The third cup of coffee—hastily grabbed at a convenience store between interviews—kept Eun-sang from dozing off in the taxi again. Barely. She spent the drive to the public defender’s office with her coffee cup in one hand, her notebook balanced across her knees, and a pen in her other hand. It wasn’t the most restful way to review the case information and interview questions, but it was her own fault she had been behind all day.
Normally, Eun-sang would have started an interview day at the office. She could have reviewed her notes there, checked in with her bosses to see if either of them had any further instructions for her, or asked Writer Ji for any tips. But Eun-sang had dismissed the alarm on her phone without thinking about it, and by the time she looked up from the information Ha-sun had given her, there was barely enough time to shower, change into appropriate clothes, and make a cup of instant coffee before her first scheduled interview.
It had taken all night for her to get through four politicians’ folders and start on a fifth. Eun-sang had read every document, watched all the videos, viewed all the photos, and listened to all of the recordings. She had started separate documents for timelines, summaries of the files, and questions she had. Around two in the morning, she had relocated from her bedroom to the kitchen table because her back was getting sore and so she could start scribbling more speculative thoughts on sheets of printer paper.
Ha-sun had given her a treasure trove of information on affairs, bribery, and questionable lobbying tactics—and that was just in the first four-and-a-half members of the National Assembly. At least one rich businessman featured prominently—Eun-sang didn’t recognize him—and there were other people she was fairly certain were in prominent positions in the government and various industries.
Eun-sang wasn’t a lawyer, but she was fairly certain that a significant portion of what Ha-sun had given her hadn’t been legally obtained. Which meant that, if she moved forward with any stories from this, she should consult YBS’s legal team, or at the very least, figure out how to acquire the same or similar information above-board.
If the remaining folders all contained scandals of similar magnitude, the little thumb drive contained enough information to gut the Saenuri Party. Especially since the elections were just eight months away. A good number of these politicians were up for reelection; others held positions on key committees or were long-standing pillars of the party.
It had the potential to make the Hongs’ prison scandal look like a minor faux pas in comparison.
One month was not enough for her to go through all of the information, investigate everything, and put together a story that YBS would stand behind. Not on her own. By giving her such a short exclusive period, Ha-sun was forcing Eun-sang to make a decision quickly about pitching these stories to her coworkers.
The taxi pulled up to Eun-sang’s destination, so she shoved her pen and notebook back inside her purse and paid the driver before she climbed out. She took a moment to stand on the sidewalk and gather her thoughts. There was a trash bin nearby, so she quickly downed the rest of her tepid coffee before tossing the cup away. By the time she made it to the front desk, Eun-sang had made her decision:
By Friday, she needed to have everything ready to talk to PD Yoon and the Shark.
Not even the rain that had started falling on the city mid-afternoon could dampen Rachel’s mood. Private praise from her mother was rare enough; an official email, sent to her and her entire team that morning, commending them on their work for the jacket product placement and resulting sales, had made Rachel almost giddy. Rachel promised to take her team out to dinner and drinks on Friday after work and asked Min-ah to take care of the reservations.
When she had texted Young-do about it—she wasn’t bragging, she was just sharing good news—he had been happy for her, too. And he had finally given her a few options for when he was free to listen to and give her feedback on her proposal. Rachel whittled it down to two time slots and promised she would give him her final answer tomorrow. She wanted just a little more time to wrap up the last draft before she got his feedback. Young-do’s brutal honesty was something she wanted; she just wanted him to have as few reasons as possible to employ it.
Rachel had to consult her phone a few times to find the on-campus building Hyo-shin had told her to meet him at, but she still arrived early. She collapsed her umbrella and put a cover on it to keep it from dripping through the whole building. Just as Hyo-shin had texted her, there was a staircase off to the right of the main doors. Rachel took the stairs down to the basement level and followed the rest of Hyo-shin’s instructions through a series of hallways.
