(Originally posted 29 June 2014 on tumblr)
Hyo-shin let himself sleep in late on Saturday morning. Or he tried to, at least. Even though he had gotten very little sleep because of his production schedule and had stayed up well past midnight in order to get his homework finished for the upcoming week, his night had been restless. It had taken ages for his mind to stop racing enough that he could fall asleep, and his dreams had been anxiety-ridden nightmares. Most of them were old, familiar dreams—variations on arguments with his parents or being shackled to a bench, wearing a prosecutor’s robes—but the one that finally propelled him out of bed for good was the one where his professors kicked him out of the film department. He had no talent, no future. His dream self had ended up on the roof of the building the film department was housed in.
It had been several months since he had one of those dreams. Hyo-shin climbed into the shower, but there wasn’t enough hot water in his apartment to wash away his uneasiness. He decided to forgo an actual breakfast since dry heaving was marginally less unpleasant than having a full stomach to throw up, opting instead to eat a few crackers.
He took his time shaving. Every stroke was meticulous. He needed to be as outwardly perfect as possible, so he took his time doing his hair as well. The suit he picked out for lunch was his favorite: slate gray, paired with an off-white shirt and blue-striped tie. Hyo-shin finished off the ensemble with a silver wristwatch and matching cufflinks and tie pin.
He looked like the son his father had wanted all of his life. It was flimsy protection, but Hyo-shin would take any armor that was available.
Half an hour before Hyo-shin planned to leave to meet his family, his phone rang. For once, it wasn’t his mother calling—it was Assistant PD Go. She was the one who coordinated the student interns, but aside from a weekly email with his schedule, Hyo-shin hadn’t interacted much with her. She had better things to do than babysit college students. He picked up the call on the fourth ring.
“This is Lee Hyo-shin. How can I help you?”
She sounded harried from the first word. “There’s been an incident on set. You have a car, correct?”
“Can you go to the production office? One of the cameras has been damaged. We’ll be able to wrap up filming at this location, but we need a replacement for the next location. I don’t have the manpower to spare anyone else right now.”
Hyo-shin hesitated. He wasn’t scheduled to be on set for another three hours—his weekend was carefully planned around lunch with his father’s family. The only time he had ever missed a day since his return from the army was the rare time he had been sick.
He could put this confrontation off for another week. It was the perfect excuse. His father might not approve of Hyo-shin studying film, but it would reflect poorly on him if Hyo-shin avoided this extra work that Assistant PD Go had asked him to do.
He didn’t want to tell Kang Jae-sung that he had backed out at the last minute. He didn’t want to have more stress dreams like the ones he had last night.
Hyo-shin glanced at his watch to double check the time. “There’s something I need to take care of first, but I can be at the production office by one to pick up the camera.”
Hyo-shin arrived first at the restaurant. Ever since the Choi Dong-wook underwent investigation six years ago, the Lee family had stopped going to any of the Zeus Hotel properties. They didn’t pick a new favorite, either, opting instead to cycle through a dozen or so venues. His grandfather hadn’t wanted anyone to be able to accuse them of favoritism, and Hyo-shin’s father had agreed.
Today’s restaurant was Pierre Gagnaire Seoul, on the thirty-fifth floor of the Lotte Hotel. The hostess escorted Hyo-shin to the private room his father had reserved, and when she asked if there was anything she could get for him to drink, he smiled and told her he wouldn’t be here for very long. Instead of taking a seat, Hyo-shin stood by the window so he could admire the Seoul skyline. He didn’t know how long it would be until he could come to a place like this again, and he was going to miss the best French cuisine in Seoul.
He didn’t flinch when the door opened behind him, but he still took a moment to gather his courage before he turned around.
Lee Chan-hyuk, the attorney general, walked into the room, flanked by his two younger brothers and trailed by his nephew, Lee Hyo-joon. Hyo-joon was the second oldest boy in Hyo-shin’s generation, and nearly done with his second year of college. In a few months, he would begin his enlistment. And even though Hyo-joon had never once in Hyo-shin’s presence expressed dissatisfaction with the career path their family had put him on, it was to him that Hyo-shin felt the most guilty.
“You’re early,” Chan-hyuk observed. He took his place at the head of the table. It was nearly a year since Hyo-shin’s grandfather had died—his first jesa would be held soon—but sometimes it was odd to see Chan-hyuk there instead.
“Yes, Father.” Hyo-shin waited until everyone was seated before he crossed to the end of the table, where nothing was between him and the door.
“Have a seat.”
“I can’t stay,” he said. “But there is something I need to tell you before I go.”
Hyo-shin resisted the urge to loosen his tie. It wasn’t any more difficult to breathe than it had been before his family walked in. It wasn’t.
He looked first to Hyo-joon. “I’m sorry.” Then he took a deep breath and was grateful that his voice came out even. He had practiced these words so often over the last few weeks that it was a relief to finally say them to the proper audience. “I’m not going to law school. I plan on joining a production company after I graduate, and from there I—”
Hyo-shin wavered, but he forged straight ahead. If he buckled now, he would never be able to say it. “—from there I will likely continue my education and get an advanced degree, though I’m still waiting to hear back from some of the programs I applied to.”
