(Originally posted 7 Sept 2014 on tumblr)
Zeus Hotel’s Choi Young-do and Attorney General’s Son Dating Kim Tan’s Ex-Girlfriend?
Eun-sang wanted to crawl under her desk and never leave. This wasn’t the first time post-breakup that she had ended up being dragged into the tabloids because of her past connection with Tan, but it was the first time it had happened since she had started working at YBS. Her face and neck burned with embarrassment, but one ridiculous, irrational thought kept popping up as she skimmed through the article: How long am I going to be known as Tan’s ex-girlfriend?
She wasn’t surprised at the torrid speculation in the article—it was one of the more notorious gossip sites, after all—but she was surprised by the pictures that accompanied it. Apparently she and Hyo-shin had been photographed together at the Ministry of Justice event. Then why hadn’t they released these photographs earlier?
(Part of Eun-sang was grateful that she had told her mother last week that she wasn’t interested in dating Hyo-shin. They really did look like a couple in these photographs, especially the one where they were half-turned to each other and smiling.)
The photos with Young-do were all from last night, save for the one that was from the Ministry of Justice event. It was the three of them, after the awards ceremony, when Young-do had confronted Hyo-shin for the first time. Without the right context, it looked as damning as the article claimed it was: her caught between two angry men.
It took a heroic amount of self-control to let go of Yoo-mi’s mouse and straighten up so she could face her superiors. PD Yoon looked troubled; Yoo-mi was harder to read, her gaze sharp and assessing.
“It’s not true,” Eun-sang said. She was relieved that her voice was steady, if somewhat weak. “Both of these interactions were to further our investigation. I told you about them already. I am friends with Lee Hyo-shin, and…and I’m trying to be friends with Choi Young-do.”
You-mi eyed her. She was spinning a pen between her fingers. “Trying?”
“Yes, trying. It’s complicated and personal, but I swear it has nothing to do with the story we’re working on.”
“I believe you,” said PD Yoon. Yoo-mi didn’t say anything. “I’m more concerned about the timing of this article.”
Eun-sang relaxed a little. “So am I. If they already had pictures of me and Lee Hyo-shin, why didn’t they release them earlier? My boyfriend after Kim Tan was just a normal guy, and we still ended up in the gossip sites.” Neither of them had expected that, and she spent that first night apologizing to him for it repeatedly. They broke up two months later. “It’s no secret how close Tan and Hyo-shin are. Why weren’t there articles last week about me dating Tan’s best friend?”
“If I had to guess, I would say that the attorney general had blocked that story,” Yoo-mi said. She abruptly stopped spinning her pen. “So is this article supposed to be a threat to him or to Choi Young-do? Or did it simply become too juicy with the possibility of a love triangle for them to worry about incurring someone’s wrath?”
“Or someone is trying to deflect either of those young men, the attorney general, or even us from something else.” PD Yoon put his glasses back on. “Writer Cha, I want you to look into this. The rest of us can—”
Eun-sang’s phone went off. She quickly dug it out of her jeans pocket and paused when she caught sight of the name on the display: Choi Young-do.
When she turned the phone around to show her superiors, Yoo-mi actually smiled. It was more predatory than it was reassuring. PD Yoon just waved her away.
Eun-sang answered the phone as she hurried off in search of an area where she could have a private conversation. “Just hang on a second,” she muttered into the phone, not bothering with a proper greeting.
“All right.” It was Young-do’s voice, and there was no mistaking the tension in it. She could hear his breathing on the other end and a quiet murmur of voices too distant for her to make out the words.
The first conference room she peered into was still filled with writers who had been drafted to help with her team’s story. So were the second and the third. She considered and then dismissed the stairwell. It was the middle of the work day, and with how her voice would carry, there was no guarantee someone entering the stairwell wouldn’t overhear her. In desperation, she headed to the closest women’s bathroom. She checked every stall before going back to the entrance and locking the door. If she talked quietly enough, it could work.
Her phone beeped with an incoming text, and she ignored it. “Okay, I am in as private a place as I could find.”
