shin picks up the flier even though he already has the qualifications and judging criteria memorized thanks to one of his sleepless nights several weeks ago. “I haven’t started on anything yet, and the submissions are due at the end of February.”
“You don’t have anything? What have you been doing all year?”
Before he can come up with a lie, the door to the broadcasting room swings open and Rachel marches inside. There is no mistaking the cold fury in her eyes or the bite in her voice. “I need to speak to you, sunbae. Alone,” she adds with a significant glance at Bo-na.
Bo-na bristles. “Can’t you see we’re in the middle of a club meeting right now?”
“Did you already lose everyone else? I don’t see why the administration hasn’t shut this club down already from lack of participation.”
“This meeting is just for the officers, and besides—”
“Bo-na, Rachel. I only have a few minutes before I have to go to my tutoring session.” Hyo-shin puts on an overly bright smile to mask the uneasiness pooling in his gut. “I’m not opposed to letting the two of you continue to fight over me, but if I remember correctly, you both already have significant others.”
Rachel scoffs at him, and Bo-na actually stamps her foot in frustration. “Sunbae! I already said I wasn’t interested in you like that!”
Hyo-shin folds the flier into quarters and stuffs it in his inner jacket pocket. “I’ll think about entering the competition, Bo-na. I promise. Would you mind letting me speak to Rachel though?”
Bo-na glares at Rachel once more, but she does gather up her purse and storm out of the broadcasting room. Hyo-shin waves Rachel toward the seat across from him. He doesn’t expect her to sit.
He laces his fingers together, not that he thinks it will fortify him much for this conversation. “What’s wrong?”
“You lied to me.”
“I lie to everyone at one point or another,” Hyo-shin says with a bit of wry humor, “and I’m sure you do the same. This is Jeguk, after all. We all have our lies and secrets and bluffs. Which do you prefer?”
But Rachel refuses to be distracted. “I thought it was odd that Tan would care about having my engagement gifts hand-delivered by someone he knew rather than through a service. I thought he was—” She stops, relaxes her shoulders to adopt a less-tense pose, and starts again. “You implied that Tan picked those gifts out for me. Did he even do anything besides give you the money for them?”
“The money was as far as he went,” Hyo-shin admits.
Her throat works, but she doesn’t speak. He does not offer to tell her what Tan’s budget was.
After a moment, Rachel gathers herself and leaves the room without another word.
The school roof is a sanctuary for Hyo-shin in the way the broadcasting room can’t be. In the broadcasting room, he is president of the club, and he isn’t safe from other people’s expectations. He isn’t even safe from his own hopes. On the roof, he is—
He’s not sure. Something raw, something less confined. Something that misses the outline in front of the doors, now several days gone.
During lunch break on Thursday, Hyo-shin shivers against the autumn wind. Another storm is supposed to come in tonight or early tomorrow morning, and the air is wet and cold. He should have brought his coat up to the roof with him, but he didn’t think about it until he was already here.
His phone buzzes. Hyo-shin debates whether or not it is worth it to pull his hands out of his pockets to check the message, but another notification, just a few seconds later, piques his curiosity and his annoyance.
The messages are from Yoo Rachel. The first one is a photo of the class ranking with Lee Hyo-shin in the top spot.
The second is a normal text: The presents you picked weren’t terrible.
Hyo-shin spends the rest of the school day mentally constructing arguments about why he should be allowed to have his video equipment back. He outlines his points on the back of a napkin—Bo-na had food delivered to the broadcasting club in celebration of his return to the top slot—while he picks at the plate of food one of the first years brought him.
The whole way home, Hyo-shin debates whether he should bring up the subject of his equipment before or after his tutoring session. He still doesn’t have an answer by the time he arrives, but in the end it doesn’t matter.
His mother is wearing a conservative skirt and blazer and is putting on black pumps when he steps inside. She has pearls at her throat, in her ears, and around her wrist, and her words have all the sharp edges of a woman who has no time to spare. “Your father and I will be home late. I trust you can take care of your own dinner?”
“Yes. What’s going on?”
“Someone leaked your father’s appointment.”
Hyo-shin’s stomach knots up, even though he has been anticipating the news would break any day now. Every word from his mother feels like the death of an opportunity.
Of his future.
“There will be a press conference shortly, and I need to be there.” His mother slips on her long black coat and belts it around her waist. She looks just like the wife of an attorney general. “Tell Hyun-joo that tomorrow’s session is canceled. I need to take you to get fitted for a new suit.”
And then she’s gone.
Hyo-shin fights his churning stomach just long enough to make it upstairs and to his bathroom. Once he rinses out his mouth, he changes out of his school uniform and into less restrictive clothing. It doesn’t help him breathe at all. He flops back on this bed and stares at the ceiling, but that doesn’t keep his thoughts from swirling.
Hyo-shin doesn’t get up until he hears the door buzzer, and even though he knows it is Hyun-joo, it still takes a minute or two to force himself upright. It is only then that he registers the fact that his video cameras and computer are back.
But the prospect of a new suit and all it symbolizes is still enough to get Hyo-shin out of bed and onto the streets before four the next morning so he can paint another outline on school grounds.