(Originally posted 6 July 2014 on tumblr)
When Young-do crept downstairs early Saturday morning, Kyung-ran was already at the breakfast nook. She hadn’t been up for very long—she was still in her pajamas, and her hair was mussed—but she had set the table with two teacups. He could only see a little of her face since she was looking out the bay windows and out into the early autumn morning. The few branches he could see from the closest tree were close to bare.
He still didn’t know how to tell her about his father, which was one of the reasons he had come home so late last night, late enough that Kyung-ran was asleep. The live-in maid had Friday evening through Sunday morning off, so Young-do hadn’t had to worry about waking her up when he returned.
“I was planning to surprise you with breakfast,” Young-do said from the kitchen threshold. “What are you doing up so early on your day off, Mother?”
Kyung-ran turned away from the window and waved him over to the seat across from her. “Since when does my son know how to make breakfast?”
“I know how to spend money.”
That coaxed a gentle smile from her, but it didn’t ease the tension in his chest, not even when she took his right hand in both of hers after he sat down. Her hands were so much smaller than his. They weren’t as strong as his, either, but they weren’t soft, not how he remembered them being before she left.
(Young-do doubted those “before” memories the most. He had loved her and resented her with what seemed like equal measure some days, and there were times he wasn’t sure if the details he kept close to his heart were ones that were real or ones that made his resentment easier to manage.)
“Let me make breakfast for you,” Kyung-ran said. “And while I cook, you can tell me all about how you’ve been lately and why you haven’t been home. How about omelets?”
“That will be fine,” Young-do said, and the years of facing down the Zeus board and major stockholders allowed him to bury his unease without any visible trace. The plan he had worked out with Vice President Kwon late last night was still just a plan. He didn’t want to scare his mother about his father’s return and then get her hopes up in case his attempts to persuade the board members didn’t go perfectly. Once he had something concrete to tell her, he would tell her.
So Young-do talked about his college classes and the board’s approval to bid on the Barcelona property. He teased her about taking a vacation with him under the guise of doing a final, in-person inspection and did not let it show how much it hurt when she declined the invitation. Once she sat back down with him, he asked her about Secret Garden, and he was only mildly jealous about how she smiled when she mentioned her regular customers or the cashier’s reaction when he found out that Young-do was her son.
“Thank you for the food.”
Kyung-ran waived his gratitude away, like she always did. “So what are your plans for the weekend?”
“There are several members of the board I’d like to visit to thank them for supporting the Barcelona project.”
“Pyo Sook-ja, Min Seung-hyun, and Baek Jong-shik to start with.” He and Vice President Kwon had decided these three would be the easiest support to secure amongst the board members, if only because they had been the most hostile to Dong-wook before he was imprisoned.
Kyung-ran picked up her cup of tea. “Pyo Sook-ja was well enough to attend?”
“No, actually.” Young-do finished off the last of his omelet. “She attended remotely. We had the meeting transmitted to her home. Did you know her?”
“Not very well. I just…”
She steeled herself, fingers tightening ever so slightly around the handle of her teacup. “I remembered that she disliked your father greatly, and he disliked her even more. I’m a little surprised she would back anything you proposed.”
“Whether or not she likes me, Pyo Sook-ja has a keen eye for business.” Young-do grinned because it was easier to hide his true feelings that way. “She doesn’t always treat me as if I’m my father’s son.”
Rachel went into the office a little before noon on Saturday so she could pull the in-store and online sales data for Friday. The building was as close to empty as an international conglomerate ever got, and no one from her team was there. She didn’t see anyone else on her way up to the floor besides the security personnel.
The quiet—no, the solitude was peaceful, almost energizing. Rachel’s home was never empty, even though the luxury penthouse was big enough that with only minimal effort she and her mother could avoid each other for days, but the housekeeper, chef, and maids were always there. Rachel hardly ever got to be truly by herself. She wasn’t alone here, technically, not since the CCTVs were always on.
Still, it was nice to imagine every once in a while. Solitude like this was a different thing altogether from loneliness.
She turned on her computer and ran the sales data and inventory report for the product placement jackets. The Friday numbers were a little better than the Thursday sales—one of the smaller boutiques in Meyeong-dong had sold out of all its stock, and several other boutiques were perilously close to doing so as well. Once she confirmed that the people over inventory management already had stock earmarked for those stores, she downloaded all of the information onto a thumb drive.
Lee Esther responded best to hard facts, as any businesswoman ought, and these numbers were good. Not as good as they should have been without the significant inventory loss, but if sales kept pace today, they would break even with the money they’d used to buy the PPL slots sometime this evening. Anything after that would be a profit for RS International.
Hitting that milestone might be a good excuse to have Hyo-shin buy her lunch.
Rachel mulled over that thought for a while. Young-do likely wouldn’t have time to treat her, considering all the people he wanted to meet this weekend, and her mother wouldn’t think breaking even anything other than meeting the lowest expectation. It certainly wasn’t an event to celebrate.
She checked the time. It was almost one—still a reasonable hour to get lunch. Rachel toyed with the idea of calling Hyo-shin and asking him to take her to lunch right now, but there wasn’t any guarantee that he would be anywhere nearby or available, and she’d have to lie about hitting the break-even point if he questioned the timing.