“You will do nothing of the sort.”
“I have come to ask your blessing, Father,” he said. His stomach was churning now, and it was a miracle that he hadn’t started gagging. Hyo-shin swallowed hard. There was nothing he could do to keep the note of pleading out of his voice. “This is what—”
Chan-hyuk slapped his open palm on the table, like a judge’s gavel, and Hyo-shin winced at the sudden noise. Hyo-joon jumped, but Hyo-shin’s uncles did not betray any surprise. They had grown up with Chan-hyuk as their older brother, and they knew his personality better than Hyo-shin did. They simply watched the spectacle unfolding before them, though Hyo-joon’s father, he noted, had a ghost of a smile upon his face. Did the man think this was funny?
“I don’t know what thoughts that girl put into your head, but no son of the Lee family is going to waste his life creating entertainment for the masses.”
“Cha Eun-sang.” In his father’s voice, her name sounded like something foul. “What did you think you were doing, bringing her to the awards ceremony?”
No matter how many times Hyo-shin had envisioned this moment, he had never thought he might be angry. Fear, he knew intimately. He expected it to be here. Desperation, too. But anger—anger was new, and he latched onto it like it was the only thing that could save him, even though it made his nausea skyrocket.
“I’m not dating Cha Eun-sang. I took her with me in order to help her with her investigation.” He forced himself to keep his hands stiff at his sides instead of balling them up into fists. Chan-hyuk was still his father, and Hyo-shin did not want to push him beyond the breaking point. He had never provoked his father that far, and even though the odds of escaping the room without doing so were astronomically low, he still had to try. “She’s investigating corruption in the ministry, Father, that’s all. She asked me to take her.”
“And you actually believed her?”
“I didn’t raise my son to be that stupid. She was clearly using you. Do you know how much pressure I had to put on the reporters to keep your photos and her name out of the press?”
“Why is it,” Hyo-shin asked, voice trembling now, “that I am only stupid when I don’t fall in line? The Ministry of Justice isn’t holy. It’s just as liable to corruption as any other—”
Chan-hyuk was on his feet now, and Hyo-shin took an involuntary step back. He hadn’t had men shouting at him since his army days, and his ability to stand absolutely still while someone with more authority than he had was yelling at him was a skill that had eroded after four years. Hyo-shin reached up and loosened his tie with one sharp, decisive yank. It didn’t calm his stomach or his heart, and it only barely helped him breathe.
His father had never yelled at him like this before. His parents weren’t the yelling type. They were typically cold, detached, and they used their words and the tone of their voices with surgical precision. He had shredded himself on their indifference and unwillingness to negotiate his whole life.
Everyone else in the room had gone still. Hyo-joon was wide-eyed, and even Hyo-shin’s uncles looked taken aback by the outburst.
Hyo-shin’s anger was rapidly slipping through his fingers, so he used the last of it to bow. “I wish you well, Father.”
He straightened up and turned to leave.
“Don’t you dare walk out of here, Lee Hyo-shin!”
He spent twenty minutes in the lobby bathroom of the Lotte Hotel, bent over the toilet in the furthest stall, repeatedly vomiting bile. When he ran out of that, he dry heaved until his abdomen ached. His legs were too weak to support him properly the first time he tried to stand up, so Hyo-shin braced himself on the toilet seat, closed his eyes, and tried to regain his strength.
It took several minutes until he was certain he was well enough to exit the stall, but he didn’t leave the bathroom until after he rinsed out his mouth as best he could. His throat still burned, so he drank as much water as he thought he could handle. It sloshed around in his empty stomach, but deep breaths through his nose helped quell the nausea enough that he could walk out.
The smarter decision would be to hail a taxi, but Hyo-shin didn’t want to leave his car in the hotel parking lot over the weekend. He had barely put his seatbelt on when his phone rang.
It was his mother. She wouldn’t have called at this time normally, which meant that his father had already told her what happened. He flirted with the idea of not answering, just as he had ignored all of her previous calls the last few days. But his mother deserved to hear the news directly from him as well.
“It’s me,” Hyo-shin said. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back against the headrest. His heartbeat was still uneven, and his throat throbbed with a dull ache. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t yell at me. I’m about to drive. I’m also not going to law school, for the record.”
“Hyo-shin, come straight home. Your father—” She cut herself off, like she had lost track of what she was going to say.
He didn’t laugh, if only because it wasn’t the first time in his life that his mother had talked right past his objections. His eyes started to burn, and he pressed his free hand over them, like this was simply a case of being overtired and a few minutes of keeping his eyes shut would solve the problem. “I’m not going to, Mother. I have to go to the production office to pick up and deliver a camera, and then I’m filming through Monday.”
“I don’t care. You need to come home right now.”
His anger had abandoned him along with most of the acid in his stomach. “Can I have your blessing?”
“Hyo-shin, we need to talk.”
“I’ll take that as a no, then.” He let out a long, shaky breath. “I wish you well, Mother.”
Hyo-shin shut off his phone, opened his eyes, and started up his car. He had to wait for a few minutes until he could see well enough to drive.