So when are you going to come clean about Young-do?
Eun-sang grimaced at Chan-young’s text and almost wished she hadn’t started messaging him. But she had needed a distraction from all of the gossip articles about Young-do and Ha-sun (and the occasional nasty or dismissive comment about her), and Chan-young had been her first choice since it meant she could check up on Hyo-shin without actually pestering him.
According to Chan-young, Hyo-shin had spent most of Saturday morning catching up on homework, but then he left. Chan-young hadn’t pressed for information.
“He promised me once that he’d never try it again,” Tan had said at the party. Eun-sang wished she could get his words out of her head. “I want to believe him, but I just—the first time, I had no idea anything was even wrong, not until I found him.”
Chan-young had insisted that Hyo-shin didn’t have the access code to the roof. When that hadn’t soothed Eun-sang, he had promised to talk to his father about not giving it to Hyo-shin, too. Then, somehow, Chan-young had turned it around on her by asking about Young-do and exactly how much she knew about what was going on with Zeus Hotel and the unannounced-but-forthcoming engagement to Ha-sun—
And in the midst of all that, she had let it slip that she was friends with Young-do. She had wondered what Chan-young’s glances at her had meant last night—it was him putting pieces together better than she had expected.
Eun-sang sighed and finally typed back: When Bo-na has calmed down about Young-do showing up at the party. I didn’t mean to hide it from everyone.
Or had she?
She hadn’t intentionally hidden it from the rest of her friends, that much was true. Between her own ridiculous work schedule and Hyo-shin’s family problems and the love triangle scandal, the opportunity to sit down and tell everyone hadn’t come up. But she couldn’t deny that not saying anything was easier than telling her four closest friends that she had officially befriended Young-do.
Bo-na and Hyo-shin hated him; Chan-young and Tan were carefully neutral about the topic.
Does it bother you that I’m friends with him? she added when Chan-young didn’t text back right away.
It took a couple minutes for Chan-young’s reply to arrive. He had chosen his words carefully: If you try to bring him into our group, it will be difficult. Bo-na is still angry about what Young-do and his lackeys did to me in high school. Sunbae hates him. I don’t know where Tan stands on this. It won’t be a problem for me as long as Young-do is civil if we run into each other—and as long as you promise to get rid of him if he starts regressing.
That last part made Eun-sang smile. I promise.
Chan-young’s afternoon study break ended, and his replies tapered off. Eun-sang decided that was her sign to start her Saturday chores, so she put her favorite music on and began cleaning the bathroom. Since her mother did enough cleaning for Tan’s family, Eun-sang took on as much of it as she could during the weekends. She was in the middle of scrubbing the bathtub when her phone rang.
It took a second to peel off her rubber gloves so she could answer. “Hello?”
“This is Song Se-young, personal assistant to Ryu Ha-sun.” Her voice was low, and her words were precise and measured, like a newscaster’s. “Is Cha Eun-sang available?”
Rachel wasn’t pleased when she arrived at the café Hyo-shin had chosen. The website had made her expect something more sophisticated than one large, open room and a handful of young people behind a counter ringing up orders on a late Saturday afternoon. At least the glass case of pastries looked promising, but with how close the tables and booths were packed together, she couldn’t expect any real privacy for this conversation. Not when they were half full.
She spotted Hyo-shin in a corner booth at the back. He had already ordered for them both; there were two mugs, a plate of éclairs, and a stack of napkins in front of him. Rachel would have preferred to order for herself, but she didn’t want to stand in line at a place like this.
Hyo-shin didn’t look up from his phone until she slid into the seat across from him. She was surprised that he looked almost as haggard as he had when she had stormed onto the set of A Daughter’s Revenge. His complexion had a sallow tinge and, while the dark circles under his eyes were less prominent than before, they were still there.
“I’m not in the best shape to handle—whatever we are. Whatever this is. Can we talk later?”
For a moment, Rachel regretted her demand that he contact her this weekend. Then she remembered the blackmailer threatening Young-do and squashed her sympathy. Hyo-shin could handle an hour or two of inconvenience to clear his name to her satisfaction and to settle whatever was or wasn’t between them.
