Eun-sang stepped back from the edge, far enough that if Vice President Kwon looked up, he wouldn’t be able to see her. She checked her cell phone again, but there weren’t any missed calls or texts from Young-do.
Young-do hadn’t been very good at boundaries in high school—he had shown up at her work unannounced to force her to interact with him—but since they had reconnected over his father’s impending release from prison, he had been far more respectful. Enough that she trusted him not to send his vice president to her workplace without giving her some kind of warning.
She did a quick internet search, but there weren’t any new headlines about Young-do, just the ones from Saturday night with him and Ha-sun exiting the restaurant and looking very much like a couple. The tabloids probably weren’t stirring anything up, then, not that they had any new material to work with so far as she knew.
So why did Vice President Kwon decide he needed to talk to her so urgently that he showed up at her work? What made him think that if he gave the staff his name that she would refuse to meet him? Or was he withholding his name in the hopes that no one would recognize him?
Eun-sang put her phone in her pocket and smoothed her fingers through her hair to make sure it was still in place. Then she headed back to the elevators and down to meet him. She put on a polite but neutral smile when she stepped through security and nodded to the main lobby staff as she passed by.
The vice president spotted her right away and bowed slightly when she got within speaking range. “Cha Eun-sang. Thank you for taking the time to see me despite the inconvenience.”
Eun-sang was grateful she had looked up the man’s name after Young-do told her that they had been tailed leaving the hotel on Young-do’s motorcycle. It would have been embarrassing to have to ask for it, especially since this wasn’t their first conversation.
“I’m afraid I don’t have much time to spare,” she said, as honestly and as politely as possible, though she barely returned the bow. “Why have you come to see me, Vice President Kwon?”
“Is there somewhere private that we can talk?”
“Not in the public-accessible areas of this building, no. You aren’t allowed upstairs, either.” Well, he could have been, if she had been inclined to get him registered as a guest and escort him, but she wasn’t. Not when prosecutors for the Ministry of Justice were going through her team’s investigation and would see that they had considered and dismissed Choi Dong-wook as the one behind the prison scandal.
That answer caught him off guard, or at least she thought it had based on the brief thinning of his lips. He was still as hard to read as the day he and a lawyer first showed up at her home when her mother was at work.
Eun-sang had been a scared teenager then; she was a significantly less scared and a couple years older now. She had a lot more practice at wearing a placid expression and had more experience at navigating these kinds of conversations. Kwon Sang-joong had come to her, not the other way around.
“Then, would you mind stepping out for a moment? We can speak in my car.”
Eun-sang smiled more. “I’m afraid I can’t today. I had to sneak out just now, and I need to get back to my team.”
The vice president was better prepared for her rejection this time; his expression never wavered. Eun-sang wondered if that meant he was taking her more seriously now. Instead, he reached into his suit coat pocket and pulled out his business card. “I’d like to schedule a time to meet with you at your convenience.”
Eun-sang didn’t point out that he hadn’t cared at all about her convenience just now and accepted the card with both hands. She didn’t offer to give him her card, either, both because she still wasn’t in the habit of carrying them and because she didn’t want to give it to him.
“I’ll check my calendar,” she said. “I’m sorry you came out all this way for nothing. It would have saved you a trip if you had gotten my number from Young-do and called me ahead of time.”
“Acting President Choi doesn’t know I’m here.”
Eun-sang hadn’t expected him to admit that straight out. The look Vice President Kwon was giving her reminded her of the times Won would silently evaluate her before asking her to do something for him and Tan.
“Then I will let him know you stopped by.” She paused there, half expecting the vice president to object. But when he didn’t, she continued, “Young-do and I are friends.”
“I hope you are. The acting president could use more sincere friends.”
That wasn’t the answer she had anticipated. Eun-sang had half expected Young-do’s vice president to try to intimidate her into keeping his appearance a secret. She had expected him to sneer at or condescend to her, but he hadn’t done either of those things, not unless she counted him showing up unannounced.
Vice President Kwon bowed to her again, a little deeper this time. “I’ll wait to hear from you.” He left as abruptly as he had appeared, and Eun-sang was left in the YBS lobby, still holding his business card.
Eun-sang was exhausted by the time she got to the Yoons’ apartment. After the prosecutors had walked out with all of the information and potential evidence they wanted, PD Yoon had told them all to go home since it was past the end of their normal workday. Yoo-mi had pulled him aside, and Writer Ji and VJ Han used the opportunity to make an immediate break for it. They had asked Eun-sang if she wanted to join them for dinner and drinks, but she turned them down because of movie night.
