(Originally posted 5 February 14 on tumblr)
Hyo-shin fills out the intake survey for Kang Jae-sung correctly the second time, even if he is exhausted.
(He hasn’t gathered the courage to ask his mother when he can get his video equipment back. He doesn’t know what he will do if she says he never will.)
A shadow falls across his survey. Hyo-shin looks up to find Jae-sung smiling down at him.
“Are you ready to come back?”
“Yeah.” He hands the clipboard over and follows Jae-sung to his office. His therapist glances over the survey on their way, and this time Jae-sung doesn’t look amused.
“It seems like you’ve had a difficult week,” Jae-sung says as they sit down.
Hyo-shin bites back a sarcastic response. “Why doesn’t my mother like you?” he asks instead.
“Did she say that?”
“No, but she wasn’t happy when I said I wanted you as my therapist.”
Jae-sung sets the survey aside. “Your mother and I had a difference of opinion over how informed she needed to be about your therapy.”
Hyo-shin’s stomach knots up. He swallows once, twice. “What happened?”
“We had a long conversation, but the essence of it is this: I will only be speaking to her about your therapy under three conditions. The first is if I believe that you or someone else are at risk of harm.”
Hyo-shin is too queasy to laugh over Jae-sung’s polite wording.
“The second is if there needs to be a change in your treatment, and the third is if you give me permission to speak to her about a specific topic.”
Jae-sung nods. “Otherwise, the only other contact she will have with this clinic is a monthly invoice for your therapy sessions.”
Hyo-shin wants to believe him. He wants to believe that there is some space in his life his mother cannot invade, cannot tear from his grasp. Some place she can’t control. Some place that is his. The desire is so intense his fingers curl into fists.
But this is still only the second time in his life that he has met Jae-sung. They just barely cleared one hour of interaction. Can he really trust this man?
No, not yet. Not completely. But he can give Jae-sung the opportunity to earn a little trust.
Hyo-shin decides to go back to Jae-sung’s original attempt at conversation. “I dropped to twelfth place. I always take first. Even before…before L.A., I still took first in that last test.”
Jae-sung settles back in his seat and watches him over his glasses. It is unnerving to have someone listen so intently. It doesn’t matter that Jae-sung is being paid to do so—Hyo-shin is still wary of that attention. He spent so much energy the last several months trying to deflect any sort of close scrutiny that he has to fight the urge to plaster on one of his empty smiles.
(Bo-na still noticed something was wrong. He didn’t think she knew him that well, but he is hard-pressed to think of anyone else at Jeguk that he could call a friend.)
“So what was different this time?”
“I didn’t sleep the night before. Honestly, I don’t remember much about taking the test. I definitely don’t remember struggling with any of it.”
Jae-sung’s next question takes him by surprise. “Was your sleepless night an isolated incident?”
“Yes. Usually I can get at least few hours of sleep every night.”
“How many is a few?”
Hyo-shin shrugs. “It depends on how long it takes me to fall asleep and how often I wake up. Four or five hours on average.”
“Is this sleeping pattern normal for you?”
Hyo-shin hesitates, uncertain just what his normal is anymore. He remembers the months leading into summer break, when the most heroic thing he did was set five separate alarms on his phone so he could put his uniform on and get to school on time, when he crawled into bed as soon as his homework was done and slept as much as he could so he didn’t have to think, when he decided to overdose on the remnants of his father’s sleeping pills because he would pass out before the end.
Jae-sung tries again when he can’t find an answer. “Did this start before or after your hospital stay?”
“After.” Hyo-shin slowly uncurls his fingers and smoothes his palms over his pants. “I know insomnia is one of the side effects of my medication. So is nausea.” He grimaces at the unintentional slip. He hasn’t told anyone about how often he ends up hunched over a toilet bowl, unable to control his stomach.
“How often do you have each of those?”
“Two or three times a week for the insomnia, but it’s usually only one night a week or so that I can’t sleep at all. The nausea—maybe every couple of days. I don’t throw up that often.”
“But you are throwing up.” When Hyo-shin nods reluctantly, Jae-sung taps his fingertips on the arm of his chair. “Hyo-shin, when was the last time you saw your psychiatrist?”
“Not since I left the hospital. I haven’t run out of refills yet.”
“I recommend you go see your psychiatrist as soon as you can,” Jae-sung says. He leans forward slightly in his seat, his bland face drawn in solemn lines. “I think you need to be given a different medication. If your side effects are this bad, the medication is likely doing you more harm than good.”
Hyo-shin’s voice comes out rough. “This isn’t how I’m supposed to feel?”
“Most likely not. I will call your mother to let her know she should schedule an appointment for you. Finding the right medication might take a while.” Jae-sung’s lips twitch into a smile, even though his next words are serious. “It’s hard to be honest about how you feel with strangers, but I’d rather you keep things from me than your psychiatrist. I can still work with you if you lie—it’ll be hard, but it can happen—but your psychiatrist has to know how your medication makes you feel. Can you do that?”
His mother is waiting for him when he gets home. She doesn’t ask about his day or his session. She merely says, “I have scheduled an appointment with your psychiatrist on Saturday.”
Hyo-shin braces himself. “Did Dr. Kang tell you why?”
“Just that he believed your medication needed to be changed.”
Surprise blossoms almost like hope in his chest. Jae-sung kept his word, at least once, about what he would or would not tell her. It buoys Hyo-shin just enough for him to throw out a partial truth like a challenge. “Dr. Kang suspects my insomnia was one of my side effects on the medication. That’s why I couldn’t sleep the night before my test.”
“I see,” she says, in a voice that means she refuses to read between the lines. “Dinner will ready in half an hour.”
That’s it. She doesn’t give him his equipment back. She doesn’t even offer to return it if he retakes first place. She doesn’t even ask what other side effects he is experiencing.
She simply walks away, taking that almost-hope with her.
He stares at his phone on and off for an hour after dinner before he decides to send his first text to Hyun-joo: Thanks for the lesson. I had a question on problem seventeen. Do you have time to walk me through it?
It takes just ten minutes for her to text back, and they spend the next twenty texting back and forth about the problem. He double checks each text before he hits send, wanting to make sure that he doesn’t have any typos. After yesterday’s near meltdown, he doesn’t want to give her any reason to believe he’s anything but fine. He doesn’t want her to treat him any differently than before.
The last message she sends him eases his anxiety about seeing her the next day: You’d better be ready to get back to work tomorrow. No more breaks for you! Sleep well.
Hyo-shin rereads the text several times in the hours before he finally falls asleep.