“Hope you don’t mind that I ordered,” Hyo-shin said instead of a normal greeting. He smiled and set his phone aside, screen down, so she couldn’t see any alerts that might pop up on it. “This is what my budget could afford.”
He had said he had been disowned. She wondered how much money he had managed to set aside before it happened, and then she remembered him emptying his wallet for her and Young-do after their breakfast together. A twinge of guilt hit her then—she and Young-do had blown all of that in a night’s drinking without a second thought. It hadn’t been much by her standards, and it shouldn’t have been much by Hyo-shin’s either. Had he known then that he was on such bad terms with his parents?
Maybe not. He had claimed he didn’t know his phone service had been cut off until well after the fact. What if he needed that money now? What if he—
Hyo-shin’s problems with his parents weren’t her concern. If he were truly desperate, blackmailing Young-do was the fastest way to fix that. Young-do would pay any amount of money Hyo-shin asked for to bury those videos.
“It’s fine,” she said. It was too late to take anything back anyway.
“I’ve been thinking about how to prove to you that I’m not the one blackmailing Young-do. The only thing I could come up with was to prove to you that I don’t actually need money right now.”
Rachel reached for her mug—a latte, with leaf art in the foam on top—and wrapped her hands around it, though she didn’t drink. The heat from it warmed her hands. “And how are you going to do that?”
“By showing you my bank account.” He slid his phone across the table to her and then grabbed an éclair.
Rachel raised an eyebrow at him, but she picked up his phone and flipped it over. His banking app was open, and the total at the top was just shy of six million won. She took a moment to scroll through the account activity. Except for a few completed or pending transactions from the last week, all the items were cash deposits, stretching back to June. Hyo-shin had been setting money aside for the last five months.
She handed the phone back to him. “It isn’t much.”
“If I were still paying rent, I would agree with you.” Hyo-shin wiped his fingers off on his napkin and took a drink of his coffee. “I’m living with Yoon Chan-young and his father as of this week.”
The smile Hyo-shin gave her was small and tight. “Not Tan.”
“Why the Yoons?”
“Because they think they owe me a favor.”
“The first time I blackmailed Young-do, it was with video of his father’s mistress. I didn’t want him to choose Yoon Chan-young as his next bullying target.”
“The withdrawal date has passed. My parents can’t get a refund. I’ll graduate.”
Hyo-shin laughed. “I’ll get a job like all the non-wealthy Koreans do, Rachel.”
The way he said it made her bristle, so she took a sip of her coffee to give herself a moment to think. (It was good coffee. She almost wished it wasn’t.) “Young-do’s money would make your new life a lot easier.”
“Blackmail is illegal,” Hyo-shin said, and when Rachel rolled her eyes, he added, “and if my father ever got wind of it, he would be thrilled to use the threat of criminal charges to get me to fall back in line. And if that didn’t work, I have no doubt he would enjoy the spectacle my trial would cause. Can’t you picture it? An Attorney General so righteous he won’t even shield his own son from prosecution. It would be a great way for the Ministry of Justice to reclaim some of its reputation after the Hongs’ scandal.”
He said it so simply that Rachel wasn’t sure how to respond. She and Esther had their problems sometimes, but even during their worst times, she couldn’t imagine her mother turning her over for public humiliation. But Hyo-shin said it as if it were inevitable.
She wanted to believe him. She wanted to believe that Hyo-shin wasn’t that kind of person who would go after Young-do.
“Let’s say that I believe you. Where does that put us?”
Rachel was surprised by the warmth in Hyo-shin’s smile and by the way it made her want to smile back. She masked the impulse by taking another sip of her drink.
“At the awkward reconnection stage.”
The disappointment was quick and hurt more than she expected. “So an acquaintance, then.”
Hyo-shin tapped his phone. “You’ve got my new number now, so I think that qualifies you to an upgrade to friend at least.”
Rachel finally smiled. It was stupid to be happy about that, but it didn’t change the fact that she was. Just a little.
She selected one of the éclairs and bit into it. It wasn’t as good as the ones she’d had in France, but for Korea, it was good. The filling wasn’t cloyingly sweet, which was a point in this café’s favor. Once she had swallowed, she asked, “What do you normally do with your friends?”