“You’ve seen the article then.” It wasn’t a question. “I’m sorry, Eun-sang.”
“Did your people release it?”
“What? No. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
She hadn’t really thought he would, but it was still a relief to hear his denial. It was still a surprise that she believed him so readily. She remembered his as-good-as-a-confession last night, remembered that he had hurt and scared her for a long time before he changed enough to stop. His honesty had been a frightening thing back in high school.
Eun-sang wandered over to the mirror that hung over the sinks and made a face at her reflection. She really did look like she had spent a sleepless night in the office. “Then you don’t have to apologize.”
“I do,” he insisted. “My vice president informed me last night that we had two tails when we left the hotel. I should have told you before this ended up online.”
“I’ll be fine. This isn’t the first time I’ve ended up in a love triangle with you.” It came out without thinking, and Eun-sang winced at the sudden, quiet intake of breath on the other side of the line. She didn’t apologize, uncertain how or if she ought to try to smooth over the memories her glib remark had conjured up.
“I’m going to release a statement about the matter,” Young-do said after a moment. She could still hear the tension beneath those carefully neutral words. “What would you like me to say?”
That was a new question. Usually Won had simply told her and Tan what he was going to do about the press; he rarely asked for their input, though he was generally good at listening when Eun-sang decided something was worth speaking up about.
“When are you going to release it?”
“Within the hour.”
Their investigation likely wouldn’t be done by then, and even if it were, nothing would be ready for broadcast. She ran her fingers along the counter while she weighed her options. “Say we made a deal—they had that photograph of us shaking hands, after all. I got you out of Zeus Hotel in exchange for a YBS-exclusive interview about this whole mess.”
“I’m not interested in interviews.”
“We already had one, remember?” She tried to keep her tone light. “I asked who you thought was behind all of this, and you told me that it wasn’t the Soons. My second question was off the record, just in case you were wondering.”
Eun-sang considered the question for several moments. Finally, she said, “Make sure to emphasize that Hyo-shin sunbae and I are just friends, too.”
Tan had told her on Saturday that Hyo-shin might have cut his ties with his family, and if that was the case, he was just as vulnerable to the media as she was, especially with Tan in Hong Kong. Eun-sang didn’t even know if Hyo-shin was off set yet—he hadn’t responded to any of her texts or messages all weekend, and she hadn’t followed up with him yesterday because of her work crisis. She needed to check up on him once she was done with Young-do. She needed to call her mom and let her know there might be a crowd of reporters outside their home.
“His side can’t take care of that?” She could almost hear the raised eyebrow in his question.
“Just do it for me, please. As a friend?”
“Fine. As a friend.” The words sounded new in his mouth, but she couldn’t detect any bitterness in them. That was almost as much of a surprise as his next question. “Then, as a friend, do you want me to send you a car and driver? So you don’t have to worry about the media catching you while you’re taking public transportation.”
The offer was tempting. Eun-sang detested being hounded by the media, and it was likely that other networks would have reporters and photographers already en route to YBS. Inside YBS she was probably safe—she was mostly certain PD Yoon and Nam Yoo-mi would chase off anyone who interfered with her while she was working—but she would definitely be running at least one gauntlet tonight.
“I’ll be fine,” she told Young-do instead. “You can’t claim we’re just friends and then offer me that kind of visible protection. If I need help, I’ll ask Bo-na to come rescue me.”
He didn’t ask if she was certain, and she appreciated that. “Anything else?”
“How are you handling everything?”
“Better than last night.”
“Good. Let me know if you need anything, okay?”
“I will.” There wasn’t any mockery in his words. “Good luck with your investigation, Eun-sang.”
“Good luck with Zeus.”
Young-do hung up.
Eun-sang closed her eyes and took a moment to gather her thoughts. Young-do would handle an official statement for the three of them, which was a start. She needed to get a hold of Hyo-shin first, and then her mother. Maybe she ought to ask Bo-na to send someone with clothes and toiletries for her. If Eun-sang was going to end up on the internet again, she would prefer to at least look decent. That thought had her redoing her ponytail and giving her face a quick wash. She swished water around in her mouth, too, for good measure, and by the end of it, she felt a little better. It was a start.