Bo-na answered the door when Eun-sang hit the buzzer, and she immediately pulled Eun-sang inside. The apartment smelled of cooking rice and cumin, and Eun-sang was reminded how long it had been since lunch. “Did you see your pictures yet?”
Eun-sang’s stomach sank at the question. There had been far too many pictures of her lately, especially ones she found out about after the fact. But Bo-na was too excited for the pictures to be anything remotely malicious. What pictures of her, then?
“No, not yet. Can you show me?” She toed off her shoes, hung up her coat, and set her purse aside while Bo-na pulled out her phone.
“Here! I made sure the designer got access to all of the pictures she wanted.”
Eun-sang took Bo-na’s phone, and relief washed through her when she saw them. They were red carpet pictures from the Mega Entertainment event: her smiling and waving and posing for the cameras wearing that sponsored green dress.
“This one is my favorite,” Bo-na said. She leaned in so she could tap the photo and enlarge it. “You were right, your strapless bra was still good. Your cleavage is perfect.”
Eun-sang laughed and swiped back to the designer’s website so she could scroll through the rest of the photos. She didn’t look like an idol or an actress, but she could admit that she looked very nice. Nicer than she had in that horrific love triangle article, considering the lighting was better and she didn’t look surprised or irritated in any of them.
The website had a brief article with the pictures that exclusively focused on the dress instead of her, which Eun-sang was grateful for. Eun-sang wasn’t famous enough to be considered an active selling point for any sponsored clothes—it had been more important for the dress to be seen at a high-profile event, and she was a warm body willing to wear it. The article ended with links to different online boutiques that were selling the dress.
“The designer is going to send you a thank-you gift,” Bo-na said as she put her phone away. “It will be delivered to the Mega Entertainment offices. I’ll have it sent to you once it arrives.”
Eun-sang knew better than to argue that point. She still wasn’t all that well-versed in the intricacies of favors and thank-yous in the entertainment industry, and she trusted Bo-na to steer her in the right direction, just like she had trusted her to pick out that dress in the first place.
They left the entryway and headed straight for the kitchen, where Chan-young and his father were wearing matching aprons and putting the finishing touches on an Indian dish Eun-sang didn’t recognize. Jae-ho nodded in her direction, but went right back to consulting the cookbook propped up on the counter. Tan and Hyo-shin were seated at the dining table, and they both greeted her, too, before going straight back to whatever it was they were doing on their phones.
Bo-na immediately went to hug Chan-young from behind, wrapping her arms around his waist and pressing her cheek against his shoulder blade. Chan-young grinned a little and waved to Eun-sang. “Glad you finally made it.”
“Work was special today,” Eun-sang told him. “The food looks great, though.”
“Thanks. We’re hoping it tastes as good. Go ahead and have a seat, my dad and I will take care of it.”
Eun-sang also knew better than to protest their hospitality. She dropped into the seat next to Hyo-shin. The two guys had a stack of bowls and spoons between them. There was also a large plate with something wrapped inside a towel on top of it. Eun-sang peeked under the cloth—it was a large pile of naan—and then focused on her friends. “Any news on your car, Tan?”
Tan sighed, a touch too theatrically, and set down his phone. “I have to wait for the paint to be shipped in from Italy. In the meantime, Won has forced me into a company car with a driver.”
“That must be awful.” Eun-sang managed to say it with a straight face.
Hyo-shin caught the subtle sarcasm underneath, or at least she thought he did judging by the way the corner of his mouth twitched. He was too focused on messaging someone on his phone to jump into the conversation, so Eun-sang had to endure Tan’s complaints largely on her own.
(There was tension in Hyo-shin’s jaw and shoulders, and the glances Tan occasionally sent his way meant that she wasn’t the only one seeing it. She hoped he was okay.)
Luckily for her, dinner was finished not long afterwards. Jae-ho and Chan-young transferred everything to the table, and everyone grabbed drinks and loaded their bowls buffet-style before heading for the living room. They settled into their usual places on the couch or the floor, and Hyo-shin stuck in the Bollywood film they were supposed to have watched last week. Jae-ho stuck around for about twenty minutes before disappearing, as he normally did.
Eun-sang let the familiarity of their movie night routine keep her mind off of the mess that her day had been until the fourth musical number. Then she texted Young-do:
Can I call you in two hours?