(Originally posted 8 June 2014 on tumblr)
Eun-sang arrived at work an hour early, not because she was that eager to resume her work on the timeline, but because she had woken up shortly after five and hadn’t been able to get back to sleep. Her night had been restless, weighed down as it was by the memory of two angry, hurt men and the fear of what the internet would say about her in the morning.
The internet, for once, had been kind. There were only a handful of articles about the Ministry of Justice’s event, and most of the word count was devoted to the award winners. One article mentioned that the attorney general had attended with his family—a generous description, since Eun-sang had only seen Hyo-shin’s parents from afar—and that Lee Hyo-shin had attended with a companion. There weren’t any pictures of her or Hyo-shin and only a few speculative comments by netizens about whether or not his companion was a friend or a girlfriend.
She still wore flats to the office, but if there were reporters or photographers lying in wait for her, they were hidden well enough she never spotted them.
The YBS office building was always staffed, and Eun-sang gave polite greetings to everyone she encountered. Her floor was mostly empty, though there were a few sleepy people working over cups of coffee. Eun-sang was the first person in her department to arrive. It was odd for the room to be so dark and quiet, so she turned on all of the lights and made a little more noise than strictly necessary when she stuck her purse in her desk drawer, booted up her computer, and settled in to her work.
Or tried to, at least. It was difficult to keep focused on hunting through articles and entering points of interest into her massive timeline when both Young-do and Hyo-shin were on her mind.
(“I’m sorry,” she had told Hyo-shin on the drive back to her home.
“Don’t be. There wasn’t anything real between us anyway.” His voice had been breezy, but the streetlights they passed by illuminated his tense grip on the steering wheel. “I’m the one who got used to dealing with normal people—the ones that weren’t raised to always be on their guard for corporate takeovers, blackmail, and the fate of trillion-won companies.”
She had waited until they were stopped at an intersection to ask, “But you really liked Rachel?”
“I could tell her things I only ever told Tan,” was all Hyo-shin had said, and she hadn’t pressed him any further.)
Neither Writer Nam nor Writer Ji came in to the office that morning, as they were out interviewing, and PD Yoon and VJ Han were too absorbed in their own work for casual interaction. PD Yoon kept taking off his glasses so he could rub the bridge of his nose. That always meant he was stressed about something and uncertain what to do about the source of his stress.
Eun-sang eventually got up from her desk, informed PD Yoon that she was going down to the archives for further research, and crept away with her notebook and phone when he waved her away. She tried not to feel guilty—it wasn’t entirely a lie. There was just something else she needed to take care of first.
She fortified herself in the same conference room as she had on Tuesday. It was even more ridiculous this time as there wouldn’t be anything to overhear, but it gave her the little boost of confidence she needed. This time, Eun-sang didn’t dither over her decision.
You said I couldn’t call you again, she wrote. Does that mean texts are okay?
Hyo-shin checked his watch when Tan finally rounded the bend in the path. “You’re only twenty minutes late,” he called out. “The coffee might be lukewarm still.”
It was probably a little cruel to have asked Tan to meet him this early in the morning since he had only gotten back from the United States on Tuesday afternoon, but Hyo-shin had two morning classes and then he was scheduled to be on set for the rest of the day and overnight until midday Friday. He needed his otherwise open Friday night and Saturday morning to do his homework since he had spent last night at the awards ceremony.
The park they met at was within walking distance of SNU. It was fairly popular with students and the local residents; every couple of minutes someone would walk, run, or cycle past the bench Hyo-shin was sitting at. He liked the cyclists the best, as the fastest ones would kick up a little swirl of fallen leaves when they raced by.
“Sorry,” Tan said. He dropped onto the other side of the bench and grabbed his coffee. “I got pulled over on the way here.”
“Driving like an American.”
“You’ve been driving in Korea longer than you lived in America, Tan. When are you going to get rid of those bad habits?”
Tan took a drink of his coffee and grimaced. “I learned how to drive during my rebellious teenage years. I probably won’t ever unlearn my aggressive Californian driving style.”
“One of these days, Won is going to make you behave like a proper chaebol son and force you to use a driver.”
“Probably,” Tan said. “But my abysmal driving record isn’t what you wanted to talk to me about, is it?”
Hyo-shin rolled his empty coffee cup between his hands. “I’m not going to law school. I’m going to tell my father that at lunch on Saturday.”
“In front of your uncles and cousin?”
Hyo-shin nodded. He didn’t feel any lighter for admitting it to Tan, probably because—with one exception—Tan had been as good as his therapist at keeping his secrets. It wasn’t an exercise of bravery to tell Tan. He had entertained the idea of confessing his plans to Eun-sang, but last night’s disaster had driven those thoughts straight out of his head. “An audience might keep him from shouting me down immediately.”
He needed that kind of protection. He had caved too many times in his life under his father’s disapproval, harsh words, or threats. His mother’s reaction would be just as bad. It was a coward’s tactic to drop that kind of news and then run, but avoidance was the only tactic that had halfway worked for him.
“It won’t keep him from yelling at you in the privacy of your apartment.”
“That’s why I am going to conveniently be on set from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning. Maybe that will give him some time to cool down.”
Hyo-shin tried to smile. “It’s not a very good plan, I’ll admit it. But it’s the only one I’ve got.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Remind me that I’m doing this so I can have a life I actually want to live for the next sixty years?”
Tan glanced over at him. The set of his mouth suggested that there were things he wanted to say but didn’t have the words with which to articulate them. In the end, all he said was, “Anything for my favorite sunbae.”
