(Originally posted 16 Mar 2014 on tumblr)
The new suit fits Hyo-shin almost perfectly despite the rush tailoring job, and it is as snug as a set of shackles. He spends the duration of his grandfather’s retirement speech on Sunday evening tugging at his cuffs of his sleeves. When his father gets up behind the podium to deliver his own speech, Hyo-shin has to loosen his new silk tie. His mother is too caught up in listening to shoot him disapproving glances. Hyo-shin imagines ripping the tie off completely.
Instead, he stands to applaud along with the rest of the crowd, escorts his mother to his father’s side, and puts on his worn-thin smile for all the photographers and reporters. Hyo-shin shakes too many hands and parrots over and over and over that yes, he is looking forward to following in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps. Every time he lies, it is another chain weighing him down.
Once the press portion of the evening is over, Hyo-shin escapes to a far corner of the room, near the entrance to the food prep area, where it’s unlikely anyone will look for him. He is too queasy to risk eating or drinking anything, and if he has to keep smiling while the future he wants fades away right in front of him, he will—
Hyo-shin doesn’t know, and that is nearly as petrifying as the idea of vomiting in front of all of the distinguished guests in attendance tonight. He takes a seat with his back to the rest of the room, keeps his head low, and turns all of his attention to the tasks of breathing and keeping control of his stomach.
It comes as a surprise when Myung-soo suddenly pops into his field of vision. “Are you bored yet, sunbae?” he asks with a smile that screams mischief. He leans in close to whisper his plan just in case any of the passing adults can overhear. “My favorite DJ is at Club Octagon tonight.”
That little spark of rebellion springs to life in Hyo-shin’s chest, and for the first time all evening, he doesn’t have to fake his smile.
They sneak into the side door of one of the trendiest clubs in Seoul with a bribe that a member of the club’s staff takes with the boredom borne of routine. Hyo-shin takes off his suit jacket and tie, and at Myung-soo’s urging undoes a few buttons of his shirt and runs his hands through his hair to ruin the straight-laced style.
“You should’ve worn a more interesting shirt,” Myung-soo complains as he passes their things off to the employee checking coats and bags.
“Next time warn me ahead of time that you are going to skip out, and maybe I’ll wear something more appropriate.”
“You’ll come with me again?”
Hyo-shin isn’t sure how to handle the eager expression on Myung-soo’s face, so he says, “If I get bored.”
Myung-soo laughs. “Drinks or dance floor first?”
He only allows himself a single glass of champagne and is home by eleven because he’s still not courageous enough to let himself come home drunk or too late. It also makes it easier to lie to his mother about going out for late-night coffee with the sons and daughters of other lawyers and politicians and forgetting to text before his phone’s battery ran out. He apologizes about worrying her and manages not to grin when she simply reminds him to think ahead next time.
Hyo-shin isn’t sure there will be a next time—the club was too loud, and he didn’t let himself get buzzed enough to really enjoy the anonymity the dark and the smoke and the dancing crowd promised him—but it is an option he might exercise in the future.
For now, the escape to the club gives Hyo-shin enough lingering energy to transfer the videos he recorded on his phone onto his computer. He watches them again, raw and unedited and far from perfect, before he pulls up the half-edited video he took from Young-do’s balcony and watches that, too.
Heights, empty spaces, setting suns. These elements aren’t enough to hang a story from, not yet, but they are something. Something quiet, something lonely, something detailed, something intimate. Something, he thinks, he might not want to film on his fancier video cameras after all.
Hyo-shin makes backups of the files, both online and on a separate hard drive, before he gets ready for bed.
Monday at school is somehow worse than Friday, as it seems that everyone who didn’t congratulate him on his father’s new position makes a point to seek him out and do it now. Hyo-shin can’t go more than a minute between classes without someone approaching him or whispering as he goes by. Some of the seniors who come from law or politics make a point to draw him into conversation about the speeches last night, and Hyo-shin has to dredge up thoughtful commentary on his grandfather’s and father’s words and defend them when one of the seniors gets belligerent about an obscure policy that was referenced.
By lunch time, Hyo-shin is just a few congratulations and fake smiles away from something self-destructive—or just destructive. The outline he painted is gone, and he isn’t brave enough to paint another one in the middle of the school day. Skipping out on classes is precisely the sort of childish action that will put his video equipment at risk again.
So Hyo-shin comes down from the roof and heads for the nurse’s office. His sallow pallor and the undercurrent of tension in his voice means the nurse doesn’t grill him over whether or not he is actually sick. She simply takes his temperature to ensure he doesn’t have a fever and the pulls the curtains around the bed to give him privacy.
He takes off his jacket and loosens his tie before curling up on his side. It is impossible to sleep with his stomach this unsettled, so he pulls out his phone to message Tan: How long are you going to give me the silent treatment? Rachel figured it out on her own.
Tan doesn’t respond, which isn’t really a surprise. Either he is still sulking or else he is out with Jay and enjoying the last hours of his weekend.
Hyo-shin texts Bo-na next. I’m not feeling well. In the nurse’s office. Can you take care of the club if I’m not better by the end of the day?
It only takes a few minutes for her to get back to him, and when she does, her message is swimming in sad emoticons. Of course! But don’t be sick too long. We need you!
I’ll do my best.
But by the end of the day, his best does not include making it to the club. He stops briefly at the teachers’ office to apologize and get his missed assignments, and then he walks straight off of school grounds and into the city.
Hyo-shin buttons his coat all the way up to hide his Jeguk uniform. It is easier to blend into the crowd that way, though it does not make it any easier to shed the weights that are dragging him down. The responsible thing to do would be to head home and start on his homework. He has half a day of schooling to make up on top of his tutoring session.
Instead, Hyo-shin aimlessly walks the streets between school and his house to kill time. He doesn’t go in to any shops or even duck down any quieter streets to see if they’d be suitable for filming. He just wanders, keeps his head down, and tries not to think too much.
“Hey, Lee Hyo-shin!”
He turns around and spots Hyun-joo right behind him. She marches toward him, and everything from her gait to her perturbed expression says she is not amused by what she’s seeing.
“Where do you think you’re going? Are you trying to skip out on me?”
Hyo-shin realizes, belatedly, that he was heading away from his house and back toward school. “No, I was just—”
“Are you all right?” are the very next words out of her mouth, and then she reaches up to press her bare hand against his forehead. Her expression is the perfect picture of concern, and in that moment Hyo-shin registers the fact that he has never been this close to her, face-to-face. They always sit side-by-side.
He goes very still until she pulls away. His skin feels hot where her hand used to be.
“You don’t seem to have a fever.”
It is a wonder he can find his words again. “I’m still not feeling good.”
“Should I call your mother and cancel?”
“No. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
Hyo-shin hesitates. “Just…go easy on me today?”
Hyun-joo studies him for a long moment. “All right. As a reward for getting back to first place. Don’t get used to it, though.”
“To first place or to you being nice to me?”
“If you don’t keep getting first place, I certainly won’t be nice,” she says, but her almost-smile doesn’t lessen the sting of her words.