She rounded the last corner and spotted him almost immediately. Hyo-shin was standing off to the side of an open set of double doors, which people were trickling through. He looked a little less stressed than the last time they had seen each other—his posture was more relaxed, and his backpack was hanging off of one shoulder—but the thing Rachel immediately noticed was how he was smiling at the woman standing next to him.
Too many of the smiles Hyo-shin had shown her had been bitter or sharp or tired or laced with something darker that she couldn’t put a name to. There had been a few good smiles sprinkled in here and there. But this smile seemed so much…simpler. Less complicated. More genuine.
Is this what Hyo-shin looked like when he was happy?
Rachel hesitated, and in that moment of indecision, Hyo-shin spotted her. His smile never changed, but he straightened up slightly before he waved to her. The woman he was with glanced her way, and Rachel wasn’t certain what to make of the politely neutral expression she was wearing.
She did know how to react to it, though. It was easy enough to arrange her expression into something politely distant—cool, but not hostile—as she walked up to them. Rachel made sure to stop beside Hyo-shin, visually putting the two of them on the same side and the other woman on her own.
“You’re early,” Hyo-shin said, but he didn’t sound defensive or off-balance. He didn’t sound as if he had been caught doing something he shouldn’t.
It was an inane observation, but Rachel managed not to say something prickly about it. Of course she was early. She hadn’t wanted to be late to their…activity, not on a campus she was unfamiliar with, not with the bad weather. “I didn’t want to keep you waiting.”
If he caught the edge to her voice, Hyo-shin didn’t respond to it. He turned his focus back to the other woman. “This is Yoo Rachel. She’s a friend of mine from high school.”
Friend. Rachel disliked how much power a word like that had over her.
She gave the other woman the barest nod she could get away with without being considered rude. “It’s nice to meet you…”
She trailed off, expecting Hyo-shin to leap in to finish the introductions, but he just smiled a little wider. Before she could puzzle it out, the other woman bowed slightly and supplied her own name. “I’m Shin Yu-ri. I’m one of Hyo-shin’s classmates.”
If she hadn’t been paying such close attention to Hyo-shin and his reactions, she might have missed his little exhale and the way his shoulders relaxed again. “Yu-ri is also one of my favorite people in the world right now. She is going to put in a good word for me with the production team she’s on.”
“I’m going to try,” Yu-ri said. She was an averagely pretty woman, a little shorter than Rachel and with long, dark hair that spilled over her shoulders. “I don’t know if all of the slots have been filled yet, but I’ll talk to the assistant PD tomorrow when I’m on set.”
“All I need is a chance. Thank you for that.”
“You’re welcome. I hope you get in.” Yu-ri adjusted the straps of her backpack. “But the movie should be starting soon, and I’ve got to go. I’ll see you later.”
They all said their goodbyes, and Rachel couldn’t help but watch Yu-ri walk away. Once Yu-ri disappeared around a corner, Rachel glanced at Hyo-shin. “A ‘try’ is good enough to be one of your favorite people in the world?”
Hyo-shin laughed at that. “Don’t worry, so are you.”
Rachel made a face at the implication she would worry over something as petty as that. “What did I do to make it on your favorites list?”
It came out more a challenge than anything, but once again, Hyo-shin ignored her tone. Instead, he leaned in and lowered his voice. “You made Yu-ri say her name. I couldn’t remember what it was.”
Rachel pressed her lips together to keep from smiling, but she couldn’t suppress the satisfaction that bubbled up inside her. She murmured back to him, “You really are shameless, asking for a work favor from someone whose name you don’t know.”
“I am the most shameless man you will ever meet,” Hyo-shin said, as if that were something to be proud of. He offered her his arm, like they were at an important event instead of the basement hallway of a college building, about to watch the screening of a silent film for Hyo-shin’s coursework. “Shall we?”
She didn’t let herself smile, but she did take his arm. “Let’s go.”