Young-do spent the morning strategizing with his vice president over the offer Zeus would be making on the property in Barcelona. The board had approved a maximum bid on Monday, but the rest of the details had been left up to him. It was a test of his skills and abilities; Dong-wook had made his first international acquisition while he was still in college. Young-do needed to be able to do something this simple if he was going to prove to anyone on the board or the major shareholders that he was capable of leading the company despite his youth and inexperience.
Sang-joong had valuable input in this area. When conflicts had kept Dong-wook from visiting potential domestic or international acquisitions, he had often sent Sang-joong in his place to do an initial evaluation. There had only been one time that Young-do knew of that Dong-wook had gone against Sang-joong’s advice.
They kept all of their conversation focused squarely on the Barcelona bid, which Young-do was grateful for. Sang-joong hadn’t asked about or even hinted at the scene that had happened on their way out of the Plaza Hotel. It wouldn’t be the first time his boss had had problems with women, after all.
Hyo-shin sunbae’s time is mine for the rest of the night.
Every time Young-do remembered those words or the way Eun-sang’s hand had tightened at the crook of Hyo-shin’s elbow, he was struck with a new wave of jealousy, which quickly turned into a self-deprecating sort of fury. He had no right to be jealous, and he deserved to be angry at himself for feeling it. Eun-sang had always been clear about her feelings: she was not interested in him the way he had wanted her to be. Nothing about her feelings—or his—had changed in six years.
It wasn’t the first time he regretted telling her that they couldn’t be friends, but last night had been excruciating because a small, desperate part of him was actually happy at the idea that she was dating Lee Hyo-shin. Through the son of the attorney general, Eun-sang would have access to Korea’s elite, and Young-do would be able to see her again.
If there was a more pathetic man in all of Seoul, Young-do couldn’t imagine it. He’d gotten up even earlier than he normally did so he could spend extra time on the judo mat. Not that physical exertion had ever been able to clear his mind or his heart when he wished it would.
Sang-joong eventually left to handle his own duties, and Young-do continued his work analyzing the board members and major shareholders. Rachel’s spot-on accusation from Tuesday night had been nagging at him all morning. Even though he wanted to get on his motorcycle to see if speeding down the freeway would clear his head, he needed to figure out which of the board members and major stockholders he ought to approach first. He had classes later in the day and Friday morning. The earliest he could present his list of suggestions to Sang-joong for feedback would be Friday afternoon.
Young-do’s phone buzzed with a text shortly before eleven, and the name that popped up on the screen hit him hard enough that he momentarily forgot to breathe.
He shouldn’t have saved her new number in his phone. He should have blocked her number. He should have shut off his phone while he was working. He ought to delete the message, unread.
Instead, Young-do accessed the text, and its contents almost made him laugh:
You said I couldn’t call you again. Does that mean texts are okay?
He ought to delete the message. Ignore it, at least. But he’d spent the last six years in a losing battle trying to pretend she had never existed.
Finding loopholes already? he wrote back even though his hands weren’t quite steady. You’ll do just fine as the attorney general’s daughter-in-law.
I’m not dating Hyo-shin sunbae.
She stuck a sick-looking emoticon at the end of that message, much to Young-do’s surprise. He stared at the little green-tinged face and tried to stamp out the relief that threatened to turn into hope. What do you want?
Will you promise me something?
Young-do wrote Yes, but his pride wouldn’t let him hit the send button. He erased the word and started over. Tell me what it is, and maybe we can negotiate.
I think Hyo-shin sunbae really likes Rachel. Don’t tell her about what you misunderstood last night, all right? And if you did, then go tell her the truth. I’m not interested in Hyo-shin sunbae at all, and he’s not interested in me.
Those words shouldn’t have hurt as much as they did, but of course Eun-sang wouldn’t have contacted him again if it weren’t for Hyo-shin’s sake. What else did Young-do expect after telling her to never call him again and hanging up on her?
That’s not what it looked like from where I was standing.
You’re worse than my mother. At least she believed me!
Young-do hesitated over the keyboard, typing and deleting message after message until he settled on one he could live with. I guess I can believe you.
Don’t thank me yet. I didn’t agree to stay out of sunbae’s love life. All I said was that I’d maybe believe you.
A little annoyed emoticon popped up on the screen. Right, you wanted to negotiate. What do you want?
He wanted something he could never ask for.
More noodles? she asked after a few moments when he didn’t respond. I could even take you out for dessert afterwards. I have money enough for that now.
He remembered Tuesday’s breakfast and how thoroughly that had turned on all of its participants. Not interested.
Make sure you keep my number memorized, he typed, but his courage failed him before he could send it. It only took a second to erase the words.
I’ve got to go, he wrote in the end. I won’t tell Rachel about the misunderstanding. We can negotiate later.
Were you the one who met with Prosecutor Im last night?
The man had very little to add that Sang-joong hadn’t told him—only a few guesses as to which of the men and women higher up in the Ministry of Justice and the prosecutorial ranks who had the power to put Dong-wook’s name on the list of men and women who were going to be given unearned clemency. It had been a short, frustrating meeting, even if the prosecutor had volunteered to do some inside investigating, provided enough money came his way.
Do you know if he met with anyone before or after you?
Even if I did, you ought to do your own work, Writer Cha.
Fine. A grumpy little emoticon was tacked on the end.
Young-do didn’t say goodbye. Neither did Eun-sang. He kept checking his phone for the rest of the day, waiting for her to end their conversation, but she never did.