(Originally posted 24 August 2014 on tumblr)
Eun-sang had refused to let Young-do drop her off at the YBS building or even the nearest subway station. He watched her walk away—and for the first time in years, seeing her turn her back to him hadn’t immediately filled him with regret.
It was ridiculous. How could he feel such relief over a handshake and a tepid declaration that they could try to be friends? Especially when everything else in his life had fallen apart?
She disappeared around a bend in the path. She never once looked back at him.
Young-do finally pulled his phone out of his pants pocket and was unsurprised to see several missed calls—but no voicemails—from the vice president. For a moment, he let himself be tempted by the idea of shutting his phone off and driving until he ran out of either gas or road; he considered checking in to a cheap hotel so he could run away for a little while longer. Practicality killed the fantasy in short order. He had left his wallet in the locker room at the recreational facility, which meant he was, for the moment, poorer than Eun-sang ever had been.
The rescue Eun-sang had provided had been nothing more than a fantasy, and Young-do needed to go back to acting like an adult. He called Sang-joong.
“Where are you?”
At another time, Young-do might have been a little smug that he finally upset his vice president enough to hear traces of anger in the man’s voice, but he didn’t have the energy to spare for that tonight. “A park near the Han River.”
“Is Cha Eun-sang still with you?”
Young-do tightened his grip on his phone. “How did you know?”
“I looked at the hotel’s CCTVs. Your stunt tonight—”
“How do you know her face?”
Sang-joong didn’t answer straight away. “Do you remember that false complaint you filed in her name when you were in high school?” he finally asked. “The president had me lead the team that looked into her background and tried to track down her whereabouts.”
That shouldn’t have been a surprise. Of course Dong-wook had wanted to know everything about the girl who had written those things about his son, and in retrospect, he probably hadn’t been able to look into it himself while also trying to fend off the investigation against him. It made sense for Sang-joong to have been tasked with that job.
“Is she still with you?”
“Why does that matter?”
“Because you might not have gotten away cleanly,” Sang-joong said, and it was a testament to his control that he sounded calm again. “The press isn’t stupid, Young-do, and your penchant for motorcycles is well known. I’ve looked at the CCTV footage from the outside of the hotel. You had at least two tails when you left.”
He hadn’t given that possibility much thought. He had only wanted out, to pretend for a little while that he was an average man with an average life, to lie to himself that Eun-sang’s grip on his waist meant she actually felt something for him. It had been selfish and stupid and ultimately pointless.
Eun-sang said she would try to be his friend, but how long would that last if she ended up in the tabloids because of him?
Young-do hung up on the vice president, put his helmet back on, and drove after Eun-sang to warn her. He found no sign of her or any reporters.
By the time Young-do made it to his mother’s home, it was well after midnight. He ignored the small crowd of reporters still lurking outside the gates and their shouted questions about his father, the mysterious person who had helped him escape the hotel, and where he had disappeared to for the last several hours. It was harder to push through them without his driver’s assistance, but Young-do got to the other side and into the front yard safely.
He froze when he looked at the house. The front porch light was on, but his mother’s bedroom windows were dark.
I can’t handle this—us—right now.
When are you coming back?
I don’t know.
She must have given up on him and gone to bed. Of course she had. He had forgotten to tell her he was coming home tonight after his failed search for Eun-sang and his follow up call to the vice president and his lawyers so they could continue their strategizing remotely.
(She wouldn’t have left the light on if she had left. She wouldn’t.)
If the reporters hadn’t been outside, he would have turned around and gone back to the hotel, no matter how much it had started to feel like a besieged castle. Young-do forced himself to walk through the yard and climb up the steps to his mother’s house instead. He entered it as quietly as possible and toed off his shoes.
The inside of the house almost entirely dark, except for a distant, flickering light coming from the living room. It took a moment for Young-do to realize that the television was still on. The live-in maid was never up this late—
Young-do didn’t bother putting on the house slippers, choosing instead to hurry down the wood-floor hallway in just his socks.
He found Kyung-ran in the living room, curled up on the couch. She had drawn her legs up and had one hand cushioning her head on the arm of the couch. The television had been muted at some point, but it was still on, and it cast odd shadows across her face and the walls. Kyung-ran was still wearing the clothes he had last seen her in. A teakettle and empty cup and plate said that the maid had at least coaxed her into eating something that night.
She looked so defenseless. Young-do cursed himself yet again for his decision to keep her in the dark. No matter the resentment and questions and fears he had bottled up over the last several years, his mother should have been the first person he had told about his father.
Young-do took a careful seat on the coffee table, across from her. “Mother?”
She didn’t answer. The slow rise and fall of her chest said she was deeply asleep.
Young-do left the television on so he could see when he scooped her up off the couch. She stirred once, twice, but stayed asleep. It was easier than it should have been to carry her to her room and set her on her bed in the dark. Young-do wasn’t accustomed to being gentle—most of his physical interactions with people were either on judo mats or business handshakes—but he made a special effort to be gentle for her.
He found a blanket to cover her, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave her alone again. Not yet. Young-do knelt at her bedside and took one of her hands in his. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Well before dawn on Monday morning, Hyo-shin conceded to his exhaustion and took a taxi from the shooting location back to his apartment instead of driving himself. He gave the driver his address and almost immediately fell asleep against the window. The twenty-minute nap wasn’t anywhere near enough, but at least it meant he understood what had really happened when the taxi driver’s credit card reader declined the first card he handed over to pay for the fare: his parents had closed that bank account, as he had anticipated.
It still knotted up his stomach that he had been right to expect the worst of them. At least he was too worn out right now to work himself up about it.
