Steamboat Bill, Jr., was an odd little silent film and not really to Rachel’s taste, though she could find things to admire about it. There was an amusing sort of absurdity to the slapstick comedy, and even she could tell that several of the stunts and effects had been cutting edge back in the 1920s. The title cards were painfully simple and straightforward, even in the original English, which floated above the Korean subtitles. The film never made her laugh, but she did smile a couple times, mostly at the contrast between the main actor’s deadpan expression and the ridiculous events going on around him.
So far as Rachel could tell, Hyo-shin was one of the only students not taking notes. That didn’t mean he wasn’t paying close attention to the film. From his intense expression and occasional anticipatory grins, Rachel could tell he was absorbed by it. He laughed a couple times, a sound that made Rachel smile slightly in response. Hyo-shin only caught her looking at him once, and the look he gave her made a small, silly part of her wish that he had tried to take her hand.
But he didn’t, and she didn’t offer, and his attention was drawn back to the screen.
After the film ended and the lights came up, Rachel and Hyo-shin stayed seated while the other students packed up their things and headed for the double doors.
Hyo-shin turned to her. “What did you think?”
“It was interesting. Not something I think I’d watch again, but it wasn’t a waste of time.”
“Just interesting?” Amusement leaked into his voice. “One of the classics of the American silent film era, and interesting and wasn’t a waste of time are the best you can give it?”
“It’s the best it earned.”
Hyo-shin laughed again, and Rachel had to fight back a smile. It was…nice, to see him in such a good mood. Most of their interactions over the last weeks had been far more confrontational. It was a refreshing change of pace to just be able to watch a movie together without some kind of conflict coming between them. If they were lucky, perhaps they could finish out the evening that way.
“What did you think of it?” Rachel asked. “I noticed you weren’t taking any notes.”
“That’s because this isn’t my first time seeing it. More like sixth or seventh. I don’t need to take any notes for the essay I need to write on it. I just wanted to enjoy it.”
“When did you first see it?”
She wanted to take the question back when she caught the subtle shift in his smile. His voice was still light, almost playful, but once again she had gone and stumbled too close to something she wasn’t supposed to touch.
“After I got out of the army.” Hyo-shin grabbed his coat and stood up. The room was empty now, except for someone fiddling with the projector. “Would you like to get dinner? There’s a little bibimbap restaurant just off of campus that I like.”
Which probably meant it catered to students, was cheap, and was likely crowded. None of that sounded especially appealing, but Rachel managed to keep those thoughts to herself. The café Hyo-shin had chosen for their last meeting had been all of those things—but the food he had ordered them had also been good. Even if he was poor now, that didn’t mean he had lost all sense of taste.
Rachel got up to her feet as well and started putting on her coat. “That sounds fine. Is it close enough to walk? Or should I call my driver?”
“It’s not that far. Walking should be fine, unless the rain has gotten worse.” He put on his coat and then grabbed his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. “I’ve got my car, too.”
Taking his car would be preferable to summoning her driver. While Rachel was fairly certain her driver didn’t report every movement of hers to her mother, it was always less awkward to talk when there wasn’t a silent third wheel.
Rachel grabbed her umbrella and purse, and then she and Hyo-shin headed back up to the first floor. The building was a lot quieter than when she first came in—most classes were probably over now. She peered through the windows beside the main entrance doors and saw that the rain had slowed to a trickle. “Let’s walk.”
“All right. Here, let me take the umbrella.”
Rachel handed it over without protest. He removed the cover, opened the umbrella, and held the door for her. They stepped out onto the dark, wet sidewalk, and Hyo-shin lifted the umbrella over their heads. It wasn’t quite wide enough for both of them to fit under comfortably, so Hyo-shin made sure she was covered. He could have squeezed in closer, if she took his arm, but it was one thing for him to escort her to a seat and another for them to walk arm-in-arm through the middle of his campus.
There were streetlights sprinkled along the sidewalk. They moved from puddle of light to puddle of light, mostly in silence save for the small plops of rain spattering on top of the umbrella. Eventually, Rachel offered, “I prefer this kind of storm to the one in the movie.”
“It is much easier to get to where you’re going when buildings aren’t being torn down around you,” Hyo-shin said. “I’m not lucky enough to survive that kind of storm.”
Rachel wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so she shifted topics slightly. “What are you going to write your essay on?”
“The framing of shots during the cyclone sequence.”
