Young-do thought the pictures of him and Ha-sun exiting the restaurant on Saturday night had turned out nicely. While the two of them had different opinions on what constituted gray—Rachel would have been far more explicit about what shade he should wear—they still looked like a couple. Most of that was due to Ha-sun, who had perfected a smile that looked genuine. If he hadn’t spent two hours over dinner carefully crafting their fake love story and plotting on how to approach Lee Sang-hyun, he may have believed she actually had feelings for him when she smiled like that.
He was much better at keeping a straight face. His true feelings tended to bleed through when he smiled.
One picture in particular had netizens buzzing, and it was good enough that Young-do suspected that Ha-sun had planned it. It was just after they left the building and before they reached the car. She had murmured something too softly for him to hear properly, and he had turned in toward her, instinctively, to try to catch what she was saying. The angle of the picture and how his head was tilted emphasized their height difference and made him look very…attentive to her.
Even though it was the perfect addition to the narrative he and Ha-sun had been crafting, it was still embarrassing to look at. Especially when both Rachel and Myung-soo had sent him texts about it.
Myung-soo had sent a string of heart emojis with Can I take your wedding photos? tacked on at the end.
Rachel had been more direct: She’s good.
(Young-do hoped Eun-sang wouldn’t see it, even though he kept checking for a text from her. It had been hard enough to hear her wish him and Ha-sun good luck; the last thing he wanted was her commentary on their performance.)
Now it was his turn to advance their agendas, which is why he was back on the squash court on a Sunday afternoon. Lee Sang-hyun had agreed to meet him there to make up for the match Young-do had bailed on previously.
Young-do was determined not to be the first one to bring up Sang-hyun’s Pyeongchang-gun property or his father, so he focused instead on talking about the game. It meant their first two matches were a rather silent affair, aside from calling out the score and the occasional admiration of a particularly good rally. The latter happened less often than last time—Sang-hyun had proved he was a skilled player in their previous game, but today he was distracted and not as quick on his feet.
Young-do didn’t remark on it, not even when managed to squeak past Sang-hyun on their fifth game to win the match, three games to two. Instead, he set his racket aside and handed Sang-hyun his bottle of water and a towel.
Sang-hyun sighed but accepted both. He scrubbed his sweat-covered face with the towel and then draped it around his neck. Young-do grabbed his own water bottle and took a couple long drinks from it while Sang-hyun gulped his down. When he finished the entire bottle, Sang-hyun wiped his face and neck again and gave Young-do a piercing look. “If you can’t keep control of Zeus, siding with you will ruin me. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually. Your father is a man who holds grudges.”
“I’m aware of my father’s temperament,” Young-do said. He screwed the cap back on his water bottle so he wouldn’t be tempted to curl his fingers into fists. “It frequently put him at odds with Pyo Sook-ja, among others.”
He squashed the small bit of triumph he felt when Sang-hyun grimaced at the reminder of who was on his side.
“Ryu Ha-sun said you two were strongly considering marriage.”
“We are, with her grandmother’s blessing.”
It was an odd question to ask, considering Sang-hyun was right in the middle of the fight brewing between Young-do and Dong-wook. He couldn’t be ignorant of what he stood to gain from it. For a moment, Young-do considered the blackmail videos that had showed up at the hotel and wondered if Sang-hyun knew something about them. As a board member, Sang-hyun had access to the main Zeus Hotel property. Could he have dropped that thumb drive to try to force Young-do into some course of action?
It would have been simpler to confront Young-do directly, especially since the anonymous route hadn’t done anything other than widen Young-do’s scramble for support. If Sang-hyun had wanted help with his investment property, he could have presented Young-do with the videos and asked for the money he needed for the project directly in exchange for his votes.
Was Sang-hyun just a coincidental beneficiary in the blackmailer’s scheme, like Dong-wook had benefited from the Hongs’ maneuvers?
“Because Ha-sun and I have things to gain from each other,” Young-do said. “With her and her grandmother, I have the chance to get rid of my father.”
Sang-hyun smiled, a faint quirk of his mouth. “I’m glad you need me enough this time to be honest. I’ve been watching your setup for a love story, and it will probably be good enough for the people who don’t know better.”
Young-do didn’t smile back. Sang-hyun wiped his face again and asked, “Did Ha-sun tell you about my property in Pyeongchang-gun?”
By Sunday evening, Hyo-shin had sorted through and started tackling the mess that was his education. All of his teachers had responded to his emails—a miracle in and of itself—and all but one of them agreed to accept his homework late. He hadn’t expected that teacher to be flexible, but it still made him cringe to think about what it would do to his grade. Still, it cleared some space off his task list, and he would just have to prioritize the work in that class from now on to make up for it.