In the end she decided to send him a text: Did you get any sleep last night, or did you film through it all?
Rachel waited a few minutes for a response, but eventually conceded that he wasn’t going to answer her straight away. She sent a message to her driver to let him know she was leaving and told herself it was childish to be annoyed that Hyo-shin hadn’t responded immediately. Today wouldn’t be the first time in her life she had dined alone, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Eun-sang dropped onto the park bench next to Tan. Even though it was a little after one, this part of the park was partially shaded by a thick cluster of trees, so it was still colder than she liked it to be. She kept the hood on her jacket up and her hands in her pockets so they wouldn’t get too chilled by the wind. A few meters away on the playground, Tan’s four-year-old niece, Chae-mi, kicked her legs wildly and laughed while her nanny pushed her on the swing. Chae-mi was bundled up in a thick green coat, and her nose and ears were a bright pink. Her matching green mittens kept her little hands warm. Eun-sang decided she probably needed to stop being lazy and pull her winter clothing out of the storage boxes.
“It looks like Chae-mi is having plenty of fun without me,” Eun-sang said after it became clear that Tan wasn’t going to speak first. He had barely glanced at her, opting instead to alternate between watching his niece or checking his new phone. “Are you sure she wanted to play with me right now? You were quite insistent on the phone.”
“She very much wants to see her unni, but I told her she had to wait until I could talk to you first.”
Eun-sang turned to face Tan, and he finally did the same. Their knees bumped together. For a moment, Eun-sang missed—not Tan, precisely. The sensation of being physically close to someone else, someone she could curl up against. Tan had been lacking in many areas, but he had always been good about cuddling her when she had wanted to be held.
(He hadn’t been very good at accepting when she didn’t.)
“Is something wrong?”
“Not yet.” Tan rubbed at his chest, and his smile was tinged with something almost like regret. “I’m just thinking about doing something that I’m going to get punched for.”
“Hyo-shin sunbae might have broken ties with his family today,” Tan said. The rest of the story spilled out of him without any prompting from her, a sudden rush that made her heart sink a little further with every word.
She hadn’t really gotten to know Hyo-shin until after he returned from the army. Tan and Bo-na had known him for most of their lives, and Chan-young had gone to school with him for several years. The Hyo-shin she had remembered from her second year of high school hadn’t been the same person after his discharge from the army.
Back then, Eun-sang hadn’t known how to describe it, only that as she watched him pull himself back together in the months after his service, it slowly dawned on her that, perhaps, the army hadn’t changed him so much as it had stripped away the only façade he ever let most people see, including her. She watched him more closely after that, and it became easier to piece things together. Enough that she could guess at some things she hadn’t had context for previously.
But Tan had never been very good at subtlety when his mind was set on something, and the week before he left for boot camp, he spilled everything at their movie night in the hopes that the three of them would be able to watch out for Hyo-shin while he was gone. Or he tried to, at least, because he hadn’t gotten much further than mentioning Hyo-shin’s suicide attempt before Hyo-shin decked him.
More than once. Tan hadn’t fought back. It had taken both Chan-young and Eun-sang to pry Hyo-shin off of Tan.
“You’re an ass, Kim Tan,” Eun-sang said when he finished, and she added a silent so am I to the end of it. The instant she realized what was happening, she should have slapped a hand over his mouth or got up and walked away, not just listened. Tan was the bigger traitor for spilling this new secret, but she was still betraying Hyo-shin’s trust by listening. “If sunbae had wanted me to know, he would have told me himself!”
She got to her feet and headed toward the swings. Tan—and his stupid, long legs—cut off her path. Back when they were dating, he would have grabbed her by the shoulders or her wrist or her hand, but he knew better now than to touch her when she was angry.
“I wouldn’t have told you at all except I just found out I’m leaving for Hong Kong with Won early tomorrow morning. I tried to call Hyo-shin sunbae, but he’s got his phone turned off—probably for the rest of the weekend since he’s on set. It’s not like I want sunbae to hate me again,” Tan said. His voice was tight, and her anger softened a little at the pleading in his expression. “I may be gone until Friday. I need—just watch out for him, all right? Please, Eun-sang. When he called me afterwards, from the production office, he—”
“Why me?” She didn’t want any more details that weren’t supposed to be hers.
At that tacit admission that Eun-sang would listen to him, Tan relaxed a little. “Because sunbae wouldn’t have a problem punching Chan-young, and if Bo-na knew, Chan-young would know. Besides, I’m pretty sure that sunbae likes you better than me, anyway. You know how to be discreet. He won’t suspect a thing.”
Eun-sang looked down in time to spot Chae-mi rushing toward her. The little girl threw her arms around Eun-sang’s knee and clung to her with all her might. She was such an energetic, curious child, whose looks took strongly after her mother. It was a blessing, considering how different her biological father and Won looked. This way no one questioned whose child Chae-mi was.
The nanny hurried over, but Eun-sang just smiled at the woman to let her know it was all right.
She reached down and patted Chae-mi’s head. “Do you want to go get hot chocolate?”