It was as if Rachel had flipped some kind of switch inside him, because Hyo-shin immediately launched into an explanation of how a few specific shots had been framed, how the audience had been deliberately kept from viewing what was happening off-screen while the main character was reacting to it, and how crucial parts of the physical jokes depended on the audience being in suspense and then surprised when whatever it was finally came into view.
Rachel liked watching him talk about it. His face lit up in a way she hadn’t known it could, and he gestured with his free hand, trying to sketch out the edges of the screen and help her remember the precise moments he was talking about. Rachel contributed where she could, but mostly she just enjoyed being so close to his enthusiasm. It was like when Young-do talked about his judo competitions or Myung-soo about his photography. Even if she didn’t get why they enjoyed those things so much, she liked hearing them be passionate about them.
While Rachel understood why his parents wanted him on another path, she could admit it would be a shame if Hyo-shin never got to be on set again. It was too bad he wasn’t a second or third son, who could be easily passed over and cut loose to fritter away his time and his family’s money in less prestigious fields.
She hoped that Yu-ri was able to help him get that job he wanted.
“What about you? How’s your schoolwork going?”
Rachel shrugged a little. “I’m learning more working for RS International than I am in the classroom, but getting the degree is important for me to be taken seriously.” She kept her eyes straight ahead and tried to sound casual. “I have an important presentation for the executives that I’m working on right now. I’d like to get your feedback on it, if you have the time.”
“I’d love to,” Hyo-shin said, and it sounded sincere enough that she glanced up at him. His smile was easy and open, almost exactly like the smile he had given Yu-ri. “Just let me figure out my schedule, and I’ll let you know when I’m free.”
Rachel didn’t try to stop herself from smiling back at him.
Young-do spent the bulk of his Wednesday evening at Zeus Hotel. He normally had a half day scheduled since he had his classes in the morning, but he stayed late today in order to meet up with Ha-sun over dinner at the hotel restaurant. She had good news for him about Min Seung-hyun: the man had finally agreed to back Young-do in exchange for a few votes in a company where Pyo Sook-ja had significant holdings.
(When Young-do tried to get more details about it, Ha-sun had brushed aside his questions. “It’s not very interesting. His sister-in-law owns some land in a fast-growing neighborhood that is under consideration for acquisition and redevelopment. My grandmother can swing the balance in his sister-in-law’s favor.” When she noticed Young-do’s expression, Ha-sun had given him a look that would have seemed rather bland to anyone else. He was getting better at detecting her sharp, hidden edges. “The property was already one of the top three choices for the construction company. My grandmother wouldn’t undermine a business she has a significant interest in just to get Seung-hyun’s votes for you. She is old and sick, not incapable of managing her empire.”
Ha-sun had smiled, very faintly. “What else do you call an entity with so many kingdoms beholden to it in some way?”)
After he escorted Ha-sun to her car, Young-do texted his mother and his vice president to tell them the good news. With Baek Jong-shik, Lee Sang-hyun, and Min Seung-hyun on his side, he had enough strength beside him that he could reattempt his outreach to the smaller players on the board.
While Young-do waited for his driver to retrieve the car, he let Kyung-ran know that he was going to come home. The textbooks he needed for his Thursday classes were at her house, and he was still trying to spend as much time at home as possible. He wanted to remind his mother that he wasn’t going to leave her out of anything important anymore. That they were team, together, against his father.
His mother texted back to let him know she would wait up for him, but he didn’t get a response from Vice President Kwon until he was already halfway home. Check your company email.
Those words were enough to send a little surge of fear through his guts, and Young-do hated it. But he immediately pulled up his company email and scanned through the subject lines on the recent unread messages. It only took a few seconds for Young-do to find the response to his Barcelona bid.
He opened it immediately, and relief knocked the air right out of his lungs when he finished reading the first paragraph. The owners had given a counter-offer—one that was just under the maximum amount his board had approved.
Young-do could stop negotiations right now and walk away with a victory to present to his board as evidence that he was capable of being more than just the acting president of Zeus Hotel. One acquisition wasn’t a proven track record, but it put him on even footing with Dong-wook at his age. It was going to be another point in his favor—more than one, if he could bring the price further down. He could show that he was willing to negotiate until he got the best terms he could for the company instead of settling.
You don’t want the board to see you as the lesser of two evils, Rachel had said. You want them to believe you’re a valid option in your own right.
Young-do texted his vice president back and told him to schedule a meeting for the morning with the team of lawyers who had reviewed the previous bid. And after that, there’s something else I need to speak to you about, he added.
It was far past time for him to figure out just what his vice president had been trying to do to Eun-sang.