She picked up her phone again and opened the case. There was a text waiting for her from an unknown number: Hey, this is Lee Hyo-shin, and this is my new number. Sorry if you tried to contact me this weekend and I didn’t get back to you.
Tan hadn’t said anything about Hyo-shin changing his phone number. Why had he done that in the middle of a weekend on set?
Eun-sang called the number immediately, and worry had her fingers curling around the edge of the counter.
He answered on the third ring. “Did you really miss me that much, Cha Eun-sang?”
It sounded as if Hyo-shin were trying to tease her, but the delivery fell flat. There was something ragged lurking in the edges of his words, something that kept his tone from achieving its normal flirtatiousness. It was more than him just being tired after a long weekend on set—she had seen him exhausted before, and he became short-tempered, not brittle.
“Have you seen the news?”
“I’ve been busy today. What’s going on?”
She told him about the article and her conversation with Young-do, and the silence that fell afterwards chilled her.
The hoarseness in his voice made her swallow. “It’s not your fault.”
“My father mentioned there were pictures. I should have told you. I just—” He didn’t finish that thought. “You okay?”
She worried at her bottom lip, but in the end she allowed him to deflect her for a second. “I’m fine. I was worried my bosses might see this all as some kind of conflict of interest, but they believed me when I said it wasn’t true.”
“Have you talked to Won yet?”
“No, he and Tan are in Hong Kong.”
“Right. Tan said that in his messages. Sorry.”
It wasn’t like him to be so scattered. Hyo-shin had a sharp memory, a keen eye for detail, and a quick wit. He didn’t often lose track of things like this.
Just watch out for him, all right? Please, Eun-sang.
“We’re at Bo-na’s place for the movie tonight, right?” When he didn’t answer right away, Eun-sang went on, trying keep him talking and engaged. Even if the investigation wasn’t done, Eun-sang would figure out a way to go. PD Yoon had told her to look into the love triangle rumor, and she could spin an evening with Hyo-shin as part of the job. “And it’s your pick, isn’t it? Did you decide on that Indian one or the Brazilian one?”
“Indian. I think it fits my—” He cleared his throat, and she could hear the effort that went into making his voice sound normal again. “Actually, can you get in touch with Bo-na and Chan-young? I’d like to have it at my place tonight.”
She had been bracing for him to cancel the night completely, so she was caught off guard at his request. Part of her wanted to tell him no—by tonight, there were undoubtedly going to be members of the press lurking outside of his apartment building. What kind of field day would they have with her if they caught her going to his place? Didn’t Hyo-shin know what it would look like?
He had to. But for him to ask for this regardless…
“Sure,” she said. She could deal with the fallout later, when there was time to worry about it. She had survived this kind of ridiculousness before and she would continue to do so as long as she had to. “I’m in charge of the food tonight. Want me to grab anything in particular?”
“Whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t require any of my dishes or utensils. With any luck, I’ll have my kitchen packed up by the time you guys arrive.”
“I didn’t mean to tell you that,” Hyo-shin said, and Eun-sang didn’t know what to do with the sudden rediscovery of his dark humor. “I was hoping to surprise you at the last moment by swapping the movie for moving boxes. I wasn’t planning on letting you leave until you’d each packed five boxes for me.”
“Your parents are kicking you out?” Eun-sang cringed as soon as she asked the question.
One beat, two. “Tan told you, didn’t he?”
“I’m going to kill him when he gets back from Hong Kong.”
She couldn’t tell if he was playing at being angry or really angry, not over the phone. Hyo-shin was harder to read when it came to his anger. He was better at concealing that, unlike Young-do. She could always tell when Young-do was angry.
“Can you at least wait until after the Jeguk lawyers take care of this love triangle business? I don’t think Won would help either of us if you murder Tan.”
“Right.” Hyo-shin let out a long breath. “I’m not doing that great with self-preservation at the moment.”
“That’s why you’ve got me, sunbae.”
“I do,” he agreed. “Thank you.”