At this point, he just needed to pass his classes so he could graduate. That’s all he needed to do.
(He tried not to hear his mother’s or father’s voices in his head, scolding him for settling for mediocrity. You’re better than that. They always said that, as if they couldn’t comprehend that they could have different standards.)
The one bonus to spending the whole day alternating between homework and texting people his new number was that Chan-young and Jae-ho gave him plenty of space. They occasionally appeared at his door to check if he needed anything or to tell him when it was time to eat, but they otherwise left him alone to work.
Back when he was in high school, telling his parents he had homework was a surefire way to be left alone for several hours at a time. Hyo-shin felt a little guilty, but he knew he would be employing that same strategy with the Yoons. They didn’t mean to suffocate him, but it still reminded him of what it had been like to live with his parents.
Hyo-shin rubbed the bridge of his nose. He had his appointment with Jae-sung tomorrow morning. Telling his therapist about what had happened in the week since his parents had disowned him wasn’t going to be fun. But he needed to do it, and he needed to prove to himself that he could manage his own life. Organizing and completing overdue schoolwork was a good first step. So was updating people with his new phone number.
That second part hadn’t been as awful as he had expected, which was a huge relief. Most people who bothered to reply had just sent back some variation of okay or sounds good or how do you like your new phone? A couple asked about A Daughter’s Revenge and if he was going on the reward trip; none of them pressed any further when he said he couldn’t miss any more school.
Someone knocked on the door. Hyo-shin closed his eyes briefly but managed to find his patience. “Come in.”
Chan-young was the one at the door this time. He didn’t step inside, which Hyo-shin was grateful for. “My dad has gone to bed, and I’m going to sleep soon. Do you need anything?”
“I’m fine, thanks.” Was it that late already? Hyo-shin glanced at his phone and dismissed the text notification from Joon-young and the low battery warning. Chan-young was right—it was approaching midnight already. His sense of time had really been thrown off by the filming. “I’ll head to bed soon. You still want a ride to campus?”
“Yes, if you have time before your appointment.”
“It’ll be fine. I can drive you back home, too, since I’m going this way for movie night.”
Chan-young smiled at the joke but he must have been tired because he didn’t linger for long. Hyo-shin stayed up for a little while to finish the textbook chapter he had been reading before getting ready for bed. He had to hunt around a bit for his phone charger—he still wasn’t used to where the outlets in the guest room were—and plugged his phone in.
There were a few more messages that had trickled in during the evening, though none of them were from Rachel. Hyo-shin told himself not to be disappointed about that, not when he hadn’t texted her, either. He had been busy all day; she probably was, too. After all, she was juggling working at her mother’s company and her master’s degree—the weekends were probably just as full of schoolwork as his had been. And it wasn’t as if they needed to text each other daily, not when they were this early on in their awkward friendship.
Maybe he could text her tomorrow. Or Tuesday, to confirm that their plans for later in the week were still okay. The last thing he wanted to do was to come across as needy to her as Tan was to him. He had finally stopped bothering to type out replies to Tan today, instead just sending him pictures of whatever homework he was doing at the time Tan interrupted him. Tan eventually got bored enough to stop.
Hyo-shin scrolled through the rest of his texts—most didn’t need replies—and frowned when he reached the messages from Joon-young. A little red 6 floated next to his name. Joon-young didn’t normally spam him with texts. They didn’t message often at all, but Hyo-shin’s long-standing guilt had made him send Joon-young his new number. Hyo-shin opened the messages:
Sunbae! I’ve been trying to reach you all weekend. Please, help me. I don’t know who else to ask.
Some lawyers from Zeus Hotel showed up at my parents’ house. They wouldn’t tell my parents what it is they wanted, just that they had to speak to me.
They’re threatening to take legal action if they can’t talk to me. I don’t know why Choi Young-do is coming after me after all these years, but my parents are freaking out.
I’m so sorry I’m bothering you with this, but I don’t know what else to do. You’re the only one I’ve kept in touch with from that school.
We can’t afford a lawyer. I don’t want to talk to him or his lawyers. Why can’t he just fucking leave me alone?
I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m bothering you. I’ll figure something out.
Fury and disbelief hit Hyo-shin so hard that his hands shook when he pulled up Joon-young’s number. He had to pause there for a several moments, trying to breathe slowly and deeply without giving in to the rage ricocheting through him.
“I want to believe he has done at least one good thing in his life, or I might actually hate him for real.”
If Choi Young-do was determined to recast himself in his old role, Hyo-shin wasn’t going to play the bystander for the second time. That wasn’t a role he could survive, not again. He sat down on the edge of the bed and called Joon-young’s number. It didn’t take long at all for Joon-young to pick up.