“Sorry.” He handed over the card for his private account, which went through just fine. On his way into his apartment building, Hyo-shin threw the deactivated card into a nearby trash can.
Hyo-shin was so tired he had to key in the code on his apartment door twice, but he managed to get inside. The only concession he made to hygiene was to brush his teeth before he stripped out of his jeans and shirt and collapsed in his bed, wearing nothing but his boxers. It was a herculean task to set his alarm clock for an hour before his therapy session, but it was either that or finally turn his phone on again to get deluged with a weekend’s worth of scolding texts, missed call notifications, and angry voicemails from his parents or incessant, concerned messages from Tan. He would face all of that after he got to really sleep for the first time since Saturday morning. It would only be a few hours, but it would be better than nothing.
He fell asleep almost as soon as he closed his eyes.
An obnoxious ringing propelled him back to consciousness. Hyo-shin swatted at his alarm clock twice before he realized that the noise was actually the doorbell. He rubbed at his eyes, groaned when he saw that he still had over an hour before he actually needed to be up, and finally rolled out of bed to find himself some clothes when the ringing didn’t stop. It took more effort than it should have to find a clean pair of sweatpants and a shirt—he needed to do his laundry tomorrow—and shuffle his way to the door.
His landlady, a well-dressed widow in her seventies who always wore her hair in a tight bun, peered at him from the monitor near the entryway. Hyo-shin ran his fingers through his hair in a vain attempt to look presentable but gave up in short order. He did remember to turn on the light and put on the best smile he could manage before he opened the door, at least.
“Good morning, grandmother.”
She wrinkled her nose at his groggy tone and thrust a small basket of tangerines in his arms. “Good morning, Lee Hyo-shin.”
“You’re welcome.” The landlady pushed her way inside, turning on lights as she went. Hyo-shin trailed after her, still bewildered by her sudden appearance and the gift. She normally kept things distant between her and her tenants—she had a son and grandchildren to manage the day-to-day affairs of the building. Personally dropping by to deliver a basket of fruit was something she had never done in the nearly four years he had lived here.
She came to an abrupt halt just inside his living room. Hyo-shin cringed internally at the mess. He was normally an organized person, but between classes and liveshoots his apartment had gone from crowded-but-organized to cluttered over the last several weeks.
“Sorry, let me clear a spot.” He set the fruit down on the coffee table and hurried to straighten the cushions on his couch so she could take a seat. At least he had waited until he had gotten back into his bedroom to take off his clothes.
The landlady didn’t sit. She just surveyed the room—and his disheveled appearance—for several seconds before she nodded to herself.
Hyo-shin waited for a moment before he asked, “Is there something I can do for you?”
“I just wanted to let you know that everything has been taken care of,” she said, and to Hyo-shin’s surprise her expression softened into something that looked almost like sympathy. “My son returned the deposit money to your father first thing this morning. I’m sorry to lose you as a tenant on such short notice, but I understand that sometimes the best thing is to go back home.”
Hyo-shin couldn’t answer straight away because he was too busy fighting off the sudden rush of bile that threatened to work its way free of his stomach. “The deposit money was under my name,” was the only thing he could think of to say.
“Your father explained about your recent…mental difficulties. He wanted to relieve you of what stress he could by taking care of some of the smaller details. I promised your mother you could have until Wednesday to vacate the apartment.”
When Hyo-shin had started siphoning off money into his private account, he had only budgeted for his current rent. The deposit was supposed to be safe—it had been in his name, his money, after all. He was the only one on the lease. If things had gotten tight financially, he had even planned on getting the deposit money back and using it to downgrade to a cheaper apartment. That was no longer an option.
But the most ridiculous part of it all was that his father had finally come out and told someone about his depression. Both of his parents had kept it a secret from the rest of the family; they’d even gone so far as to lie about his suicide attempt to anyone who asked about that summer. And after seven years of lies and repeated lectures about keeping up appearances, Lee Chan-hyuk was telling virtual strangers about Hyo-shin’s problems in order to bring his son back under his thumb?
It took all of his control to politely wrap up the conversation and usher his landlady—former landlady, now—out of his apartment without yelling at her. Shouting at her would not get him his money back, and it would probably only further convince her that he needed to go home. As soon as he shut the door, Hyo-shin rushed back to his bedroom and turned on his phone.
He expected a flood of texts and missed call notifications, but the only notifications that popped up were a handful of Kakao messages, all of them from Tan, and a few emails. Hyo-shin dismissed them and called his mother.
Or at least, he tried to. When he hit the call button, a notification popped up on the screen: Service not available.
Hyo-shin checked the bar across the top of the screen. The phone claimed to have reception—all of the bars were full—and the wireless indicator was on, so he was connected to the internet. It wasn’t until he tried to call Tan and got the same service not available message that Hyo-shin realized what was going on.
He had gotten the Kakao messages and the emails because his internet still worked, but his phone had been disconnected.
Hyo-shin dropped onto his bed and stared at the useless phone in his hands. He had known that his phone was under his parents account, but to go so far as to disconnect it—
It meant that they didn’t want to talk to him. At all.
If they had wanted to persuade him back to the life they had chosen for him, they would have left this avenue of communication open. Instead, they had cut him off entirely.
Taking the deposit money wasn’t a scheme to force him to come home. It was about punishing him for daring to be something other than what they wanted.
You need to come home right now, his mother had said, and he hadn’t listened.
What else had they done while he was on set? What other parts of his life had they torn apart while he was working?
Hyo-shin dropped the phone in his rush to the bathroom, where he spent the next twenty minutes dry heaving.