Hyo-shin was dragged out of sleep on Saturday morning by the alarm on his phone. He listened to it buzz for a couple minutes as he worked up the energy to get out of bed so he could take his morning medication. Missing yesterday’s dose hadn’t been the end of the world, but the large, pessimistic part of his brain was sometimes good at motivating him to do what was best in order to stave off future disaster. It didn’t always work—there were some days he simply couldn’t willpower his way into taking care of himself—but it was enough this morning to get him out of bed and into the small guest bathroom to start the day.
It was harder to resist getting back into sweatpants, but putting on sweatpants almost always ended up with him back in bed. If he had been in his old apartment, he might have done it, but in Chan-young’s home that felt too much like surrender, and that meant humiliation. He could leave his bedroom today, smile a little, talk for a few minutes, and pretend like their hospitality didn’t make him feel guilty.
Hyo-shin settled on a pair of clean jeans and a t-shirt before leaving his room. He followed the sounds of the television to the living room, where Chan-young sat cross-legged on the couch with a cup of coffee and a couple slices of toast. Chan-young was still in his pajamas and looking a bit bleary-eyed despite the coffee he was nursing. Hyo-shin was surprised to see him up already as he was pretty sure that Chan-young and Bo-na had had their own private after-party last night.
“Sunbae.” Chan-young stifled a yawn and muted the news anchor on screen. “Did you sleep well?”
It wasn’t technically a lie, though it had taken a while for him to fall asleep. The conversations he had with PD Kim and Assistant PD Go at the Mega Entertainment event had been weights on his chest as he tried to sleep. It was always awkward to turn down a gracious gift, especially one celebrating an accomplishment as impressive as the ratings for A Daughter’s Revenge. It had been an honor to be invited on the week-long trip to Thailand, considering he was technically a student intern and not an official part of the crew.
(A chance to run away from his life for a week was something he had been sorely tempted by. But his schoolwork would have piled up, he would have missed his appointment with Jae-sung, and he doubted he would be able to relax at all, not with Tan constantly trying to check in on him. A week away would just ramp up his dread since nothing would have changed for the better in the time he was away.)
PD Kim had been unfazed by Hyo-shin declining the trip—Hyo-shin wasn’t entirely sure the man remembered his name—but Assistant PD Go had been cold and only technically polite. She never said so outright, but it was obvious he had left her with a strongly negative impression after changing his phone number and Rachel’s appearance on set.
“I’m available this weekend, if you have the courage to text me with your new number.”
“Are you hungry? I can—”
Hyo-shin managed to find a smile. He hoped it fit. “I can handle it on my own this time.”
For a second, Chan-young looked like he wanted to insist, but Jae-ho wasn’t here to back him up. In the end, he told Hyo-shin which cupboards the bread and instant coffee were in.
Hyo-shin refilled and turned on the electric kettle, stuck the bread in the toaster, and found himself a mug and plate. While he waited for his food to be ready, and before he could talk himself out of it, he texted Rachel:
I’m available tonight or on Sunday. Just let me know when.
The reporters outside Kyung-ran’s house had been an annoyance in the morning, but it had been easy enough for Young-do to escort his mother past them and to his waiting car. The drive to the restaurant was short, and the staff had made one of their private dining rooms available when he requested it.
Breakfast was an easy affair, with Kyung-ran filling him in on some new articles that had popped up online about him and Ha-sun, and Young-do taking the opportunity to talk to her more about what had been going on with the company before he received news of his father’s release. Sang-joong had done a good job of providing his mother with the most important details, so Young-do didn’t have much brand new information to pass onto her.
It was still…nice, to be able to talk to her like this, to have her further demonstrate her commitment to helping him. To becoming the kind of mother she wanted to be. The kind of mother he had wanted her to be for a long time.
It made him all the more determined to be the kind of son she could be proud of. They didn’t touch on the blackmail, but Young-do felt those videos and the threat of more like them hanging between them. He didn’t ever want to make her cry over his past again if he could help it.
His phone rang as they were finishing up their meal, and Young-do fished it out of the pocket of his jacket to see who was calling:
Kyung-ran motioned for him to answer it when he showed her the ID. Young-do took a drink of water to wash down his last mouthful of food and picked up. “I wasn’t expecting a call this early.”
“Good morning to you, too.” Ha-sun sounded amused, but she continued on as if it didn’t bother her that he hadn’t given her a politer greeting. “Lee Sang-hyun stopped by to speak with my grandmother over breakfast. She wasn’t well enough to see him for long, so I handled most of the conversation.”
“How did it go?”
“I reassured him that you had my grandmother’s backing and that the two of us were strongly considering marriage.”
It was a bloodless way to phrase it, and Young-do was momentarily grateful for the business-like nature of their arrangement. Aside from their little argument over Eun-sang the night before, there was no chance in this relationship for either of them to get their hearts bruised. It was a far cry from the heartbreak Rachel had gone through with Kim Tan and Jang Shi-hyun.
It was also more clear-cut than whatever was going on with Lee Hyo-shin, if there was enough substance to even deem that something. He remembered how Rachel had snarled at him over his news that Eun-sang and Hyo-shin weren’t dating, but they hadn’t had time to broach the topic since then.
“During our conversation, Sang-hyun brought up his building in Pyeongchang-gun. Do you know about it?”
Hope threated to overtake him, and Young-do was only partially able to keep the eagerness out of his voice. “Yes, I spoke with my vice president and my mother about it a few days ago.” Young-do gave Ha-sun a brief overview of the property, and how Sang-hyun had bought it in order to renovate it and turn it from a drab middle-class existence into something that would catch the eye of wealthy tourists and people who lived in Seoul and wanted a getaway, but the project was behind schedule and over budget. Without tenants generating rent, the building was creating cash flow problems that were starting to ripple out into other parts of Sang-hyun’s commercial life.
“It’s a beautiful area,” Ha-sun said after a moment. Her voice turned thoughtful. “I went there for the Olympics last winter, and I’ve been meaning to go back for hiking, but I haven’t had the chance.”
“Do you think you could persuade your grandmother to invest in it?”
“Most likely, especially if you put up a token amount yourself. My father and mother liked to hike in that area.”
Young-do wasn’t certain if he should offer condolences or ignore it, and settled on skipping past that bit of personal information. He hated pity, and he didn’t want Ha-sun to think he pitied her. “I’ll consult with my vice president and mother again about the property and come up with an investment offer that we could handle.”
“I’ll talk to my grandmother, then. It may take a couple days, but I think if I can connect the property well enough to my parents, she’ll say yes.”
Ha-sun said it so simply that Young-do was both surprised and uncomfortably impressed. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t seen others of their peers manipulate their parents, but it normally didn’t involve capitalizing on someone’s death. Not that he knew of, anyway, but then again, most of his peers and their parents were too young for any inheritance wars to have started recently. The Kim family’s war had mostly ended after the chairman’s death, and even that he knew little about beyond the fact that Won had ultimately triumphed over his uncles.
“If she’s feeling better this afternoon, I’ll talk to her about it then,” Ha-sun continued. “I’ll be wearing gray at dinner tonight, so make sure you coordinate again.”
Young-do wasn’t entirely thrilled about wearing coordinating colors two days in a row, but it was the quickest way to make a statement without actually saying anything. “Of course. I’ll see you at seven.”
He hung up after Ha-sun said goodbye, and he couldn’t help but smile at his mother’s curious expression. “I think we have a way to secure Lee Sang-hyun’s vote.”